Valve Corporation’s extremely popular Steam digital storefront has over 1 billion registered accounts and over 90 million unique active users a month. Currently, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), developed and published by Valve in 2012, reigns supreme on Steam’s top 10 games chart with a peak of 600,000 concurrent players and approximately 300,000 concurrent users at any given time in a 24-hour period. This position is bolstered by the StarLadder Berlin Major 2019 esports tournament, which ended on September 9th.
CS:GO trades spots regularly with another Valve title and strong esports contender, Dota 2, and the mega-popular PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) in third place. The numbers fall off sharply from there, as fourth place and beyond tend to rotate between major new releases and long-running mainstays.
Released in 2012, CS:GO is the fourth iteration of the Counter-Strike series of competitive first-person shooters which launched nearly 20 years ago as a total conversion mod for Valve’s Half-Life. Pitting a team of player-controlled terrorists and counter-terrorists against each other in objective-based matches (including planting and defusing bombs), Counter-Strike has been a mainstay of the esports scene practically since the industry’s inception.
CS:GO in Esports
The global appeal of the game has helped it maintain its popularity even while other similar, flashier games such as the annual Call of Duty iterations come and go. High profile tournaments with cash prizes are held regularly, which further boost the game’s reach through streaming platforms such as Twitch. In 2015, a trade union was formed among a large gathering of professional game teams that required at least a $75,000 prize pool for CS:GO tournaments. Valve-organized tournaments (“Majors”) have prize pools of $1 million, and have been broadcast on cable television networks by major media conglomerates such as Turner Broadcasting.
CS:GO switched to a free-to-play model in December 2018. Although it was already successful as a premium title, its higher accessibility contributes to its ongoing success. Players are incentivized to play regularly in order to unlock randomized weapon cosmetics. Some of these “skins” sell for hundreds of dollars on third-party market sites and Steam’s own marketplace, which has paid out tens of millions of dollars to the creators of virtual goods for games such as CS:GO and Dota 2.
The future of Counter-Strike
CS:GO has built up a staggering amount of momentum with no signs of slowing down. The franchise could receive yet another refresh from Valve at any time to further boost its dominance on the charts. CS:GO hopped on the battle royale trend in December of 2018 (timed alongside its free-to-play model), so there is evidence that the developers are willing to try new things to stay competitive.