It takes years to build an empire. Even more so when an empire is based on the field which almost all of the current parental generation hates, video gaming. Delving into new worlds and ruthlessly conquering them, is only slightly less difficult than actually conquering the real world. And for such a feat, the game itself has to grow into a world of its own. This growth is best explained by none other than what is considered one of the most iconic gaming titles in history, Counter Strike.

Originally created by two college students, Minh “Gooseman” Le and Jess “Cliffe” Cliffe in 1998, as a mod of the original Half-Life which ran on the GoldSrc engine, Counter Strike was simple to understand. Two teams fight it out in multiple rounds, Terrorists and Counter-Terrorists, the former’s objective being to eliminate the opposing team or plant a bomb in one of the designated sites, and guard it till it explodes, the latter’s objective being eliminating the opponents or defusing the planted bomb. Winning and losing rounds gave different currency rewards, to be used to purchase equipment next round.

Pretty simple right? Once the mod was released, it was no surprise that the creators of Half-Life, Valve Corporation, quickly realized its potential and acquired it in 1999, turning it into a title of its own. But its popularity wasn’t confined to one or two countries. Slowly, it became a global sensation and one of the first properly regulated eSports.

What made CS (specifically CS 1.6) so good was the fluidity of movement, the satisfaction of clutch situations, the economy system and the precise gunplay provided by the GoldSrc engine. And what eventually paved its way for becoming an eSport, was the fact that it had a skill ceiling so high, that only a handful of human beings could hit it. The mechanical skill it required in terms of aim, mouse control, muscle memory and so on, instantly attracted numerous players to give it a shot.

But the problem with CS 1.6 quickly became obvious. It was TOO good. So good that every attempt Valve made to iterate on it, was met with controversies. Its Xbox version failed miserably, making it clear that CS in consoles was just not meant to be. In 2004, its first sequel was released, CS : Source, quickly facing criticism because of the reduced skill ceiling, which was part of the brilliance of CS 1.6. This caused a division in the fanbase between Source apologists and professional players who still preferred 1.6. It was around this time that CS eSports began declining, with the MOBA genre taking over the arena with titles like Dota and League of Legends.

Valve had enough, and in 2012, released the latest iteration of the series and its most popular one, Counter Strike : Global Offensive (CSGO), aiding in the end of the civil crisis in the fanbase. Although it had improved graphics and new game modes, the game was met with heavy criticism because of the buggy mechanics, the instability of its new Source engine, and gameplay that made CS players step out of their comfort zones. However, with regular updates, launch of streaming services like Twitch and Ustream, the game eventually surpassed 1.6 in popularity. Professional players dedicated themselves once again to the game. The introduction of community maps which allowed fans to make their own maps, and skins to customize guns, only helped to make it more attractive to casual players as well.

In 2013, Valve announced the first CSGO major championships worth $250,000, held in Sweden, the bastion of the top teams in the world, like “Ninjas in Pyjamas”, and “Fnatic”. By 2015, 25 million copies of the game were sold. It also contributed heavily into the creation of eSports regulations, revenue rules, and team management laws. In 2017, TV media houses began airing live CSGO matches and tournaments, adding to the enormous viewership it was already receiving on streaming platforms, even when it found difficulty in getting sponsors because of the terrorism based content in the game.

Yet the controversies kept going. Cheating was probably one of the main factors which played into the plateauing of the popularity, especially after the game was made free-to-play in 2018. Valve’s anti-cheat system proved ineffective, and so professional players switched into independent servers like ESEA or FaceIt, alienating casual players. Cheating in CS also led to the humiliation of India’s eSports scene, when Nikhil “Forsaken” Kumawat of OpTic India was caught cheating in a tournament in Asian circles, leading to the disqualification of the most promising Indian team.

Even with all these controversies, a rigid and solid crowd was still seen in every CSGO major, signifying that even when newer games like Valorant and genres like MOBA and Battle Royale dominated the scene, people still showed up for Counter Strike. CS proved itself to be a game which was almost entirely immortal, all because of its rigorous development, the innovation that went into its creation, and most importantly, the memories it carved in the hearts of players worldwide. Unforgettable moments transcended into legendary gameplays meant to be saved in the halls of fame forever. The audience the game targeted, at a time when First Person Shooter games had all the hype, gave it a straight headshot towards victory, along with the esteemed title of “the game that never dies”.

Jibran V