PC Gamer

It’s another busy weekend in the world of digital sports and lots of tournaments are heating up as they near the finish line. There’s plenty of action from the CS:GO: Championship Series to the Overwatch: Carbon Series playoffs. We even have the Hearthstone: Winter Championship games to look forward to. All the details on this weekend’s events can be found below.

League of Legends: 2017 EU LCS Spring Split

Two of Europe’s best teams clashed in Week eight and Misfits desperately tried to put their H2K loss behind them. Game one started off slow, but a chaotic team fight broke out when Misfits went for Baron. G2 read the situation and Expect used Teleport to counter, while the rest of his team chased their retreating opponents. G2’s Zven breezed through Misfits and secured a quadra kill with Caitlyn, which allowed his team to break open the Nexus for the win. Game two fell to Misfits after a decisive mid-lane team fight, but G2 picked Misfits apart in the final game with clean dives and well-timed rotations. G2 remain undefeated as we head into week nine and it looks like Misfits have some catching up to do if they wish to rival them. This week’s schedule and stream can be found over on LoL Esports.

League of Legends: 2017 NA LCS Spring Split

Team Dignitas has made a huge comeback after they obliterated Team Liquid 2-0 in week eight, and their series against EnVy was also impressive. LOD went huge on Varus and he gave Dignitas the power they needed to secure a decisive victory in the third game. Meanwhile, Phoenix1 also managed to destroy Team Liquid after Ryu constantly punished Piglet’s aggressive plays in the mid-lane. Ryu used his advantage to roam and snowball other lanes until Team Liquid crumbled under the pressure. However, TSM still remain the team to beat with 14 wins, and we shall see if Phoenix1 have what it takes to topple the LCS leaders. The full schedule and stream can be found over on LoL Esports.

CS:GO: Esports Championship Series Promotion

The European and North American promotion starts this weekend and the competition is looking fierce. Virtus Pro and Space Soldiers are kicking off the European semifinal matches on Saturday at 11:00 PDT / 19:00 CET, while Fnatic and North start their match at the same time tomorrow. The North American bracket will see compLexity tackle Renegades on Saturday at 16:00 / 00:00 CET, followed by Team SoloMid vs Bee’s Money Crew at the same time Sunday. You can catch all the action live over on the official ECS YouTube channel.

Hearthstone: Winter Championship 2017

The 2017 Hearthstone Championship Tour's first Championship stop lands on the sunny shores of the Bahamas. Sixteen of the best players from around the world will be competing for their share of the $250,000 prize pool and a seat at the Hearthstone World Championship. Long-time fans will have the chance to see previous Hearthstone world champions: Greensheep, Neirea, OmegaZero, Tarei, Yulsic, and the defending world champion, Pavel. There will also be a lot of new talented players from the Americas and Asia-Pacific regions, while underdogs like DocPwn, DrJikininki, b787, and SamuelTsao will be looking to upset veteran players once again. The full schedule and stream can be found over on battle.net.

Rocket League: Championship Series

Engines are revving up as the top eight teams from North America and Europe enter week two of the RLCS. So far G2 Esports look to be the team to beat as they had dominated Atelier before moving on to sweep Denial. If G2 can consistently maintain the level of play they showed against Denial they will definitely be on their way to earning top spot in the North American series. Meanwhile, European team The Leftovers took down both Flipsid3 and Northern Gaming 3-2, which has given them an extremely strong start to this year’s tournament. The North American matches are kicking off on Saturday at 12:00 PDT / 20:00 CET, while the European matches start Sunday at 18:00 CET / 9:00 PDT. You can catch all the action on the official Rocket League Twitch Channel.

Overwatch: Carbon Series Playoffs

The Carbon Series playoffs are kicking off on Saturday and the top four teams will battle it out to earn their place at this year’s finals. Immortals managed to take down LG Loyal in week five and they will now face compLexity in what’s expected to be an extremely close matchup. Top team LG Evil have looked extremely strong throughout the tournament and they will face the Renegades who are currently sitting in fourth place. The full schedule and teams/standings can be found by heading over to the Overwatch Carbon Series official site.

