How Anubis made it into CSGO’s Active Duty map pool

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Dexerto picked the brains of Anubis’ creators to find out more about the development of the CS:GO map, which has been added to Valve’s Active Duty pool.

Roald could hardly believe what he was reading. As he opened his email inbox on September 10, he found a message from Valve, who wished to purchase the rights to Anubis, the CS:GO map that he had co-created in 2020.

He instantly reached out to the other two creators, Jakuza and jd40, asking if they had received the same email with Valve’s offer to take over the map and put it on the Active Duty pool.

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“It was unreal,” Roald tells Dexerto. “I thought it was maybe some kind of scam.”

After reaching an agreement with Valve, the trio kept the news to themselves, perhaps afraid that they might jinx it.

What followed was a long and agonizing wait for the big reveal to happen. It was only on November 18 that Valve finally announced that Anubis would be added to the Active Duty map pool — the official set of maps selected by the developer for esports competitions — as a replacement for Dust2, the most iconic map in FPS history.

It is only the second community-made map that has made it into the Active Duty map pool after Cache, created by Salvatore ‘Volcano’ Garozzo (now a lead game designer for Valorant at Riot Games), Shawn ‘FMPONE’ Snelling and Lenz ‘penE’ Monath.

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Roald went through a range of emotions when the update hit the game. There was joy, of course, but at the same time a creeping sense of dread.

“Pro teams will play it and you don’t know how it will be received,” he explained. “As a level designer, I still feel responsible for the map and that people enjoy it and like it. You still have this worry. Like, ‘I hope it will be good’.

“But it’s mostly a positive feeling. I’m really excited that pros are going to play the map and excited to see what they can do with it, what strategies they come up with.”

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How Anubis came together

The development of Anubis began in June 2019, shortly after Mapcore and FACEIT announced an exotic mapping contest for CS:GO with $15,000 on offer.

Roald had prior experience with the theme after working on the map Desertruin for ‘Pirates, Vikings & Knights II’, a multiplayer team-based first-person action video game. “You have so much freedom because structures can be broken,” he says of the exotic motif. “You don’t really need that much logic.” He started doing research on Ancient Egypt, using Ubisoft’s 2017 hit game, ‘Assassin’s Creed Origins’, as the key concept for the map.

He originally thought about doing it all by himself, but very early on in development, he was joined by Jakuza, who began creating assets for the map, like models and textures. A short time later, the team grew again as they brought in jd40, who had won the 2017 mapping contest with Biome. That map made it into CS:GO in October 2018.

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“It was a huge relief that everyone had something to work on at all times,” Jakuza says. “We knew the ball was always heading in the right direction.”

This was not the first rodeo for any of the three creators, but it was still a demanding undertaking, especially because they could only work on the map in their free time. Back then, Roald was working as a cook. Jakuza, he explains, was “doing something completely different”. And jd40 is a software engineer.

The development journey can be followed on Mapcore’s forum, where Roald posted regular updates about the project, including early layouts and textureless screenshots, and asked fellow map creators for input.

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On January 30, 2020, Anubis was officially released and added to CS:GO’s workshop for players to download. In March, it was announced as the winner of the Exotic Places Mapping Contest, netting the trio of creators a cheque for $7,500.

“I didn’t know we had a gem on our hands,” Jakuza says.

Before the end of the month, Anubis was officially introduced to the game, though only in Scrimmage mode (unranked matchmaking games). That changed less than two weeks later, when it was moved from Scrimmage to Competitive after only ten days in the game. It ended up staying there for over a year.

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“I would not say I had [big] expectations because for me it was the first map that was added to the game,” Roald says. “But I did know that we had done something very solid.”

Work on Anubis never stopped. As more players got their hands on the map, bug reports kept coming in. At the same time, the creators started revisiting the layout based on feedback. One of the biggest changes was made to the entrance of the B site.

“It was more like a 90-degree angle into the site and you had to check so many corners,” he says. “I did not like the flow. I thought, ‘I want to use this chance to make bigger changes and see how they will play out and what effect they will have on a larger scale, with more people playing.

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“So we changed the entrance of the B site and jd40 had to redo the whole art there.”

Instantly, the other two creators burst into laughter.

“I’m sorry for that,” Roald adds. “I know there is still trauma.”

As excited as they were that Anubis was being played by thousands across the globe on a daily basis, the developers still wanted to know what the pros had to say about the map. Roald reached out to a number of community figures but only heard back from NIP’s Fredrik ‘REZ’ Sterner and [then-head coach] Björn ‘THREAT’ Pers.

“They didn’t play it on matchmaking, but they played it for fun, 3v3,” he explains. “They both said that A [site] was too hard for Ts and gave other suggestions. I made some changes based on their input.”

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Coincidentally, NIP took part in what is considered to be the first match between two professional teams on Anubis, in January 2021. The Swedish team hammered BIG 16-4 as part of a best-of-five showmatch organized by Betway.

“I think someone on Discord messaged me saying, ‘They’re playing your map!’” Roald recalls. “I missed the start of the match but it was really cool.

“The coaches were casting the match together with Mauisnake. I know that BIG was losing hard and the coach was really complaining about the map. And I was like, ‘Oh, f**k. They hate it. It’s so bad’. It was really cool but for me, it induced a bit of anxiety.”

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Revamping the map pool

In 2020, there were already rumors that Anubis could be added to the Active Duty map pool one day. That speculation only intensified as the map remained in Competitive mode for months on end, only being removed from the game in May 2021.

