The History of Counter-Strike

edited April 1 in Gaming

Counter-Strike is an iconic FPS that has a rich history spanning more than two decades and several games. With tournaments featuring prize pools often exceeding a million USD, concurrent players in the hundreds of thousands, and countless Twitch viewers, Counter-Strike has become something of an esports phenomenon.

Counter-Strike’s emergence from a mod for Half-Life

The roots of Counter-Strike can be traced back to the late 1990s, when two gamers, Minh “Gooseman” Le and Jess “Cliffe” Cliffe, developed a mod for Half-Life. This mod blended tactical gameplay and team-based action, setting it apart from the FPS norm on release in June 1999.

The success of the original mod led Valve to collaborate with the creators and develop a standalone game, Counter-Strike 1.0, which was released in November 2000. This marked the first major milestone in Counter-Strike’s history. Counter-Strike 1.0 quickly became a sensation.

  • Counter-Strike (2000): First standalone version of the game was released.
  • Counter-Strike 1.6 (2003): A big breakthrough in the game’s development came in 2003 with the release of Counter-Strike 1.6. This version saw the implementation of a new and innovative tactical element, making the game more competitive.
  • Counter-Strike: Condition Zero (2004): The first of two sequels that Valve released in 2004, Counter-Strike: Condition Zero, released in March, featured updated character models, textures, maps, and other graphical tweaks.
  • Counter-Strike: Source (2004): This was released eight months later and used Valve’s new in-house Source gaming engine for improved graphics and physics, giving the game more realistic environmental interactions. Counter-Strike: Source also incorporated Steam for the first time.
  • Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (2012): The next major milestone was the release in 2012 of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. CS:GO had updated graphics and introduced new gameplay mechanics, including a matchmaking system, making it easier for players to find opponents of similar skill levels.
  • Counter-Strike 2 (2023): This update, based on Valve’s Source 2 engine, was released in the summer of 2023 and features updates to some of the game’s core mechanics and an entirely new generation of graphical improvements alongside new physics. The improvements include responsive smoke, sub-tick updates, new servers, and revamped audio and maps.

Counter-Strike gameplay and mechanics

Players choose to play as terrorists or as counter-terrorists in a 5v5 match where both sides need to complete one of two objectives, which can vary depending on the type of map. The main objective for the terrorists is to plant and successfully detonate a bomb, and the objective of the counter-terrorists is to diffuse the bomb once it has been planted. Other objectives involve hostage rescue and assassination. Teams can also win on complete elimination of the opposing team. Each game consists of several rounds in which both teams take turns with each faction. At the start of each round, players are able to customize their arsenal with money earned on the basis of the success of the previous rounds.

Economic system

One of the most important strategic aspects of Counter-Strike that ties the rounds together into one coherent experience in a match is its economy. The income system and money spent on items add a particular depth to the game.

Passive income

Players are spawned into the first round with a starting allowance of $800, a number strategically chosen to only allow players to buy utility and/or pistols to fight the first round with. After the first round, every player receives a minimum of $1900 if they lost the round, and the winning team takes at least $3250 home. Other passive income is provided by loss streak bonuses as a catch-up mechanic that caps out after five rounds. Each round lost provides an extra $500 to the losing team.

Active income

You can also earn money by fulfilling one of the various objectives. First up is the kill-bonus, which varies depending on the weapon used to kill the enemy and can be as high as $1500. On top of kill rewards, accomplishing a map objective also gives you bonus currency. For the terrorists, planting the bomb will give you and your teammates an extra $300 each to play around with in the next round. For counter-terrorists, if you manage to defuse the bomb, your team receives an extra $250 on top of the round win bonus of $3250.

Spending or losing cash

During the buy phase before the start of each round, players can spend money on weapons, utility, and armor in a bid to outgear opponents. Sometimes, players won’t have enough money for a powerful buy, and the team might decide to go with a so-called “eco-round” in which nothing at all or only small amounts of money are spent if you are certain you will be able to have a strong buy in the subsequent round.

Weapon categories

Counter-Strike’s arsenal of weaponry, from its submachine guns to its rifles, is what makes the game stand out. Players need to hone their skills and learn the ins and outs of crosshair placement and spray control. Each weapon has its own recoil pattern and playstyle. The types of weapons are pistols, rifles, submachine guns, heavies, and grenades. Knives are added by default to the character and adjusted only via cosmetic changes that can be made out of game by acquiring skins.