Smite: SPL 2017

The sixth week of the SPL will continue this weekend where Lion Guard and Obey Alliance will clash. Obey Alliance will be hoping to remain on top as they shot into first place after securing victories over Valance Squad and Team Dignitas. However, Obey Alliance are only two points ahead, so they will have to be extremely careful if they wish to increase their lead over the rest of Europe. Meanwhile, Team Eager are the current leaders in North America, and they’ll be tackling Luminosity who are currently in second place. Luminosity will be looking to land a critical blow to their rivals and steal first place from under them, so expect to see both teams going all out in this matchup. You can find the weekend’s schedule and official stream here.

PC Gamer

Unreal Tournament's Facing Worlds is easily one of the best multiplayer maps in the history of multiplayer maps—with its towering end-to-end monolith bases, arched thoroughfares, and gorgeous space-faring backdrop. Omri Petitte once described the arena as a "sci-fi uppercut right into your eyeballs", which I think is a pretty wonderful synopsis. 

An unnamed Counter-Strike: Global Offensive modder feels the same, it seems, having brought the 17-year old map to Valve's perennial war-torn shooter (with modder Jeisen having cleaned it up and filed it on Steam Workshop). 

As published by YouTube person Mr Error, here's a gander at Facing Worlds in all its reworked CS:GO-inspired glory: 

While I'm unsure if Facing Worlds would work quite as well in Counter-Strike, hearing that theme tune, marvelling at far-off planet Earth, and watching the player scoot around vantage points by way of teleportation really takes me back. 

Jeisen's Facing Worlds (UT 99) Final can be subscribed to over here. Before you go, let me share Omri's 'Why UT's Facing Worlds is one of the best multiplayer maps ever' video in full: 

Thanks, Kotaku

PC Gamer

It’s a busy weekend in the world of electronic sports and it’s not just League of Legends that aims to have fans excited. There’s plenty of action from the CS:GO at StarLadder to the Rocket League: Championship Series. We even have the Hearthstone: Trinity Series finals to look forward to. All the details on this weekend’s events can be found below.

League of Legends: 2017 EU LCS Spring Split

Week seven of the EU LCS was crucial for the bottom-placed teams and Origen was desperate to pick up their first victory of the season. However, Roccat managed to win key team fights and after a messy back-and-forth game the series went to them. Technical difficulties came up during the Team Vitality vs Giants series and game two had to be replayed due to an Orianna bug. This break unhinged the Giants and Vitality took the victory despite losing a game. Meanwhile, the top teams also had to play each other this week, and H2k remained on top form in their game against Misfits, and Unicorns of Love managed to dominate Fnatic after a game-changing team fight in game two. G2 Esports are still the team to beat and we’ll see if anyone has what it takes to topple them as we enter week eight of play. This week’s schedule and stream can be found over on LoL Esports.

League of Legends: 2017 NA LCS Spring Split

Phoenix1 had another great week and they decimated FlyQuest in both games, and now they’re only two wins away from rivalling Cloud9 for second place. Echo Fox’s series against Team Dignitas was very close, but in the final game jungler Chaser and mid-laner Keane managed to take complete control of the map and applied pressure until Echo Fox crumbled. Team Liquid made changes to their roster once again, but despite adding Doublelift to their line-up they couldn’t quite takedown Cloud9. However, they did manage to win an extremely close game against Envy after a securing Baron. Meanwhile, TSM had a very shaky week which saw them drop two games against both Envy and Immortals, but they did eventually pull through and win both matches. The competition continues to heat up as we enter week eight of play and all teams will be looking to climb the competitive ladder. The full schedule and stream can be found over on LoL Esports.

CS:GO: StarLadder i-League Season 3

The American and European playoffs are taking place this weekend and only the top two teams from each bracket will secure a place in the LAN finals. G2 Esports and Space Soldiers are kicking things off in Europe today at 08:00 PDT / 16:00 CET, while Cloud9 and Renegades clash in America much later at 18:00 PDT / 02:00 CET. With $300,000 up for grabs you can bet that every team will go in guns blazing, and there’s sure to be plenty of high-octane action. The schedule and stream for both playoffs can be found here.

