As someone who loves to research game creation, starting from ideation to execution, it amazes me that Counter-Strike started out as a mod for Valve’s Half Life 2 created by a couple of college kids, and has since become a well-known household name and esports staple.
Imagined as a hardcore, tactical first-person shooter where one slip up or missed shot could leave you on the spectator screen for minutes until the next round, Counter-Strike offered an experience unlike any other shooter at the time. Players are forced to strategize with their teams to pinpoint enemy location, and master their accuracies and map navigation from the inside out, all while taking into account their personal economy – a mechanic that balanced personal/team kills, eliminations and wins/losses. Within the first month or two, creators Minh Le and Jess Cliffe initially thought that they would have to beg a group of people to play their mod. After around six months, Counter-Strike garnered an impressive 16,000+ players – simultaneously grabbing the attention of high-profile developer Valve.
From Beta 1 all the way to Global Offensive in August of 2012, Counter-Strike has become something of a global phenomenon, sweeping through the esports scene and thriving to this day. As interesting as Counter-Strike’s success truly is, there were several times where the series divided the community, nearly killing itself entirely. Though I want to focus more so on CS: XBE and CS:GO’s original Xbox and 360 debuts, it’s important to note the user reception in each iteration.
When Counter-Strike: Source released back in 2004, the community – to put it bluntly – hated it. They found it to be a tough pill to swallow, as it never felt like Counter-Strike, a game in which the community spent an unfathomable amount of time learning to master its incredibly high skill demands. After some time and updates based on player response, the fanbase split into 1.6 and Source, each group equally as passionate about their version. In August of 2012, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive released to an similarly mediocre reception, but after many updates, including the controversial skin gambling scene, and a booming esports impact, CS:GO has never been better. Oddly enough, Counter-Strike Xbox Edition released in November of 2003 after an initially turbulent development cycle. Before the eventual April 2010 server shutdown, the final release was actually a product of Counter-Strike: Condition Zero, a game jointly developed by both Valve and Gearbox Software. Announced at E3 2002, Gearbox and Valve’s iteration of Counter-Strike found itself struggling to utilize the Xbox hardware to its fullest potential.
Summer 2002 saw the departure of Gearbox from the project and the addition of Ritual Entertainment’s development, revealed in May 2003’s issue of Game Informer. Ritual and Valve wanted to appeal to a wide audience for this Xbox launch, so they made the executive decision to include exclusive content – two new single-player missions and a bonus space station mission, bringing the total to a generous 23. For multiplayer, they added five exclusive maps, each appropriately edited to compensate for the accuracy loss in the transition from mouse and keyboard to console controllers, and two new weapons in the form of a machete and the syringe gun.
Throughout its development and its June 2003 multiplayer showcase at E3, it became clear that development of the single-player component had barely started. As crunch time was in full effect, the single-player saw a massive rework and overhaul from a more linear, mission-based structure to traditional skirmish. After its release, high sales figures justified a Platinum Hits version and backwards compatibility for the Xbox 360. Though the Xbox Edition saw impressive sales figures, it never found a life within the esports scene – the same cannot be said for the PC versions.
Counter-Strike’s success in the console world did not translate over to the competitive scene, mostly due to the fact that the game innately belongs to the PC. Nine years after the Xbox Edition’s release, Valve saw the 360 version of CS:GO, a game riddled with technical problems. It doesn’t help that Valve updated the PC version regularly, while the Xbox version received only a handful in several years’ span.
As an amateur competitive CS:GO player, I can confidently say that jumping into it blind will likely turn most people off, especially if they originate from a more casual shooter. It demands your attention and dedication, as one false move will spell instant death in the crosshairs of some players who are insanely accurate with years under their belt. It also doesn’t help that the current community is rather toxic (more so in the casual playlist) with most matches kicking off with spammed shit talking as well as the occasional friendly grenade popping off at our spawn, leaving most of the team with 30 health points to start. Coming off of Valorant’s amazing closed beta, I wanted to practice my shooting skills in CS:GO. Both games equally require attention, memorization, and hours of practice, but it would be unfair to label them as the same.
CS:GO is not the run-and-gun shooter most people gravitate towards. The difference of actually killing a person or dying depends entirely on where you’re aiming, how you initiate your attack, and your escape plan if things go south. Jumping into CS:GO initially, I found myself spam firing the weapons while moving – a tactic that almost surely spells death on either PC or Xbox. The game encourages the player to take it slow, learn the maps and plant your feet when firing at an opposing force. Though there are sensitivity options on a controller, a console player has no chance against a well-versed PC player. 180-degree flick shots and other pro moves are viable with a mouse and keyboard, making for some incredible moments in the esports scene, yet proving to be difficult for Xbox players. This is in no way discrediting the success of the Xbox port, as bringing a shooter like Counter-Strike to consoles is an impressive feat in and of itself. Looking at Counter-Strike in the bigger picture however, Global Offensive is predominantly active on PC as opposed to its Xbox iteration.
CS:GO is available on Xbox One through backwards compatibility, but if you own a PC you’re likely to enjoy that experience over the former. As I had mentioned previously, when CS:GO released back in 2012 it was met with much criticism from the community, and the 360 version – with its minimal updates over the last eight years – relates more so to the vanilla version that eventually received extensive updates to null out some of the suggested problems on PC.
As I was growing up, I found myself playing more console games, and I wondered why some shooters were never ported from the PC. I often questioned why the developers never wanted to appeal to a wider audience, but now that I own a gaming laptop and actively play on it, I understand why some games don’t belong on consoles. Counter-Strike’s success in the sales department for the original Xbox was surely impressive, but I often question if peoples’ interest stemmed only from the popularity of the game on the PC. Judging from the fact that we have not seen an update for current gen consoles or its inclusion in the esports climate, it wouldn’t be inappropriate to assume that we might never again see Counter-Strike ported or designed specifically for a console.
Other hardcore, tactical shooters like Riot Games’ Valorant or New World Interactive’s competitive military sim sequel Insurgency: Sandstorm personally don’t belong on consoles. The latter is actually coming to current gen consoles at the tail end of this summer, and I am very curious to not only see how the community responds, but also how consistent the developer will be in fleshing out regular updates. As of right now, Riot Games, a predominantly PC-focused entertainment entity, has no plans to bring Valorant to consoles, and maybe that’s for the best. Counter-Strike is a respected titan in this industry with arguably dated graphics, audio and gameplay, yet still remains to be a juggernaut in the esports scene.