Many people, from children to adults around the world, associate the Counter-Strike series with the classic first-person shooter. It includes two teams with five players in each fight on different maps. Many of these maps have a historical component: Arabian sand on the Dust, cute European streets on the De_Italy, a big castle on the Overpass, etc.
Today, the latest version of Counter-Strike, named Global Offensive, collects millions of players online. Before the pandemic started CS:GO, gathered the whole stadiums of fans. People came to see big esports tournaments where the best players on the planet fight for millions in a range of prize pools and championship titles. The last major competition was the Berlin Major 2019, held in the Mercedes-Benz Arena with more than 15,000 fans and a $1,000,000 prize pool. Today CS:GO is a significant player and leader in the esports worldwide direction. But it wasn’t always like that.
From modification to competition game
The first version of Counter-Strike was released in 1999 as a Half-Life modification by Minh Le and Jess Cliffe. Valve realized that there was a lot of interest in Counter-Strike and released it as a full game in November 2000. As we know, Valve had done something similar with another popular game named Dota 2. But this big story deserves a separate article. The Counter-Strike release set a new direction in esports development, one that will change things for decades.
The first Counter-Strike international tournament Babbage’s Cyberathlete Professional League Event was held in Dallas in December 2000 the month after the game was released. There, 32 teams fought for $15,000 in the Hotel Hyatt Regency Dallas. The champion of the first CS tournament was Swedish team Eyeballers. CPL renamed this series of competitions to CPL Summer and held them from 2000 to 2007.
Throughout the year, many players have been able to try Counter-Strike and formed teams for new competitions. Two significant events were held in December 2001. The first was the World Cyber Games (WCG). The event was organized by Samsung, the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Ministry of Information and Communications, it was held in the capital of Korea – Seoul. WCG is analogous to the Olympic Games, with hundreds of athletes from different esports disciplines around the world. This event showed people that esports is not only a competition between children in computer clubs. Esports is a significant direction with massive potential to business, like a real sport discipline (e.g. soccer, baseball, etc.). The total prize pool of WCG 2001 was $245,000, and the Counter-Strike part was $70,000. The main prize was taken by Canadian team LnD.
Golden Era of Counter-Strike 1.6
In September 2003, Valve released a new 1.6 patch. Counter-Strike 1.6, it changed a shooter and made it one of the most popular games ever. But here we’re talking about esports, so let’s go back to it. Even bigger skills than NiP in 2001 were shown by SK Gaming in 2003, when they won five out of eight tournaments during the year. By this time there were three leading tournament operators on the stage:
Together with World Esports Masters (WEG), they set the direction for the development of esports for the next few years. In 2007 Counter-Strike was elevated onto a new esports level with Intel Extreme Masters. Intel decided to create and sponsor an entire network of tournaments for years to come. IEM has many small tournaments in each world region. Each small competition allows winners to be qualified for the big worldwide major championship. ESL (the organizer of IEM) built a qualifying system with tournaments in America, Asia, and Europe. Valve and other tournament operators use the same system today, but with six regions: North America, Europe, CIS, South America, Asia, and Oceania.
The Champions Gaming Series chose the other way. In 2004 Valve released a new version of the game: Counter-Strike: Source. Valve developed two different versions of Counter-Strike separately at the same time. CGS was owned by DirecTV and British Sky Broadcasting and chose a concept, like a sports league, in that it was a draft and teams were allocated to cities. The series aired live on DirecTV’s channel The 101. From 2007 to 2008, CGS held many minor tournaments and two majors with a $477,500 prize pool on each. Unfortunately, CS: Source lost popularity and tournaments on it were finished.
In the main version of the game CS: 1.6, things were going much better. By 2010 on stage were hundreds of teams from across the whole world and many tournaments with prize pools from $10,000 to $100,000. In 2010 there were several Counter-Strike leading tournament series:
- Intel Extreme Masters (IEM)
- Electronic Sports World Cup (ESWC)
- World Cyber Games (WCG)
That was a golden time for Counter-Strike 1.6 esports direction. It was the peak of popularity at the time. At least that’s what many people thought, but Valve was already preparing a new atomic bomb.
The success of the Global Offensive
21 August 2012 is an essential date for Counter-Strike. Valve merged the main version of the game and Source engine; as a result, the world has seen Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. It was a new game with a new face, new animations, and features, but with its old advantages, CS:GO blew up the gaming community.
Of course, the new version of the game has changed all CS esports direction. In 2013 DreamHack held a new tournament, DreamHack Winter 2013, with a magnificent $250,000 prize pool which was sponsored by Valve. This tournament opened the era of CS:GO Major Championships. Each major competition was notable for its extraordinary passion, the highest level of play, and incredibly memorable moments. The best of these moments Valve has captured in the form of graphite on different maps.
Valve has created a clear roadmap for CS:GO development as a significant part of worldwide esports disciplines. Great interest in CS:GO from many players enabled the system of cases and weapon skins introduced in 2013. Also, cases with unique skins were dropped to players through watching major tournaments broadcasts (unfortunately this declines in 2019). However, the system has created an open market between players. Prices for some CS:GO skins can now reach hundreds of dollars. The market of skins has helped the game to maintain interest for a longer period of time.
Today the esports stage of CS:GO is presented by large tournament operators (ESL, DreamHack, StarLadder), and headed by Valve. But every year, there are new events that bring something new to the industry; BLAST from RFRSH is a good example. Big esports clubs such as NiP, SK Gaming, Na’Vi, and Fnatic have their own training facilities, service staff, and merchandise shops. CS:GO today is a big industry with billions of dollars, significant business potential, broadcasting studios, and millions of fans. But we wouldn’t have all this if Counter-Strike as a mode for Half-Life hadn’t come out in 1999.