Rocket League: Championship Series

The 16 teams that will be competing in the Rocket League Championship Series over the next six weeks have been decided. There was a big upset in Europe as PENTA Sports will once again miss out on league play after falling 1-3 to RedEye and losing to Mockit eSports in the loser’s bracket. Another surprise was delivered by ZentoX who fought their way through the lower bracket to claim the last available spot in league play. Meanwhile, in North America Radiance managed to take down both Iris and Atelier for the first spot, but the biggest surprise came when Iris was knocked out by Selfless. Make sure you check out RLCS official Twitter handle to receive the latest schedule times and streams.

Hearthstone: Trinity Series

The top four teams from the online portion of the Trinity Series will be participating in the live finals this Saturday. There’s a $150,000 prize pool up for grabs, and the tournament will be hosted at ESL Studios in Burbank, California. So far Team Liquid is the favourite team to secure a place at the final, but the competition is looking extremely close and every player will need to be at the top of their game if they want to take home the title. The upper bracket finals and lower bracket semifinal starts today at 10:00 PDT / 18:00 CET, while the lower bracket finals and grand finals start the same time tomorrow. The official stream can be found over on Twitch.

Heroes of the Storm: Eastern Clash

The top Heroes of the Storm teams from China, Korea, Southeast Asia, and Taiwan will clash in order to crown the best team in Asia. Matches will be played in a double-elimination format and there’s expected to be rivalries between China and Korea, especially between organisations like MVP Black and eStar Gaming. With $100,000 on the line and a chance to claim bragging rights over Asia the Eastern Clash is expected to deliver an action-packed weekend. The full schedule and stream can be found over on heroesofthestorm.com.

PC Gamer

Valve has just announced a brand new addition to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive's map line-up. Dubbed 'Canals', the map is based on an "historic Italian city" and is based on "real-world environments". The map's existence first came to light last year when players found references to "canals" in the game files. Now, it's finally here.

"The CT side is composed of a large, wide open area while the T-controlled territory forms a crescent of smaller spaces around it and provides multiple approaches to each bomb site."

The description continues: "While the map is based on a real-world location, the aesthetics are intentionally clean and uncluttered for good player visibility. In addition, many of the environmental models are built in a modular fashion so they can be easily re-used by community map makers." For a full detailed rundown on some of the design decisions, click on over here.

A few more pics:

The update will also usher in a visual upgrade to the Phoenix Terrorist player model, with the aim of "preserving character legibility and improving overall visual fidelity". Finally, there's also a new Spectrum Case containing 17 new weapon finishes designed by the community.

PC Gamer

The Intel Extreme Masters in Katowice, Poland opens its doors this weekend and there’s plenty of esports action to indulge in. There’s drama from the Heroes of the Storm: Western Clash to the CS:GO World Championship. We even have week three of the Smite SPL to look forward to. All the details on this weekend’s events can be found below.

Heroes of the Storm: IEM Western Clash

Three of the highest-ranked teams from HGC North America, Europe, Latin America and Australia/New Zealand will duke it out for their share of the $100,000 prize pool. Teams will clash in a double-elimination format and we will see if anyone has what it takes to dethrone Misfits this weekend. In addition to all the competitive gameplay, a new hero will also be displayed during today’s event. You can check out the standings for each region and view the tournament schedule for your area over on the Heroes of the Storm’s official site.  Starcraft 2: IEM Season XI World Championship

The World Championship is set to be the final StarCraft 2 event of IEM Season XI, as well as the first global event of WCS 2017. A chance to grab a place in the global finals at BlizzCon this year will be given to the winner, as well as $250,000 prize pool. The competition is looking extremely fierce, with 76 challengers facing off to claim the crown. Group C will kick things off today at 03:00 PST / 12:00 CET and continue throughout the day. You can check out the full schedule here, while the stream can be watched over on Twitch.

CS:GO: IEM Season XI World Championship

The group stage matches of group A and B have concluded and FaZe Clan has won their place in the semi-finals, while Natus Vincere took the lead in their bracket. Teams that secured second and third place will duke it out in the quarterfinals, but only the strongest will have a chance to snag the $250,000 prize pool. The quarterfinals start today at 03:45 PST / 12:45 CET, while the semifinals begin the following day at 03:30 PST / 12:30 CET. You can check out the full schedule here, while the stream can be watched over on Twitch.

