Counter-Strike: Self Interest

You know when you know what should happen next but it doesn’t? Like when New Labour got in and it should have been a glorious win for the working classes, as opposed to a system of governance that made Tory sleaze seem restrained. Or when Chelsea were bought by a Russian billionaire with absolutely no ties to organised crime, who could have foreseen the comparative mediocrity in which they have languished? Some times things just make no sense.

And so it is proving in e-sports with the Counter-Strike situation. When Global Offensive was announced the following should have happened: The CS:S community should have welcomed a game that was likely to be all the things Source never was, with problems that plagued that game fixed or erased entirely. 1.6 should have been put out to pasture with a respectful spot in a retirement community, as opposed to an Ol’ Yeller bullet in the head, by serious players and tournament organisers alike. The people not serious about creating a definitive and accessible SP e-sports title should have slinked off back to their public servers and late night mixing sessions. Finally, Hidden Path and Valve should have been allowed to develop the title they wanted to and then, and only then, should any decision have been made about its viability.

It didn’t happen like that though. Not one bit. And the reasons for this are revolting clear – there’s just too many people trying to either exploit the situation for their own ends or, at best, acting without considering a bigger picture because, ultimately, they might not be in it if what needs to happen does. So far the project hasn’t so much been a Global Offensive, rather an exercise in tribalism and stupidity, more divisive than unifying. None of this is the fault of the developers. If anything, they have been too accommodating, but we’ll come that shortly.

The levels of self-interest have been disgustingly clear to see pretty much from CS:GO’s inception. Everyone wanted in on the beta, that much was clear. In CS:S circles that was as much for status as the opportunity to provide feedback on the game and, for the first time since CGS, be taken seriously by the people that make e-sports possible. For many of the 1.6 professionals it was simply to add validity to their pre-planned and very vocal disapproval of the game. They were simply not interested in meeting the brief – coming together as one to make a game that was competitive for both sets of players, while still being accessible to those without their experience.

Indeed, the private forums remain a wasteland, few people posting about it. Those players who did make an effort that was above and beyond the call of duty quickly found themselves realistically unable to make a dent and in the absence of strong voices or discussion Valve and Hidden Path themselves became mostly bored with the process. In the absence of a consensus even the most detailed of suggestions on how to shape the game looks like little more than the whims of a single player, no matter how many he might claim to speak for.

Of course, the idea of “community feedback”, or “pandering to the pros” as would be a more suitable label, is a fairly ridiculous idea in the first place. Forget the obvious fact that competitors despise change more than they do each other, overlook the fact that both sets of players are going to want to create a clone of their game bar maybe one or two changes… Instead just focus on the fact that the most successful e-sports titles in history have become so without any such input. The games themselves stood alone and the community rose around it. The original Counter-Strike was made by a small team of developers and had no professionals of any stripe to offer feedback as to how it should go. Why now do we believe it’s the only way it can become successful? Certainly, at the moment, it’s creating more problems than it’s solving.

In particular it’s clear that a lot of the 1.6 players had their noses out of joint when it was Valve’s decision to fly out the CS:S players to Seattle instead of them. Of course, this is how it should be. The game is on the Source engine after all, that fact coupled with the fact the vast majority of the CS:S players in attendance had 1.6 experience as well, made it was a nice way to reward those who had moved with the times. Most of the 1.6 players have to say publicly they would never even touch Source or face an angry backlash from fans, even though they’re lying a lot of the time.

Since then the only thing I’ve seen coming from the 1.6ers in a position to comment is negative. Which is in fine but why are they saying it? Why aren’t they trying to be more constructive? The answer is a simple one – if there is to be at least a year of big money competitions for CS:GO, including the fabled $1.6 million tournament as there was for DoTA (no idea how this rumour persists as it has been actively ruled out by Valve) they want it well within their comfort zone. Fuck the future – most of them are in their mid to late twenties anyway and will be retiring regardless. But if they could just clone 1.6, just get it closer to what they’re used to regardless of who that ostracises and what that means long term, it would mean they’d be best positioned to take the last fruits from the CS tree on their way out.