Game modes

The main game modes in Counter-Strike include the following:

  • Competitive: This is the most serious and traditional game mode, mirroring the rules of professional Counter-Strike matches. Two teams of five players each compete in a best-of-30 rounds match on bomb defusal maps. The goal is to either eliminate the opposing team or complete the map's objective (planting or defusing the bomb). Winning matches in this mode affects a player's ranking.
  • Casual: A more relaxed version of Competitive mode, where players can join and leave any time. It features teams of up to 10 players each, but with easier gameplay settings, such as body armor and defusal kits being given to players automatically.
  • Deathmatch: A fast-paced mode where the objective is to kill as many players as possible within a time limit. Players respawn immediately after being killed and can select any weapon they wish upon respawning.
  • Wingman: A shorter, more fast-paced version of Competitive mode, played in a 2v2 format on smaller maps. The match is a best-of-16 rounds, focusing on either bomb defusal or hostage rescue.
  • Arms Race: A progressive deathmatch mode where players are awarded a new weapon immediately after registering a kill. The first player to get a kill with the final weapon, a golden knife, wins the match.
  • Demolition: A blend of the bomb defusal mode and the Arms Race weapon progression. Players are given a new weapon each time they kill an opponent, but the weapon set progresses in a predetermined manner, and the goal is to either eliminate the opposing team or detonate/defuse the bomb.
  • Danger Zone: A battle royale mode where up to 18 players compete on a large map, searching for equipment and fighting to be the last person or duo standing.


Counter-Strike has a pool of iconic maps that are available depending on the game mode. Aside from maps designed by Valve themselves, Counter-Strike rotates in community-made maps, with the absolute best of those given the opportunity to remain as permanent additions.

Mirage is by far the most commonly picked map in regular competitive play. Inferno is another stalwart of the game and has been in use since the days of Counter-Strike 1.1. Inferno has seen many adjustments and redesigns across the years but has never fallen out of favor. Nuke is a popular bomb defusal map that has featured in Counter-Strike, Counter-Strike: Source, and CS:GO.

The evolution of Counter-Strike gameplay and mechanics

Counter-Strike: Condition Zero, the first Counter-Strike sequel, featured two game modes for a single player and bonus levels. This game was considered a failure due to the many setbacks and little excitement from its fans.

A second sequel, Counter-Strike: Source, was released shortly after the first and used the Valve Source game engine. New introductions included novel game elements such as maps, guns, and items. 

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, released 8 years later, included new additions such as the map Dust II, which became the most popular. Modern graphics and character models made the game look updated and sophisticated. The game still maintained the traditional modes of bomb-defusing and weapon spray.

An update for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive was released in August 2013 called the “Arms Deal.” The update added cases (loot boxes) of up to 20 skins to the game, with each skin being worth a different amount depending on its rarity. Each case cost about $2.49, and the skins were traded in the marketplace. The cases became popular because you could make real money from selling the skins you won. You might unbox a knife worth thousands of dollars or a skin worth less than a dollar. It was all down to your luck during selection. This system gave birth to an entire gambling industry, as players wagered skins across hundreds of online gaming sites. Valve initially didn’t consider loot boxes as gambling; however, concerns arose about minors engaging in this form of gambling due to the lack of age verification on global gambling sites. Valve and Steam’s terms of services both prohibit gambling, and players can be banned for it.

The Shattered Web operation that dropped in 2019 brought few major updates, including agent skins and new collections (rewards and collectable coins). Operations are one of the reasons why the game's popularity is still growing.

Competitive scene

CS:GO is really where Counter-Strike started to explode into the esports scene, allowing the game to quickly become a regular title in competitive gaming. CS:GO was popular because of its appealing format and the fact that it is easy to learn but extremely hard to master. Throughout the years, certain events have come to stand apart from the rest as the most popular CS:GO events. Major events like the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) and the ESL One series have offered substantial prize pools. Acer has proudly sponsored numerous tournaments over the years, bringing its successful Predator gaming brand to the Counter-Strike community.

The Majors

CS:GO Majors are tournaments sponsored by Counter-Strike’s developer, Valve, alongside third-party tournament organizers, such as ESL, PGL, and BLAST. Majors usually take place twice a year. There have been 19 CS:GO Majors to date, with the last one taking place in May 2023 in Paris, France.

Intel Extreme Masters

The Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) series is a long-running global pro gaming tour. The series is organized by ESL, one of the largest esports organizations in the world, in partnership with Intel, which serves as the primary sponsor alongside other industry mainstays, including Acer. IEM focuses on various competitive games but is most renowned for its tournaments in CS:GO, Starcraft II, and League of Legends.

