Moses column: How online CS:GO can be a painful blessing in disguise - Dexerto
CS:GO

Moses column: How online CS:GO can be a painful blessing in disguise

Published: 15/Jul/2020 19:38 Updated: 8/Sep/2020 15:07

by Jason O'Toole

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In his Dexerto column, Jason “Moses” O’Toole discusses Counter-Strike’s shift to online gameplay, why that shift is difficult, and how the CS scene can use this phase to address issues with its schedule, content, and semi-pro structure.

The reality is Counter-Strike has always had a very odd relationship with online gameplay, but we’re kind of just stuck with it for a little bit. But, as a positive, this is a chance for the entire Counter-Strike ecosystem to re-evaluate how we dedicate our time and resources. 

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We’ve spent two years doing everything on LAN and been an esport for so long that all of our greatest performances have been at LAN. There’s just a feeling of less intensity and focus when you play online, so this has probably been a particularly rough transition for many.

Additionally, the transition from online to LAN had, in a way, been the best form of anti-cheat that we’ve ever had. It just offers a bit more reliability and a lot fewer question marks surrounding results, whether it’s from an individual player or an entire team. 

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Still, we can use this mandated period to be open and reassess the direction we’ve been taking CS in for the past five years—whether that be in terms of schedule, content, or attention to the semi-pro scene.

The grind

One thing that seems frustrating about online play is a lot of these tournaments, since everyone’s playing from home, have extended and flushed out more days than they would normally play. 

It’s actually been the eternal problem in Counter-Strike, not even specifically related to online play: our schedule in the professional scene for the past three, four years has been a clusterfuck. For all talent, players, and teams, we just have way too many tournaments and are stretching ourselves way too thin. 

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We haven’t been able to get this schedule under control and that limits the health of our scene. We are very top-heavy and there’s not a whole lot else in Counter-Strike getting any love, including development of our non-tournament content and semi-pro scene. And that’s just a result of the sheer number of events on our schedule, how long they are, and how intensive their formats are. If we can address that combination of factors, we should be able to make this esport a little healthier for everyone involved.

Catering to the online viewer

As an esport, we do a terrible job of creating content. Whether that’s player, team, or community-based – anything that doesn’t have to do with a live game of Counter-Strike. So exploring ways to reconnect with that core Counter-Strike audience is important, especially in how we interact with them while events are going on.

For the viewer, we’ve transitioned online but it still feels like we’re trying to keep up LAN competition’s tone and intensity, probably leaving viewers with some level of fatigue. Essentially what we’ve done is taken the formula for casting big arena championships and brought them online. But with adapting everything else that we have in a broadcast, we’ve missed the opportunity to reconnect by adapting the style of our show to fit the circumstances. I look over at the LEC and admire the way they use their talent to build content that keeps fans engaged and entertained.

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Tournament formats have been elongated to provide the most consistent results, but that chews up time and resources that could be spent on getting players more involved in the show or getting something unique like player profiles or deep tactical analyses of gameplay thrown into the broadcast. 

It could be good to find a way to let the seriousness drop a little bit and have a little bit more fun, similar to the way that Beyond the Summits are run. We’ve gotten so accustomed to centering around tournament gameplay that we’ve kind of lost some of the fun ways to interact with our community and we can use this time to reconnect.

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Semi-Pro Scene

The biggest problem I’ve seen in esports is a lack of attention to the semi-pro scene. It is the one area of Counter-Strike that doesn’t get enough attention at all, despite probably gaining a little over the past year. 

Right now, we just have the professional scene and it is all-consuming in Counter-Strike. That’s natural, everyone wants to see the best, but the top level of esports can’t survive longer than its one-decade generation of gamers if there’s no new blood that can consistently rise up and compete with the best.

This online era would be the perfect timing to look at, fix, and restructure that scene and the content that can be created there. Counter-Strike is one of the deepest esports in terms of semi-pro’s competitiveness and the amount of potential that we have down there—but we don’t give it any love while so preoccupied with the battle at the top. 

It’s become super disorganized, with teams dying, players jumping to new teams or even games, and no real goals set. Especially with a new game like Valorant coming out right now, the biggest part of our scene that has been gutted has been semi-pro players who haven’t made it to the top yet, and just see Valorant as a better opportunity at the moment. 

A huge priority for Counter-Strike, especially right now, should be building a semi-pro scene that has a clear structure leading to the professional ranks, with more tools to find players, build rosters, and actually learn how to compete properly. And if we can create room to get more eyes on the up-and-coming, they’ll have more to play for and can experience progressive growth.

What online Counter-Strike means for a return to LAN

While online results are legitimate, it’s hard to put a full force of weight behind them. At the moment, online play won’t shift teams up or down in my rankings or make me believe teams are trash or championship-caliber. 

Moses ESL
ESL
The online era shouldn’t shift power rankings, but should dictate storylines we bring back to LAN.

Instead, the community, and us as analysts, need to look at this online stretch as more of a barometer for judging teams when we get back to LAN. BIG finally showed that they can still be dangerous with this lineup, so will they still be dangerous when we get to LAN? Furia showed an aggressive style that historically seems to work better online, can that style keep up when we return to offline events? We can bring those storylines to the first LAN tournament and find out if teams can meet or exceed expectations.

We’re away from arenas and that hurts the reliability of our results. But now we can turn it around, hit a pause on these massive costly events, re-evaluate the millions of dollars we spend building out arena events, and see if we should scale back some of those and relocate the money elsewhere.

CS:GO

missharvey column: Valve, here’s what CSGO needs to be great (Part 2)

Published: 8/Oct/2020 13:42 Updated: 8/Oct/2020 17:12

by missharvey

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After a storied career in Counter-Strike as a player, Stephanie ‘missharvey’ Harvey is issuing a call to arms for the CS:GO developers to act and help the game. After exploring the issues in Part 1, here’s what Valve needs to do before it’s too late.

