Counter-Strike in esports
|Highest governing body||Valve|
|Type||Video game, esports|
|Equipment||computer, mouse, keyboard, headphones, monitor|
Professional Counter-Strike competition involves professional gamers competing in the first-person shooter game series Counter-Strike. The original game, released in 1999, is a mod developed by Minh "Gooseman" Le and Jess Cliffe of the 1998 video game Half-Life, published by Valve. Currently, the games that have been played competitively include Counter-Strike (CS also called CS 1.6), Counter-Strike: Condition Zero (CS:CZ), Counter-Strike: Source (CS:S) and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO). Major tournaments began in 2001 with the first major at the Cyberathlete Professional League Winter Championship, won by Ninjas in Pyjamas.
Counter-Strike has over 20 years of competitive history beginning with the original Counter-Strike. Tournaments for game series have been hosted since 2000. The first major international tournament was hosted in Dallas, Texas at the 2001 Cyberathlete Professional League Winter Championship, won by the Swedish team Ninjas in Pyjamas. The tournament offered a $150,000 prize pool.
In 2002, Korea’s World Cyber Games joined the competitive scene of Counter-Strike, followed by France's Electronic Sports World Cup in 2003. These along with the bi-annual CPL tournaments were the dominate majors of Counter-Strike esports through 2007 and featured strong rivalries among top-level teams. CPL ceased operation in 2008. Another league, ESL, then added Counter-Strike to its Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) series. These tournaments continued for four years. The final major update to Counter-Strike was the 1.6 version in 2003, which became known as Counter-Strike 1.6 (CS 1.6). The years of 2002-07 are considered Counter-Strike's first Golden Age, as the game's popularity and market-share eclipsed all others in the fledgling Esports industry.
Valve struggled to iterate and evolve on CS 1.6 because of its high skill ceiling and elegant gameplay. The Counter-Strike Xbox release had limited success as compared to that of Halo and Call of Duty. The first official sequel was Counter-Strike: Source (CS:S), released on November 1, 2004. The game was criticized by the competitive community, who believed the game's skill ceiling was significantly lower than that of CS 1.6. This caused a divide in the competitive community as to which game to play competitively. Valve, sponsors, and tournament organizers were advocating for the newer CS:S to be played at tournaments, but the large majority of professional CS players refused to play it due to its perceived shortcomings. Counter-Strike fell into esports obscurity during the late 2000s and early 2010s. This was in part due to the fractured competitive scene, but also due to the newcomer MOBA genre overcoming Counter-Strike's previous stranglehold on the team-based esport market.
The release of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) in 2012 reunited the competitive community of Counter-Strike, ushering in a new era of esports relevance for the franchise. Initially, the game was criticized for imbalanced gameplay, poor mechanics and bugs. However, within several months the gameplay improved after updates from Valve. The advent of video game streaming services such as UStream, Justin.tv and Twitch increased the popularity of competitive Counter-Strike. On September 16, 2013, Valve announced a US$250,000 community-funded prize pool for its first CS:GO Major Championship; the money was funded through the Arms Deal Update, which offers players in-game cosmetics. Valve also announced that the first Major, known as DreamHack Winter 2013, would take place in Sweden. The Valve-sponsored Majors would go on to be the most important and prestigious tournaments in the Global Offensive esports scene.
In October 2015, a number of professional esports organizations with Counter-Strike teams announced the formation of a trade union that set several demands for future tournament attendance. The announcement was a publicly posted email written by Alexander Kokhanovsky, CEO of Natus Vincere, that was sent to organizers of major esports events. Teams that were part of the union included Natus Vincere, Team Liquid, Counter Logic Gaming, Cloud9, Virtus.pro, Team SoloMid, Fnatic, Ninjas in Pyjamas, Titan and Team EnVyUs. Teams in this union would not attend Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournaments with prize pools of less than $75,000. In 2016, the World eSports Association (WESA) was founded by ESL with many esports teams, including Fnatic, Natus Vincere, Team EnVyUs and FaZe Clan, though FaZe Clan left soon after the league's formation. In its announcement, WESA said it would "further professionalize eSports by introducing elements of player representation, standardized regulations, and revenue sharing for teams". They also planned to help fans and organizers by "seeking to create predictable schedules."