  • IEM Katowice: The IEM Katowice tournament is one of the best-known standalone esports tournaments in the world, and has single-handedly helped put the Polish city of Katowice on the world esports map. Katowice is regarded as one of the iconic CS:GO tournaments, and has grown from a smaller-scale event to a city-wide celebration of the game. Each edition includes conferences and other events following the CS:GO tournament.
  • IEM Cologne: Similar to IEM Katowice, IEM Cologne is arguably an even more important CS:GO tournament, but for different reasons. ESL, the company behind the IEM series of tournaments, is based in Cologne, and the tournament has grown to symbolize the development of both ESL and the CS:GO scene.
  • IEM Chengdu: In 2024, IEM is returning to Chengdu, an emerging center for esports in China, with the support of Acer. The tournament will be held in the Wuliangye Chengdu Performing Arts Centre and will feature 16 teams competing over a total prize pool of $250,000 USD. The event is scheduled from April 8 to 14, with the Playoffs set to take place on April 12–14. A Counter-Strike 2 tournament win in IEM Chengdu is also a step further in the Intel Grand Slam race, just after IEM Katowice 2024 has concluded in February. So far, FaZe Clan, MOUZ, G2, ENCE, and Vitality have titles under their belts.

ESL Pro League

One of the oldest Counter-Strike leagues in the world, the ESL Pro League has been around since 2015 and is semi-franchised—15 partner teams are joined by 17 qualified teams for a season that lasts approximately a month.

Cultural impact of Counter Strike

What underpins Counter-Strike as a leading esports title is its community, which has helped the game from its initial release develop into a titan of competitive play. Counter-Strike is a platform that fosters creativity and community engagement. A testament to this is the thriving world of community mods, where players and creators come together to develop and share user-created content that enriches the gameplay experience. 

Custom maps

A vast collection of custom maps has been created by Counter-Strike fans. These maps range from small, intense battlegrounds to sprawling, intricately designed environments. Community mappers draw inspiration from various sources, crafting unique settings that transport players to different worlds, from ancient temples to futuristic sci-fi bases.

Player-Created skins

Weapon skins have become iconic representations of individuality and status in Counter-Strike. Player-created skins range from realistic and gritty designs to playful and colorful patterns. Some skins pay homage to popular culture, featuring references to movies, games, and memes, and others boast stunning artwork and intricate details. We wrote about the most expensive skins in CS:GO and Counter-Strike 2 last year.

Unique game modes

Community mods offer an assortment of alternative game modes that differ from the official competitive modes. One of the most popular community game modes is Surfing, where players glide along sloped surfaces to control their movement and reach incredible speeds. Another game mode mod is Zombie Escape, where players must team up to survive waves of zombies and reach designated escape points.

Counter-Strike’s influence on online multiplayer gaming culture

Counter-Strike’s approach to competitive multiplayer was a breath of fresh air in a late-90s world full of speedy, cartoonish heavy metal deathmatches. Slow-paced tactical shooters had existed before, but the tuning of Counter-Strike over multiple releases really honed in on the core gameplay loop and how to keep it fun over time. The high skill ceiling made it feel like there were always ways you could improve, and the lack of randomness made every action feel consequential and every victory feel earned.

At its peak, nearly a million concurrent users were measured playing CS:GO on Steam. That’s an achievement that very few games can boast, especially after they’ve been out for nearly a decade. Valve has continued to make small incremental improvements to the quality of life for fans while keeping the core that players love intact. That keeps the metagame consistent and the time investment to improve your skills valuable over the game’s lifespan.

Games that take inspiration from Counter-Strike are numerous. When Riot decided to get into the competitive shooter space with Valorant, it purposefully used Counter-Strike as a model to differentiate it from other hero-based shooters like Overwatch. The slow pace and careful aiming make it feel grounded despite its sci-fi trappings. Other games adopted the asymmetrical multiplayer strategy, which forces players to constantly switch their tactics between rounds.

Future of Counter-Strike

In an interview with PCGamer in 2023, Counter-Strike 2 devs stated that the game was “truly the largest technical leap forward in Counter-Strike history.” According to the devs, Valve has many plans for Counter-Strike 2 in the future. They don’t have exact, solid foresight but remain committed to realizing the game’s full potential. “We don’t have a specific vision that we’re trying to realize, but rather a process we want to continue to execute for many years,” they concluded. Given the number of updates that have been pushed out over the years, it’s clear Valve is still prioritizing this game’s development.

Recommended Products

Predator Triton 17 X
Buy Now

Nitro 5
Buy Now

Ashley is a technology writer who is interested in computers and software development. He is also a fintech researcher and is fascinated with emerging trends in DeFi, blockchain, and bitcoin. He has been writing, editing, and creating content for the ESL industry in Asia for eight years, with a special focus on interactive, digital learning.


Stay Up to Date

Get the latest news by subscribing to Acer Corner in Google News.