One of the biggest esports in the world, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive has been hitting headlines for years with sensational pro-scene tournaments, incredible prize money and multiple millions of viewers around the world. It is, in no uncertain terms, a phenomenon.
But in 2018, Valve's strategic squad-based shooter changed forever, by going free to play and introducing a new battle royale mode, Danger Zone. Just how is this going to impact on a well-established and ever-evolving pro scene? We wanted to find out.
So, we grabbed a bunch of CS:GO stars, participating at the Blast Pro Series' Lisbon event, on 14 and 15 December. The tournament is a high-intensity, action-packed model, where every participating team gets at least one slot in front of a sold-out crowd. It is, to quote FalleN, a very "hit-and-run" style tournament, where "every game matters a lot".
Six teams showed up in Lisbon - Astralis, NAVI, MIBR, Cloud9, FaZe Clan and Ninjas In Pyjamas. The Denmark-based Astralis came out on top, beating Ukrainian crew NAVI 2-1 in the grand final. You can watch all the action from the decisive match below, and check out our interviews beneath that.
What are your favourite memories of 2018?
Peter "Dupreeh" Rasmussen, Astralis: My biggest - well I wouldn't say memory, but there's two things that stand out. One would being the team's FACEIT Major win in September, because we won with Magisk (Emil Reif, who joined the team in February) for the first time. And obviously winning the Intel Grand Slam earlier in December was pretty huge.
Will "RUSH" Wierzba, Cloud9: It'll have to be the ELEAGUE Major, definitely, in Boston back in January. You can't beat winning a Major - there's no better feeling for any CS:GO player.
Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo, MIBR: My favourite moments have been playing with four others from overseas, as it's challenging for anyone to be playing in another language, and that's something that'll stay with me. It has really helped me develop my English, and grow as a person at the same time.
Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev, Natus Vincere (NAVI): The whole year, as an individual, has been great for me. I've taken several steps forward, as both a team player and personally. And I'm really happy with that. Maybe the team never hit number one, but we've been really close to it.
Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund, Ninjas in Pyjamas: I think making it back to the London Major was a big highlight for me. The year itself has been a struggle - and last year was the same. Making it back, that meant the world to me. I sat and cried afterwards, and nobody could talk to me. And that's the highlight of the year, for me.
How do you feel the standard of professional CS:GO has improved in 2018?
RUSH: The standard has definitely improved. One team in particular is Astralis - I think that's the team that others strive to be like. In the game and outside of it, the structure they have is great, and they have an insanely good coach who does a lot for them. On top of that, everything is set up for them - they just have to worry about playing, and winning.
FalleN: We've seen Astralis come in very strongly. The addition of Magisk to their team has taken them to another level - they've found a new chemistry. Besides that, there's been some great competition between NAVI, Team Liquid, ourselves, FaZe, but ultimately Astralis came out on top. And that's something we're looking to change in 2019.
s1mple: I think Astralis has improved the whole game massively. They enter a round, and 15 or 20 seconds later they're all over you and you don't know what to do. I think they're doing something new.
Dupreeh: I think throughout 2018, a lot of teams have seen what we've been doing, taking steps towards treating this as a more traditional sport. We work with sports psychologists, nutritionists, people like that, and we're doing that to raise our performances as much as possible. That's very much in line with how the 'real' sports world works. And I think the way that we prepare for our games, both from the mental aspect and gameplay wise, a lot of teams are looking in that same direction. This year has seen an evolution of how Counter-Strike is approached, so 2019 is going to be a year where teams will be experimenting with all kinds of new play styles. I'm looking forward to it.
Do you think that CS:GO going free to play with have any impact on the pro scene?
FalleN: I think making the game free will see some changes at the pro level, longer term. There is definitely an audience out there for the game, but they've not played before now, as they had to buy it. Valve has to make sure that they're monitoring accounts, though, so players can't use multiple ones. I'm sure they're on that, though.
s1mple: It's a bit harder when it comes to matchmaking, as I think free-to-play will see more cheaters playing the game. But I think people who know anything about the game can combat that. It should increase the viewer numbers, too. I think it's a great update for all people.
Dupreeh: The fact that it's now free to play is something that I think will benefit the scene, both casually and professionally. Mostly casual, as you're going to get new players coming in, who want to evolve to become better, and more competitive. That'll be really good for the scene, because, basically, you always want to bring in more people.
GeT_RiGhT: I think it'll have more impact on the casual scene, but it could affect the pros eventually, as new players will want to get better, and move up the ranks. It's too early to say, but I think that it's a good change for the game, and that it needed to happen. I'm happy with it.
RUSH: If it were to impact the pro scene, it wouldn't be for years and years. It takes that long to reach this level, from just starting out. It's really good for the casual scene, though. It'll bring new faces to the games, and subsequently to watching the streams, watching us in action.
And what about the introduction of Danger Zone? Is that a mode that could make an impression on the pro scene?
Dupreeh: I've played a fair bit of Danger Zone, and it's fun. It's different, to be having this mode that you're familiar with from PUBG and Fortnite in your game, and that was weird in the beginning. But I don't believe it'll ever be part of competitive play.
GeT_RiGhT: I think it's fun to play, but only with your friends. It does have potential to become something, but at the same time it's too early. It's definitely of interest to people who like battle royale games, but that's not the true nature of CS:GO. I'm wide open to it, though, as I like playing other games.
RUSH: If Danger Zone were to become a part of the professional game, it'd have to be after a long time, and a lot of updates and tweaks. But I don't think it'd ever become viable.
FalleN: I think Counter-Strike is one of the best games in the world for having such a strong approach to strategy, to individual skill, and the audience finds it easy to follow. So I don't see Danger Zone, as a battle royale mode, having an impact, competitively. Of course, one tournament could bring it in as a new part of proceedings, but I don't see it ever being as big as how Counter-Strike is played professionally, right now.
Featured Image Credit: Valve