League of Legends: 2017 EU LCS Spring Split

G2 Esports remain strong after they took both games against Unicorns of Love in week five. They starved UoL of objectives and gold in the first game, while the second game was won thanks to a game-changing quadra kill from Zven. Splyce has improved tremendously and Kobbe’s Jhin was the star of the show going 8/1/9 against Fnatic. The competition is heating up as we enter week six of play and Misfits are still looking to rival G2 for first place. This week’s schedule and stream can be found over on LoL Esports.

League of Legends: 2017 NA LCS Spring Split

Team SoloMid dominated Cloud9 in week five and their early game has greatly improved since the start of the LCS. Bjergsen’s Zed and Hauntzer’s Shen showed excellent control and synergy in game three, which gave TSM an early advantage that allowed them to push for the win. FlyQuest suffered an unexpected defeat against Dignitas when Hai decided to pick Jarvan mid, which made it all too easy for Dignitas to play around. Team Liquid also suffered a heavy defeat in their game against Counter Logic gaming, but they still have a chance to show improvements when they face Immortals today. The full schedule and stream can be found over on LoL Esports.

Overwatch: APEX Season 2

We’re more than halfway through the Overwatch APEX Season 2 now and it has been a rough ride for the Western squads. However, Team EnVyUs still have a shot to claim a win for fans when they face Lunatic-Hai today at 02:00 PST / 11:00 CET, while Team KongDoo Uncia face RunAway at 03:30 PST / 12:30 CET. The competition continues to ramp up and the $178,000 prize pool is beckoning for a victor. You can find the official stream over on Twitch.

Smite: SPL 2017

The third week of the SPL will continue this Saturday where CycloneGG and NRG eSports will clash. Team Eager are the current leaders in North America, while Valance Squad are the dominant team in Europe. NRG will be looking to secure a win after Obey Alliance delivered a shocking blow when they beat them 2-0 and took second place. CycloneGG is currently at the bottom of the rankings alongside Sanguine Esports, so expect to see the underdogs going all out in this matchup. You can find the weekend’s schedule and official stream here

PC Gamer

Your CS:GO rank is a badge of honor. Some players agonize over their level within the competitive matchmaking system, desperate to escape 'silver hell' or push to the towering heights of Global Elite. But despite the intense focus on these status symbols, information about how the system works is scarce. Collated below is the best knowledge available to help you understand your competitive rank and what factors influence it.

How CS:GO ranks work

  • When you begin your matchmaking journey, you’ll first be tasked with winning (not just completing) 10 placement matches, at a limit of two per day. These allow time for the game’s ranking system to determine your calibre. Note that an unranked player will be unable to queue with anyone of rank Master Guardian 2 or higher, unless queuing with a full team of five.
  • Once ten matches are complete, you’ll be assigned into one of 18 Skill Groups, depending on your performance. You’ll now be able to play as many matches as you like, but can only queue with players within +/- 5 ranks of your own (once again, excluding a team of 5 queuing).
  • Based on successes and failures, your rank will be adjusted at the end of each match, assigning you a higher or lower Skill Group if necessary. The mechanics behind this are still unclear, but the surest way to improve is by winning as a team.
  • Play no matches for a month and your Skill Group will disappear, requiring a win or draw to return it. Again, you’ll no longer be able to play with ranks above Master Guardian 1 until you’ve earned it back.

Rank distribution

CSGOSquad, an independent analysis website provides a breakdown of the rank distribution, showing the percentage of active players in each rank over a day, week or month. This data is collected through randomly sampled matches, so extending the catchment period to a month gives a good idea of how the ranks spread out.

In the sample above we can see in February that the average rank was Gold Nova 2, with around 35% of all players sampled in the Gold Nova bracket. If you’ve earned your way to Legendary Eagle, congrats, you’re in the top 10% of matchmaking players. In fact, you might be even higher than you think. The site’s random sampling technique means that because higher ranked players will, in general, play the game more often, they are disproportionately likely to be sampled. But what does each rank actually mean, and how does the game determine where to place you?