And if you ask me why is cloning 1.6 such a bad thing, on the surface it isn’t. However, we all need to start being honest and dispelling some of these myths about the game. 1.6 has bugs that are accepted as features (crouch jumping, russian walking), it NEVER had 100% accurate one bullet aim, the game is just as spray dependent as other CS titles and almost everyone old enough to remember preferred 1.5 anyway. If people aren’t even prepared to be truthful in their assessments, why should they be trusted to have any part in developing something new?

That’s if you could get them to say anything fair and balanced that didn’t have a “it’s not a 1.6 replica so it’s bad” subtext. What else am I supposed to think reading the comments of Tomi “lurppis” Kovanen who wasted no time in wildly laying the boot into the game yet seemed to offer very little in the way of how to fix it other than the usual “make it more like 1.6” suggestions. I say this having met Tomi a few times. I like him as a person. I like and respect his forthright views. It is something that he rarely affords other people though and I can no doubt expect similar abuse when he has poured over this. Judge for yourself though from his comments on the feedback forum:

“I tried to get involved in New York, Valve wasn’t really interested in my opinion as far as I could tell, just said to post stuff on our pro player feedback forum. Fair enough. I get home, lots of stuff gets posted there but no one ever replies from Valve, no changes get made.

First of January I created a thread called “CS:GO – losing hope?” and asked if we should keep giving feedback in hopes of something being improved over time or if we should just give up, seeing as they don’t seem to care about our opinions nor even bother to comment on them. It’s been two months, no answers other than from fellow players who shared the same concern.

As far as I can tell they only want to listen to the people who they know will agree with their changes (e.g. former CGS players who prefer CS:S over 1.6 these days[and in some cases aren’t even anywhere near up to date on competitive 1.6]; Volcano, Ksharp) rather than face the reality of the game not being any good right now.

It will be interesting to see what will happen if CS:GO does take over CS 1.6 in IEM (as I assume it will) because from talking to other top players, hardly anyone (well, GeT_RiGhT does) seems interested in trying the game.

Why? Because it’s not fun. It’s a terrible game right now, and it’s not by any means fun. Those opinions from kuben, neo, starix and me aren’t just hand picked, that’s what every top player thinks as far as I can tell.

In fact, Saturday night starix asked me if I would play CS:GO if it came with a $1,000,000 tournament like DotA 2’s The International, and I said I probably would because it would simply make sense from the monetarial (sic) point of view.

However, when we asked about it in New York, Valve said they won’t be hosting one of those for CS:GO.

Why? Why would they, when they can “force” events to switch to CS:GO from CS:S/CS 1.6, whereas DotA 2 couldn’t stand a chance against HoN and especially LoL without the $1,000,000.

One of those $1,000,000 tournies would actually be the only way Valve would stand a chance at getting some of the big names to switch over. I don’t know about you, but if the people I’ve gotten used to playing against and watching (Na`Vi, ESC, SK etc) wouldn’t play CS:GO, there is no way I would watch it.

I know a lot of people who no longer play CS, but still watch it. I would bet money CS:GO wouldn’t even get to 1/3rd of the 70k viewers CS 1.6 got this IEM in its first season.”

So to summarise, he says the game is terrible. Not how to make it better (although he did elaborate somewhat in a PC Gamer interview by saying two words – “recoil” and “movement”), just that it’s terrible and not fun. “Fun” is surely the part you sacrifice when you become a top level competitive player, but let’s not debate that as it’s completely subjective anyway. He also admits he’d play the game and would no doubt jump through all the hoops that entails (just like the CGS converts did, only to slate CS:S afterwards) if the money was there. People with this type of outlook aren’t the people to build anything except an opportunity to increase the size of their bank balance. The statement is riddled with inaccuracies about the state of e-sports and exudes naivety, such as the notion that stream numbers are the be all and end all (if they were, would any of us be in the situation we are now?).