That was the end of it, the trio of creators thought. But the rumor mill started whirring again in August 2022, when Anubis was re-added to CS:GO (together with Breach and Tuscan) as part of the update that came out ahead of the game’s tenth anniversary.

“The map survived multiple rotations of community maps,” Roald says. “And you think, ‘So what’s the deal?’ You get some hope. But then after 13 months, they removed the map and you’re like, ‘Aww, all hope for nothing. It was just another rotation’.

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“And then it’s back in. I thought it would stay in the rotation for a few months and then get removed again. At this time, I think there were rumors that one of the three maps would make it [into the Active Duty pool].

“And then we got the email from Valve.”

Jakuza recalls an enigmatic October 5 tweet by the popular caster and Mapcore contest judge James Bardolph, who called on Valve to consider Anubis for the Active Duty map pool. By then, he and the other two creators were already in talks with Valve about selling Anubis.

“He must have had a premonition,” Jakuza says, laughing. “Or he has an inside source.”

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Bardolph explains that his tweet stemmed from a discussion on Reddit about how unlikely it seemed that a community-made map would be part of the Active Duty map pool again.

“I know Valve’s devs observe what we say, so I wanted to push the conversation on a map like Anubis,” he tells Dexerto. “In terms of something that’s accessible to the casual player, it was one of the best options we had to go into the map pool.

“I like to spam them with my opinions on what I would like to see!”

The addition of Anubis to the Active Duty pool has reignited the discussion about the staleness of some CS:GO maps that are used in competitions. Dust2 had long run its course when it was removed, but the same can be said, for example, of Mirage, which has featured in all CS:GO Majors.

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Will Valve’s acquisition of Anubis signal the start of a new era for competitive CS:GO, with more community-made maps being featured in competitions?

For Anubis’ creators, that is an unlikely prospect.

“I’d love it if Valve became more open with this stuff and even did a mapping contest,” jd40 says. “These days, there aren’t many reasons to create maps. Maybe you can do a Wingman [2v2 game mode] map, which pays the same as a Defuse map. There is not much reason to do a 5v5 map. I think Anubis is going to be the exception.”

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Jakuza adds: “I hope not, but I have a gut feeling that it will stay the same”.

If that is indeed the case, then Roald, Jakuza and jd40 can consider themselves lucky.

The trio cannot reveal how much they made from Anubis’ sale, but they all stress that it was not life-changing money.

“I can buy a lot more stupid things,” jd40 says. Jakuza, who starts chuckling, adds: “Same deal over here. It’s just a really nice bonus, basically.”

“For me, it’s kind of a safety net,” Roald says. “It’s nice to have it in the bank account. I’m not as tempted to buy stupid sh*t so I’ll keep it there. If I lose my job I’ll still be able to provide, and if I want to buy a house in the future it’s for the down payment. But it’s not life-changing, let’s put it that way.”

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Saying goodbye to Anubis

After a three-year journey on Anubis, there was not so much as a hint of sadness from the trio of creators about letting go of the map and relinquishing control to Valve.

“It was kind of a relief,” Jakuza says, laughing. “It’s just great to know that you’re putting it in the right hands and that they’re going to take care of it for you.”

Roald adds that he is at the same time scared and excited to see where Valve will take the map in the future.

“As a level designer, you have thought about all the little pieces and think, ‘Oh sh*t. I hope that the big picture will remain as it is’. But on the other hand, I’m really tired of the map. At some point, you’re just done. It’s good that there are some fresh eyes and fresh hands working on it.

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“I have a lot of trust that they will do the right thing, that they will deal with feedback and statistics and push the map in a better direction. They are able to make bigger changes that can improve the map. I was a little bit stuck. I have this feeling that there are things to improve but I didn’t know what to do. I tried some stuff in the editor but it just wasn’t coming. I think I did all I could do.”

Community reaction to Anubis has been mixed, even among pro players, some of whom criticized the map even before even giving it a try. Traditionally, players are resistant to change, and their feelings about Anubis might be influenced by how strong a pick Dust2 was for their teams. Heroic coach Richard ‘⁠Xizt⁠’ Landström, for example, said that Anubis’ addition was “good” for his team, which had Dust2 as a permanent ban. At the same time, the map seems to have grown on some pro players in recent weeks.

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“It’s Dust2 and people complain,” Roald says. “But if it were Inferno or Mirage, the people who love those maps would complain while the others would be silent. I think there’s always something to complain about. I think Valve doesn’t care too much about that. They have a vision of what they want. People just have to accept it and deal with it.

“Some people really want new maps, while others are fine with what they have, especially if their map might be getting thrown out. For me, change is good because it will bring something new to watch and new challenges for players.”

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The BLAST Premier World Final will be the first opportunity to see Anubis in a tier-one LAN setting. The tournament will feature eight of the best teams in the world, who will be duking it out for a $1 million prize pool.

It will be interesting to see which teams will embrace Anubis right off the bat, as well as whether it will be the most T-sided map in the pool — a trend that has developed in matchmaking games.

Asked which teams they think will be dominant on Anubis, the creators don’t really know how to answer. It turns out that they aren’t really big esports fans. (For example, IEM Rio was the first CS:GO Major that Roald watched.) But they all said that they are likely to tune in to a stream and watch a game if they see that Anubis is being played, especially if it’s a big match, like the grand final of a Major.

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“I will watch it with interest and just be proud,” says Roald, who is now working as a junior level designer for a video game developer. “If it’s a grand final, I think it will be a great moment and something we can be proud of.”