Counter-Strike, maybe you’ve heard of it? We’re kidding, of course you have. Perhaps the most famous multiplayer FPS of them all, Counter-Strike has been one of those games that most gamers have tried at least once. It seems that everyone’s got a story when they’ve excelled in a match, sniping three opponents with 360 no scope, knifing the rest and defusing the bomb in the last seconds, saving the team – like a true hero (when they’ve in fact camped the whole match, sneaking up to the bomb without anyone noticing them, and just narrowly defuses the bomb before getting headshoted milliseconds after the familiar sound “Counter-terrorists Win”. Well, a win is a win, right?
Anyway, for those of you who actually don’t know anything about Counter-Strike, or just need a quick refresher, here’s the basics of the actual gameplay. From the get-go, you either choose Terrorists, or Counter-Terrorists in a 5v5 match where both sides need to complete one of two objectives. The Terrorists main objective is to plant and successfully detonate a bomb on a specific bombsite, and the Counter-Terrorists objective is to diffuse the once planted bomb. A team can also win on a complete elimination of the opposing team. Each game consists of several rounds where both teams take turns with each faction. At the start of each round the players is able to customize their arsenal with money earnt based on the success of the previous rounds. Got it? Good.
Counter-Strike has, during the 21 years of its existence (staggering!), only really gone one way: up, and up some more. It’s one of the world’s biggest esports, loved and played by millions from all over the world. From humble beginnings to the definition of a household name – here’s how Counter-Strike rose from obscurity to the limelights.
The Humble beginnings
Like so many great games before it Counter-Strike was originally made as a mod. League of Legends was created as a spin-off to DotA Allstars, DotA Allstars as a mod from Warcraft 3, and Counter-Strike was originally a mod from the legendary Half-Life back in 1999. The classic gameplay and mechanics was to define an entire genre, but no one knew this initially. Three iterations later and Counter-Strike is almost synonym with competitive gaming.
In Half-Life people could customize certain maps, and it was through this map editor that Counter-Strike was born. The developers, Minh Le and Jess Cliffe, created the map through the GoldSrc engine and it is estimated that it took them one and a half month of programming for the first beta to be completed. The pair continued to develop betas and also created a website for the game. Gradually, people started playing which drew more attention. Eventually, in 2000, and after the release of the fifth beta, video game developer Valve caught their eye and wanted to hire Le and Cliffe. Valve saw the potential in the mod and wanted Le and Cliffe to continue their work. Said and done, valve bought the intellectual property of Counter-Strike and released, together with Le and Cliffe, the first non-beta version in September 2000 on PC.
As more and more people started to play the game, the community became bigger and bigger. The rise was exceptional. Counter-Strike was played all over the world. Gamers had never seen something quite similar. Multiplayer existed before but Counter-Strike was something else. It was so easy to just get into a match, playing with your friends or complete strangers, without having to spend several hours in front of the computer. You could play for only a couple of minutes – or days, if you got the time. The availability made the game accessible to both the hard-core gamers and the casuals. It was easy to learn but hard to master.
As stated, Counter-Strike was unique. Today we see a lot of the mechanics Counter-Strike implemented, or at least helped to distribute through its popularity. Realistic recoil patterns for the guns, payment system, multiple objectives, respawns – Counter-Strike is one of the most influential multiplayer games ever created. It was (and still is) also a community-driven game. The community designed and created a majority of the games maps, and helped spread them. If a map was particularly well-made, more people played it. Organically creating, balancing and distributing them. A game made by the people for the people.
The competitive scene started off at LANs around the world. In Sweden, a local gathering of friends in the small town of Malung began playing Counter-Strike with and against each other – a competition which would eventually grow into something you might have heard about: DreamHack. The first Major competition was, however, the Cyberathlete Professional League Winter Championship 2001 where the now legendary team Ninjas In Pyjamas won. Due to the popularity of Counter-Strike, more and more competitions emerged which was bigger, evermore organized and continuously rising prize pools. Gamers could now make a living out of esports and highly organized teams were created as the level of competitiveness rose.
Sequels and superstars
The rise of the game was almost unprecedented. And so also the potential. The developers saw opportunities to do even more. After the initial success, and as hardware and technological advances were made, ambition became ideas and ideas became reality. A single player game, Counter-Strike: Condition Zero, came out in 2004. Unfortunately, the hype couldn’t compete with the finished product and a majority of the fans weren’t satisfied.
But then something happened. Half-Life 2 was released and with it a true sequel to Counter-Strike came out: Counter-Strike: Source. This was what many of the fans wanted. The same mechanics and gameplay in a new polished and superior engine. The original Counter-Strike, also called Counter-Strike 1.6, was still popular, especially with the older fanbase, but Source would eventually surpass 1.6.
It was around this time that esports really shifted into a new gear. Organizations, players and fans started to become major forces in the entertainment industry as profits and distribution marked the beginning of a new era. The era of competitive gaming. Certain teams and players became worldwide stars, followed by hundreds of thousands. Players got celebrity status and got their own followings.
In 2006 Intel Extreme Masters, IEM, stood out amongst the organizations that were arranging competitions and made Counter-Strike a truly international competitive esport. IEM assembled the best teams and players around the world into a league, where the real elite players competed on a stage of their own. IEM is, to this day, still one of the most premier Counter-Strike competitions in world.
Dawn of CS:GO and the world of esports
As the years passed and the stages kept getting bigger, Counter-Strike: Source finally started to look a bit outdated, despite continuous updates. Technology improved and Valve needed to reinvent their prized FPS. Luckily, they weren’t being idle. The game we all know and love, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, started being developed in 2010 and was released two years later. Through community feedback, Valve knew precisely what the fans wanted and produced a game which was true to its core but at the same time fresh and modern. Many minor changes were made but not radical enough to scare off the fans. CS:GO was true to its prequels but was made for a modern world. Made for competitive gaming and esports.
The original creators, Le and Cliffe, and Valve always knew that the fans and the community were the most vital and important components in Counter-Strike. They helped turn the game into what it is today, growing it organically, always giving feedback and creating maps/skins. After several iterations and thousands of updates later, Counter-Strike is as relevant as ever. The fans loyal, the players amongst the best of the best and the viewership rising.
Eight years after the release of CS:GO and twenty-one years after the original Counter-Strike, the game is still one of the most popular esports ever. Its relevance keep it in every large competition with multiple esports worth noting. The tournaments congregate among the biggest crowds and the prize pools are in the top 5’s of gaming. Counter-Strike has influenced countless of games and touched millions of gamers. In many ways it’s a perfect game. A perfect balance of user-friendliness and competitiveness, easy to learn but hard to master. The phenomenon Counter-Strike will be played for generations to come.