His attempts to make himself the poster-boy and champion of 1.6 in the development of CS:GO is of course about ego and opportunity for the individual. Even if the game fails a person this much in the limelight might be asked to do some paid work because of how they’ve managed to wheedle themselves into somehow being the centre of attention. That’s how e-sports seems to work. It’s not about the quality of what you say, it’s simply about the number of people that will say you’re great for saying it. And it’s easy to get that kind of adoration from certain communities.

If he was so interested in discourse then why is it the case that he has openly rejected the feedback from people such as Jimmy Whisenhunt, who seems for my money to have a fairly decent handle on what the game could use, simply because he’s not a “professional player”. Half of those guys can’t articulate the reasons why the game behaves the way it does, nor do they have the knowledge to even express it in game terms. Needless to say Whisenhunt’s work has been deleted from whenever it’s mentioned and the only mention of him made by the writers is one that is derogatory about him:

“However, caster Jimmy Whisenhunt, who cite as a former professional – a man who never made the Invite divisions of Cyberathlete Amateur League or ESEA – believes that screen movement is to blame , not the weapon recoil.”

This was written by a newswriter who has been openly vocal about how he’d like to see CS:GO fail and CSPromod prevail.

Which brings me to the CSPromods cynical attempts to manipulate the situation to their own ends. Their website might bear the slogan “we <3 CS”. If that were really the case you’d like to think that they might actually have finished their project by now, or at least admit the work is mostly redundant in the presence of a new title. Of course, sensing that there’s no give in the 1.6 side of the community, they come out and pander to that sensibility, even though there would be ample opportunity for them to work alongside everyone else and make a contribution to CS:GO. How else can you explain comments such as:

“The team would love to hear from anybody with feedback (especially the pros) about what they think too. Unlike Valve, we’re driven by community feedback.”

I mean, sure, let’s overlook that the whole fucking arrival of a finished Global Offensive has been delayed because of Hidden Path and Valve trying to cram in TOO MUCH community feedback. Let’s overlook the fact too that on release of the first thing like a playable version of CSP, the 1.6 community kicked the shit out of it, saying it was too much like CS:S. Now, because it looks like CS:GO is going to be the Counter-Strike title of choice and has a higher aim than being simply a clone of 1.6, all of a sudden CSP is the title they should all get behind?

And where’s the pride from the CSP team? They’ve constantly failed to deliver anything close to complete time and time again and even when receiving positive reviews (as they did from us) they fail to capitalise with one big push to getting the game out there. Let’s just put this out there – they aren’t interested in making the best version of CS for competitive play and they’ve not been interested in treating it as anything other than a side project that might pay off one day. Now that CS:GO is here they need to try and carve up the community even more to protect what they have.

All of this would largely be moot if tournament organisers would make a decision whether to shit or get off the pot. ESEA news might be going all out for the most embarrassing attempt at journalism of 2012, but anyone who was at the last Intel Extreme Masters could attest that them dropping 1.6 looks likely. Everyone there was talking about it as if it was done and dusted and the after-party was approached more like a wake from the Counter-Strike players. WCG might have turned its back on all PC Games but in regards to 1.6 other tournaments will follow suit, so why not just get it all out in the open? Why all the flip-flopping from WEM who we all know are pretty much guaranteed to be dropping the game, whatever they say about “no decision being made yet”. In almost all industries this means “we’ve left it with our PR people to spin it the right way and we won’t say anything about it until they have.”

Why the delays? Self fucking interest again. It might upset some people if they came out in advance and announced their intentions. It might lead to a backlash from communities and some short term negative publicity that sponsors might see and panic act on. So no, let’s pretend we’re not going to do what we’re going to do anyway, leaving two games in limbo instead of just doing the decent thing and getting on with it.

With all this self-serving clamouring going on there’s a real risk of there being no team-based FPS titles in the upper echelons of e-sports. How can anyone who truly loves e-sports want that future? How can anyone who has ever moved a crosshair onto a head think that would be a good thing? While everyone’s trying to feather their nest they’re not even looking at the fact that there might be no eggs to put in it at all.