In my last piece, I outlined a plethora of issues which I believe are the root of CS:GO’s drastic loss of momentum. While there’s no doubt that the statistics paint a positive picture for Counter-Strike, the grass is greener where you water it. Valve has neglected their community to the point where many are considering whether Valorant — a tactical shooter still very much in its infancy — will be the killer of CS:GO.

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Viper in Valorant
Riot Games
Riot has built their tactical shooter with competitive integrity at the forefront of their priorities, but community feedback has been essential.

Let’s get CS:GO’s community back on board

As you may have noticed, the Counter-Strike community has a fond place in my heart. That’s no secret.— the CS:GO community is like no other, they’re loyal, extremely passionate about their game, and dedicated to making it an awesome experience for pros and beginners alike. And this is where Valve needs to start: everything needs to revolve around the community. 

So what can the devs do? Well, for starters, there needs to be a better global link between the player logging into Steam to play CS:GO and what the developers have in the pipeline. Easiest way to achieve this? Roadmaps. Planning the route ahead and sharing their goals with the players could be done on a bi-monthly basis, or from Operation to Operation. Either way, it would provide a level or transparency that Valve is yet to show. That way, if a player wants to know when to expect the next rotation of maps or hotfixes, they can do so by just consulting a roadmap that is frequently updated by the devs in-game. 

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From a content standpoint, Operations are a gimmick. There is no season-based Battlepass system (which seems to be the modern way) and it feels like Valve are being left behind in an era where content can make or break player drop off rates. Other than love for the game, I feel like Valve are giving players no reason to continue their grind. Compare this with the likes of Valorant and Call of Duty, where players have always got a reason to grind — be it Riot’s Act-based Battlepass, or Activision’s Season-based system.

Warzone Battle pass
Infinity Ward
Incentivizing the grind beyond gameplay is key to player retention in the long-run, and can even help build character lore in the game!

And there’s so much more that can be done. A large majority of the community aspire to play like professional players. Instead of relying on third-party websites, why not embed features like player configs directly into CS:GO? This could be as simple as linking it to a verified Steam profile associated with a pro. You could even take this a step further than just downloading the whole config — why not show the user what’s being changed and give them the option to swap specific elements out? So, in practice, a player could take NiKo’s crosshair, juliano’s sensitivity and kennyS’ viewmodel. Again, food for thought, but this is just scratching the surface. Steam already has a profile system in place, and it’s begging to be more relevant than just a vanity item.

Valve: Are you in or out?

I think it’s fair to say, we need more of a ‘buy-in’ from Valve — and by that, I don’t mean a measly half-buy… I mean an all-out M249 full-buy with a Zeus sprinkled on top. Using content to drive interest in a game is just the tip of the iceberg. There are fundamental issues that need resolving. Aside from being on the ball with things like bug fixes and more frequent patches, why not make the playing experience even smoother and make 64-tick servers a thing of the past?

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For those who haven’t dabbled with 128-tick servers, let me give you an example of how it feels. Imagine taking a shot at an enemy who is jiggle-peeking around a wall and connecting the bullets you fire. As opposed to seemingly getting killed from behind said wall… Honestly, the difference is night and day. The best part – there are community-run servers that offer a 128-tick rate as standard. 

In this one example, we have a problem and tons and tons of possible solutions. Let’s assume Valve doesn’t want to overhaul their server structure (which they should do), what else could they do? Reach out to third parties and embed their structure into your game? Give players the choice to play on 128-tick for a small monthly fee (while possibly reducing the amount of cheaters in that matchmaking category)? Slowly implement 128-tick to higher ranks and prime players and test out the outcome? As you read this, I am sure you are coming up with other ideas, and in my opinion, this is one of the things Valve should have been working on for years now. But even if they had been, the community is none the wiser!

64 tick servers in CSGO
Valve
If an enemy came around the corner here on 64-tick, they would have ‘peeker’s advantage’ and would stand a better chance of killing you.

Esports is thriving, now is the time to act!

The interest in CS:GO from an esport perspective has never been greater. More hours are being streamed on Twitch than ever before, and as a result, viewership metrics are higher from month-to-month. With so many tournament organizers wanting their slice of the CS:GO pie — despite being riddled with the logistical nightmare that is presented with online play — it’s obvious that Valve could be capitalizing on a huge demographic here.

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Imagine a pro player’s Steam profile was their hub. Links to all their social profiles with the ability to subscribe to them. An entry level of subscription might issue fans with access to their demos, configs and notifications when they’re online and scrimming. An additional level might include access to exclusive content and the ability to exclusively watch your favorite pro’s point-of-view during a Major, with access to their comms during select portions of the match. Imagine Patreon, but for Counter-Strike.

Steam profile
Valve
There is so much that can be done to bridge the gap between Steam profiles and CS:GO.

By no means am I saying that all of the above will fix everything — there’s so much more that can be done. There’s a gold mine of content with custom servers that could so easily be embedded into the game. Again, look at Valorant’s Spike Rush. The community asked for a faster-paced game mode, and Riot answered. We have FFA Deathmatch modes, retake simulators, warmup arenas, movement (surfing) servers… The list goes on. Valve could easily take the community’s input here and really push CS:GO forward in a positive direction. So what’s the takeaway message?

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Community first. As you can probably tell if you’ve got this far, I’m a firm believer in Counter-Strike’s loyal fanbase. The fact of the matter is, that everyone below tier-one pros are starving, and as it stands, there is no ecosystem to support these players — be it tier-two pros, aspiring pros or the casual gamer. So c’mon, Valve, the ball is in your court.