Counter-Strike: Global Offensive developer Valve recently launched a giant in-game update that included "Danger Zone," a new Battle Royale game mode looking to make use of CS:GO's mechanics for the already-popular genre. The game has also become free-to-play, much to the chagrin of some players. ESPN asked the pros to weigh in on the changes, from the new era of free-to-play to whether or not Danger Zone lives up to the hype.
Welcome to free-to-play
Ghost Gaming's Yassine "Subroza" Taoufik was happy that "Valve [at least] did something." From few in-game updates to little to no direct engagement with its player base, Valve has long been the target of criticism for CS:GO fans. For Subroza and many other pros, the addition of Danger Zone and free-to-play updates signify Valve is still active in trying to keep CS:GO's player base interested in the game.
"I feel like [the update] is a good step. The free-to-play I'm a big fan of," Subroza said. "I think it's a big deal. Numbers are going up and it's attracting more people. It's good for the pros. It's good for everyone."
Hellraiser's Kirill "ANGE1" Karasiow, veteran of the Counter-Strike series, mirrored these sentiments in a similar vein. "At least Valve is doing something," he said. "The amount of people playing CS:GO is obviously important for everyone in the pro scene and I think this update can make this better. I'm not sure if it's changed something -- [I] expect we couldn't practice for a few days because of bugs [laughs] -- but in terms of player count, this could be good thing."
Damian "daps" Steele, the in-game leader for NRG, said, "I think free-to-play is the most important thing for me. I think that's the biggest positive. It brings a whole new audience to the game."
Given that CS:GO's player count has stagnated for the last year, a whole new audience is important. Usually, when a major update or "operation" is introduced, the player count spikes. The last operation, though, was back in May 2017. While the pros often sit in their own competitive world, they aren't blind to how important the casual player base is to their scene. After all, it's the status of the playing population at large that influences the audience for the esports side of the game.
"[Free-to-play] will definitely generate far more players to the game," said Astralis's Andreas "Xyp9x" H?jsleth. "I know there is, however, that problem with the cheating."
Having a price tag for the game has provided a barrier for potential cheaters. Once a player is banned for cheating, it's harder for them to play a second time, unless they want to pay the price tag again. Making the game free-to-play removes the monetary barrier altogether. As such, more faith will have to be put into the game's in-built systems for detecting and removing cheaters.
"Prime" status was issued to players pre-update who verified their account with a phone number. Prime players could match-make with just each other, making it harder, or at least more risky for cheaters to play. "Trust factor" was also introduced, assigning a trust value to each player based on hidden algorithms to filter players for more secure matchmaking experiences.
Post-update, however, "prime" status is now issued to players who simply buy the game for its old price, rather than for those with a verified phone number. In theory, this will put more stress on the trust factor system and the VAC anti-cheat itself, the latter in which has often been subject to criticism for an apparent lack of security.
"Valve will definitely have to update the anti-cheat," said Xyp9x.
The flip side of this update was, of course, the new Battle Royale game mode Danger Zone. While the free-to-play move has been largely praised, the actual gameplay of Danger Zone has received mixed feedback.
"I don't think CS has the best game engine for Battle Royale in theory, but I think it's good though," said Daps. "The Battle Royale mode in its current state is not something I would play but I think it could improve, obviously. They can make a ton of improvements to it to make it better. Make the map bigger. Make it so you don't run out of ammo constantly."
"I just played three games today and I won all of them. I think it was the single, duo and trio. It was quite fun, actually," said Xyp9x. "I'm not too much into Battle Royales. I'm more like 'this is fun' because I haven't tried the other games, which might be slightly better."
Others, like ANGE1, had different expectations for the mode.
"I look at this like zombie mod, [and] it's just some type of fun. Everyone expected a new PUBG, Fortnite killer. But what do you expect?" said ANGE1. "Valve has a lot of work. They can't create a new game that kills everything. They took a different approach."
Like the pros, most players seem to be happy first and foremost that their game is still receiving attention and isn't simply being left to stagnate. However, this doesn't mean Danger Zone is without its own set of problems. Cheating, bugs and design missteps are currently all issues that will need to be resolved.
"I think it's always bad to just hate on an update for no reason," said Subroza. "The way I see it you should give your feedback and if you don't like something specific then just say it. Then maybe it gets fixed. If you just start hating on every update, you're never going to like anything."