Counter-Strike 2 is a golden opportunity for Valve’s legendary esport

counter strike 2 logo
Image credit: Valve

Professional players and tournament organisers seem mostly optimistic about the glow-up the much-anticipated Counter-Strike update will have on Valve’s legendary shooter.

But sequels don’t always work for esports. Just ask Blizzard…

When the news hit, it was like a bomb went off in the tactical-shooter community; the culmination of years of rumours, memes and speculation. More than 10 years after its release, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), one of the world’s premiere esports, was to get a sequel: Counter-Strike 2 (CS2).

Except it’s not really a sequel; it’s more akin to what Blizzard did with Overwatch 2. CS2 will usher in a rework under the hood, some gameplay changes, and the carrying over of cosmetics and in-game progression (little surprise, given how lucrative microtransactions are). Nonetheless, the update has some stakeholders excited.

Lotan ‘Spinx’ Gilad, a professional player for Team Vitality, who recently won the Paris Major, is optimistic about the forthcoming release.

“I like what we’ve seen so far with CS2; it’s only a beta but I think it’s a good step forward,” he said. “The thing I like the most is that it will be like CS:GO but with a very different meta. I also like that it’s not a completely new game; it’s the same game but it’s new, you know? I don’t think it will change the professional scene that much. The top ten teams in the world will adapt very easily but it will be nice to have some sort of fresh start.”

There is one massive, game-altering change that’s coming with this update: how ‘smoke grenades’ work. These grenades are a central element of CS strategy, especially at the higher levels, because they can block access to an entire lane of the map, radically impacting strategies for both attackers and defenders.

For the first time in Counter-Strike’s history, smoke grenades will be affected by other utility such as frag grenades and bullets, which can cause smokes to change shape and temporarily disperse.

In a game that requires precise gameplay, this is a subtle but transformative change that will add a totally different dynamic to competitions.

CS2 Smoke grenades
A demonstration of how Counter-Strike 2’s smoke grenades in action. Screenshot credit: Valve, via Youtube.

For Valve, there’s a lot of power in the ‘fresh start’ Spinx referred to. With a shiny new game comes greater spend on marketing — and, the publisher will hope, new players flocking to the title.

In a competitive-minded game like CS, these players can often convert to fans of the esport, something there’s substantial need for — especially in markets like North America, where VALORANT stole many of CS:GO’s pros and viewers when it launched in 2020. A lot of people are counting on CS2 to help revitalise struggling areas of the scene.

“NA already has a solid fanbase, storied teams and incredible talent,” Alex Inglot, Commissioner of the ESL Pro League, told Esports Insider. “But there is no disguising that a reinvigorated region, enticed in by the hype and novelty, and then staying and committing for the long term would solidify the whole pyramid in America and Canada.

“But I would love a whole range of markets to really embrace this new chapter of Counter-Strike — the Middle East, China, Australia, they all have similar characteristics and are primed for a new wave of fans and players.”

This thirst for new players and new stories is felt inside the competitive community as well. “I hope with CS2 there will be new stories to tell, underdogs making it to the semis and new names emerging,” Spinx said. “That’s the beauty of CS.”

Time and time again, though, Counter-Strike’s player base has demonstrated an undying love for how things are, not wanting something that has remained almost unaltered for a decade to change. 

When asked if this new game is going to improve the show and attract new spectators, Inglot said: “The temptation is to say yes. But what I love about CS:GO is that it has not resorted to hundreds of patches to stay fresh. It stays fresh because it is realistic, technical, strategic and meritocratic. Artificial frequent destabilisation seems a bit gimmicky to me. Having said that, without generating a revolution, CS2 has, in a considered fashion, punched up the visuals and added a more nuanced approach to some of the gameplay mechanics, creating just the right balance of consistency with evolution.”

However, major changes to a title can sometimes leave players jobless. When Overwatch 2 was released, what were teams of six became teams of five, which disrupted competitive rosters and players’ livelihoods. CS has less strict in-game roles, though, and does not have a system like VALORANT or Overwatch whereby players use characters with unique abilities, so certain types of players being made redundant is unlikely.

“We have already seen esports players experimenting with the new mechanics in the game, such as the smokes and the ability to diffuse the obstruction, so there will be a race by players and coaches to master and leverage these new elements,” Inglot said.

“However, we know there is more to come with CS2, and Valve have promised more changes. … The best players and coaches will be waiting eagerly to see the full range of changes and then strategising and scrimming to make sure that when the calendar and circuit pivots to CS2, they will be in pole position to maintain or secure their places at the top events and podiums.”

A shiny new game that maintains most of the original’s playstyle and cosmetic content, with just enough novelties that it may attract new players and fans, is the recipe Valve is trying with its new game. Blizzard sort of failed in its attempt, at least from an esports perspective, because while its sequel managed to revitalise the Overwatch player base and turn on a new revenue stream, the Overwatch League is still far from drawing the millions of eyeballs that CS:GO or VALORANT can.

BLAST TV Paris Major CS:GO
Team Vitality were the final-ever CS:GO Major champions. Image credit: BLAST

The good news is that Counter-Strike only needs more spectators in North America to be a truly appealing global esport once again — much of the rest of the world has either a strong fanbase or is open to the arrival of the new title.

Valve has decided to invest in a new coat of paint to boost an already thriving game and to try to breach new markets — or claim back former strongholds — but only the first events and competitor feedback will tell us if it is the right approach. 

One likely clear winner will be the grassroots scene that, at least for a few months after the sequel’s release, will see a new wave of players, tournaments and teams. “This upgrade will undoubtedly fuel a whole new generation of fans to take a look, have a game, watch an event, follow a team and get drawn into the world of Counter-Strike,” Inglot said.

What makes Counter-Strike so appealing will remain with CS2, and if it can stick the landing, its competitive scene could skyrocket.

“It is simple to understand, play and follow; utterly complex to master,” Inglot added, “and that is what makes it so engaging and consistently at the top of the gaming and esports rankings.”

Riccardo Lichene