Valve's decisions have a strong influence on the competitive metagame. Decisions such as the removal of old maps and additions of new maps are often met with criticism, as well as changes made to certain weapons' performance characteristics. In 2016, Valve was "heavily criticized" for the removal of the map Inferno and its replacement, Nuke, in the competitive map pool. The release of CS 1.6 in 2003 saw a contentious nerf of the iconic AWP sniper rifle by increasing its drawtime. This significantly reduced the ability of a player armed with an AWP to simultaneously engage multiple targets. The AWP was again the subject of a controversial nerf in 2015 when players' movement speed and acceleration was decreased while the weapon was equipped. Valve has also implemented new coaching rules restricting the ability of communication between coaches and players during a match, and altered a 15-year precedent by increasing the duration of each round and bomb timer in 2015.
As the game and the scene grew in popularity, companies, including WME/IMG and Turner Broadcasting, began to televise Global Offensive professional games, with the first being ELEAGUE Major 2017, held at the Fox Theatre and broadcast on US cable television network TBS in 2016. On August 22, 2018, Turner announced its further programming of Global Offensive with ELEAGUE’s Esports 101: CSGO and ELEAGUE CS:GO Premier 2018's docuseries on TBS.
Cheating, particularly through the use of software hacks on online servers, has been a problem throughout the history of Counter-Strike and generally results in a game ban if discovered. A Valve Anti-Cheat (VAC) ban is the most common way in which players are banned. VAC is a system designed by Valve to detect cheats on computers. Any time a player connects to a VAC-secured server and a cheat is detected, the user is kicked from the server, given a permanent lifetime ban and barred from playing on any VAC-secured servers. Professional players play online on independent platform servers hosted by leagues such as ESEA or Faceit, which have proprietary anti-cheat programs.
Linus "b0bbzki" Lundqvist was the first known professional player to be banned in Global Offensive. Hovik "KQLY" Tovmassian was one of the highest-profile players to be issued a VAC ban. KQLY was banned, along with several other professional players, such as Gordon "Sf" Giry, while KQLY was playing for France's best team, Titan. Vinicius “v$m” Moreira from Brazil was VAC-banned while he was playing for Detona Gaming.
Cheating has also occurred at LAN tournaments, and players who cheat at organized tournaments may receive permanent bans or may be dismissed from their team. In 2018, at the eXTREMESLAND ZOWIE Asia CS:GO, Nikhil "forsaken" Kumawat of OpTic India was caught cheating mid-match using aimbot during a tournament game against Revolution, a Vietnamese Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team. The tournament had a $100,000 prize pool. OpTic India was disqualified and Kumawat was dismissed from the team.
During 2020 the Esports Integrity Commission (ESIC) has also banned over 37 coaches from participating in the server with their team due to the abuse of a bug in spectator mode. Valve also has sanctioned these coaches from a number of CS:GO Majors with the severity dependant on the amount of times the bug was abused.
Players have also been banned for match fixing. In August 2014, two CS:GO teams, iBUYPOWER and NetcodeGuides.com, were involved in a match-fixing scandal that has been cited as "the first large match fixing scandal" in the CS:GO community. iBUYPOWER, who was heavily favored to win, lost in a resounding 16-to-4 defeat to NetcodeGuides.com. It was later discovered in a tip to Dot Esports that the match was fixed.
On 20 Jan 2021, ESIC issues sanctions against 35 players for betting related offences primarily in the Australian CS:GO scene.
Following the introduction of the Arms Deal update in August 2013, weapon "skins" formed a virtual economy because of their rarity and other high-value factors that influenced their desirability. Because of this, a number of skin-trading and gambling sites enabled by the Steamworks API were created. Initially, these sites focused solely on wagering skins on the outcomes of professional and semi-professional CS:GO matches in the vein of sports betting. However, some of these sites began to offer casino gambling functionality in 2015, allowing users to gamble their skins on the outcome of roulette spins, coin flips, dice rolls, and other games of chance. In 2016, esports players wagered nearly $5 billion in CS:GO skins. In June and July of that year, two formal lawsuits were filed against these gambling sites and Valve, stating that they encourage underage gambling and undisclosed promotion by some streamers. Valve began to take steps to prevent these sites from using Steamworks for gambling purposes, and several of the sites ceased operating as a result. In July 2018, Valve disabled the opening of containers in Belgium and the Netherlands after its loot boxes appeared to violate Dutch and Belgium gambling laws. However, some parties have tried to contest Valve's gambling rules. Various forms of gambling have emerged over time in addition to skin betting, including case openings, coin flipping, CS:GO roulettes, CS:GO casinos, and match betting. Some of these forms of gambling have also been subject to law suits.
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