CS:GO’s playerbase just seems to go from
strength to strength. Over on Steamcharts we can see a breakdown of how many people
have been playing the game since its release in 2012. It’s had its ups and downs, yet
even at its lowest has remained one of the most resilient videogames… ever? Bear in
mind it’s approaching its 8th anniversary and within the last 30 days it’s managed
the highest average number of players it has ever achieved, and its 4th highest peak player
count of all time. It’s now the top game on the site, and with more hours played than
any other- even DOTA 2! But WHY? And how? Maybe we should look back at its weakest period,
which was mid-way through 2018. I think the main reason for this drop was because of Battle
Royale games like PUBG and Fortnite which were competing for players’ time. At the
end of 2018, Valve made the game free to play, which clearly removed a barrier of entry and,
when combined with the launch of a battle-royale style gamemode called Dangerzone, I think
explains why the player numbers shot up as much as they did at the end of the year.
2019, on the other hand, has been a bit more of a mystery. For the first half of the year,
player numbers declined- much like they seem to in the first half of every year. Maybe
people like to be out and about more in the summer or something.
But what can explain the boom from August onwards?
There was the Berlin major, for a start. This took place throughout most of August, ending
in early September. Majors usually result in a spike in players. But I did a video analysing
how the 2019 Berlin major did and by most measurements, it was the poorest performing
major since 2014, before the game took off in the first place! It could be that the game
going Free to Play in 2018 HURT viewing figures in 2019, as now a pass had to be bought to
get drops from watching the major. There was no longer the incentive for individuals to
have multiple PCs idling throughout the majors. 2019’s viewing figures might have dropped,
but it might actually have become a more accurate representation of how many were watching them.
So in short: the major may still have caused a jump in player numbers, despite it appearing
as one of the least viewed majors the game has had.
And in November a new Operation started, for the first time in 2 years and the game has
seen considerable growth for all the time it’s been active.
But there’s got to be something else going on as well. It just doesn’t sit right with
me that the game has been growing every month since July last year without at least SOMETHING
else happening. And that something is Asia. Or more specifically,
Perfect World. When it comes to gaming- or anything online really- China is something
of a mystery. I have never played Perfect World, nor do I hear much about it. But Steamdb
did an investigation into it and were able to track player numbers by using CS:GO’s
dedicated servers situated in China. Now bear in mind that these will only track official
matches- if there’s a huge underground community scene, like with millions of Asians surfing
or playing Zombie Mode every night, then this won’t show up here. Still, I got a year’s
worth of data from Valve’s matchmaking dedicated servers and split them into categories.
Believe it or not, the number of players in Europe and America actually dropped in 2019!
Down by as much as 27% in the middle of the year, and while they picked up towards the
end again, they still ended lower than they had started.
But the Asian playerbase doubled, growing steadily throughout the year.
Perfect World, the Chinese face of Counter-Strike, was launched in 2017, together with this blog
post. Almost all of the growth in Asia in 2019 comes from the Perfect World servers,
situated in 3 regions along the coast of China. All three server locations started with about
10,000 players average, and ended with 30,000. THAT’S where Counter-Strike’s growth has
been this year. It does explain why Valve is so keen to have
China-friendly versions of all the weapon-skins included in the game.
But why this growth? I don’t know enough about China to say for sure. But I do know
that DOTA 2 has been losing players this year so it could be that the player base is jumping
from one Valve game to another. And there’s definitely interest in tactical
first-person shooters over there- you may or may not have heard of Crossfire. No, not
that Half-Life Deathmatch map. No, not that chat application we all used about 10 years
ago. And no, not that thing when 2 graphics cards love each other very much. I’m talking
about one of the BIGGEST GAMES IN THE WORLD, with 660 MILLION registered players worldwide!
Google it and you might get a strange sense of deja-vu. It’s quite a bit like Counter-Strike.
Again, I don’t know a lot about it, other than that it’s been around for a while and
a new version called CrossfireX (No, not this one) is coming out on modern consoles.
But trying to make a sequel to a popular game can often go horribly wrong, fragmenting the
playerbase and sending many elsewhere entirely. So maybe CS:GO’s also absorbing a few of
the players from that free-to-play game. Oh look, CS:GO went free to play too. It really
makes sense now that Counter-Strike has been made as easy to access as it can be, with
a battle-royale mode added to suck some of the players from other popular games. Integrating
events and HLTV links into the game’s main menu will also make it easier for people to
follow and to get into the competitive scene. So maybe these things had something to do
with it, but maybe they didn’t. I don’t know.
In terms of playerbase proportions, the majority of players are still from Europe. At the start
of 2019, America had roughly the same number of players as Asia. But by the end, Asia had
doubled. If it doubles again then Asia will match Europe for player numbers.
It’s definitely something to keep an eye on. We know how large various esports are
in Asia, if they pick Counter-Strike up as their new favourite then this bodes incredibly
well for the game! (…and terribly for the pro teams in Europe and America.)
So that’s where the new players are coming from. But what about existing ones? How’s
the game doing here? I’ve always used Reddit as an indicator
of how the game’s doing, and from my observations, the people on the CS:GO subreddit are more
interested in watching it as an e-sport than they are about playing it. Just last month,
4 out of the 5 highest peaks on esports channels on Twitch were from CS:GO! It’s just that
when it comes to playing the game, I think people here have been there, done that. They’ve
reached a high rank, have played the game a lot and now find it more fun to follow their
favourite teams than to boot up a new match. I’m sure a lo t of people are still playing
it- you only have to start up a match and you can see that. I just think the hype has
died down, just as it eventually does with every game. It’s then typically replaced
with criticism and explanations for why it’s not as fun to play as it used to be. But I
think CS:GO has moved beyond even that stage! I think the playerbase can agree that, in
its current state, it’s an extremely polished and playable game. And now that the game’s
received a new operation, I don’t think they can think of much that Valve could do
to make them want to play more. So until the game can find a way of poaching more players
from other titles, or ways of bringing old fans back to it again, it seems like new players
from Asia is the game’s best hope for growth. But will this ever impact us here? Will Asian
teams start dominating in the majors? Will this bring a new competitive rivalry like
we used to see between European and American teams? Or will Perfect World remain separate
from the rest of the world? I guess we’ll find out. Valve have the stats.
Only they really know how many people are playing what. Whether Dangerzone is a success.
Whether CS:GO’s attracting new players from old games, and if so, which ones. Whatever’s
happening, it’s definitely worth being aware of Perfect World, and how it’s grown so
much in the past year that it’s managed to bring all of CS:GO to new heights, even
going as far as to top the Steam Charts!