Elo and Glicko-2

Unsurprisingly, Valve has kept incredibly tight-lipped when it comes to the inner workings of its games, for fear that some players might game the system itself, prioritising their own progression over the success of their team. But back in 2015, a Valve employee let slip that CS:GO initially based its matchmaking on the Glicko-2 ranking system, though it has since been adapted and improved, involving some heavy modifications. 

The more games you ve played, the harder it will be to change your rank.

Chances are you’ve heard of Elo ranking. Designed for player vs player competitions such as chess, each combatant is assigned a number to represent their rank. The difference between two competitor’s numbers indicates the expected outcome of the match, with the victor claiming points from the loser. Should the player of higher rank win, he’ll take significantly fewer points than the lower player would, outcome reversed.

Since the adoption of Elo, many variations have been designed to combat some of the system’s flaws. Glicko-2 is one such alternative, assigning a Ratings Deviation (RD) around a base number. A player’s Match Making Rank (MMR) then becomes a range (e.g. [1000-2000]), rather than a single number (e.g. 1500). This improves accuracy; the system can then say it knows a player’s rank will lie within this bracket to a 95% certainty. The better the system knows your real rank, the smaller this range will be. Glicko-2 also takes into account a player’s 'volatility,' how much a rank is expected to fluctuate over time (increased through erratic performances, decreased through consistency).

However, despite Glicko-2 being an open system, clear limitations stop it from applying directly to CS:GO. Both Elo and Glicko were designed with 1v1 competition in mind. In a 5v5, team-based game, far more factors come into play. An individual player’s impact on a game is a difficult thing to judge. Sure, one player can earn four kills in a round, but that may only be because of an ally securing the bomb-plant, or placing a well-timed flash. From K/D ratios to MVPs, performance statistics are varied, and Valve has said nothing about how they’re taken into account with regards to rank. In response to this silence, some players have their own theories on how CS:GO’s ranking system works.

Player theories

Back in 2014, Steam user RetriButioN posted a lengthy record of his experience ranking up multiple accounts. He's since updated the guide, acknowledging that all claims are based purely off his own anecdotal evidence, but it makes for an interesting read regardless. He proposes that ranking is determined on a round-by-round basis, adjusting all players involved to redetermine the expected winner. This method could explain why players sometimes rank up on a lost game, given a close scoreline. The chances of this occurring are extremely low, but multiple players have reported unexpected changes in rank—see Infamous_Blue’s comment here as an example. However, these cannot act as hard evidence for a round-by-round system, as external factors (e.g. previous games being removed due to a detected cheater) can also influence your ranking during a match. These outside events are more likely to explain especially bizarre claims like deranking after a 16-0 win.

RetriButioN also goes on to claim that, aside from winning and losing the round, MVPs are the only factor to affect your ranking score. The logic behind this and the guide came from the use of console command, 'developer 1,' which revealed a ranking number that changed based on rounds and MVPs. However, Valve has dispelled this claim, confirming that files stored on the user-end no longer affect ranking. However, if MVPs previously played a role, there’s chance that they still do. Recently, reddit user dob_bobbs shared his own thoughts, covering the workings of the Glicko-2 system and suggesting that a high volatility may limit the loss or gain of points. The logic behind this is that a player may have an unusual bad patch or lucky streak, not indicative of their true skill, meaning that time to establish the trend is needed.

What we know for certain

With many fan theories floating around, it can be easy to get lost down a rabbithole of guesswork, but there are some key takeaways from what’s been learned. 

A wide number of factors affect your ranking, and it’s all stored by Valve.“All computations are performed on our matchmaking backend and multiple matchmaking parameters describing scientific set of rating variables of a player are represented to players as [their rank],” posted vitaliy_valve in response to RetriButioN’s guide. No matter how much data mining someone claims to have done, they cannot know the details of the matchmaking system. With a number of variables in effect, it’s better to focus on winning the game than arguing over factors like who gets to defuse the bomb, even if someone tells you otherwise.

The more games you’ve played, the harder it will be to change your rank.The nature of Glicko-2’s Rating Deviation means that the longer you play at a particular level, the more precisely the game will believe it has determined your appropriate rank. With a smaller RD, larger jumps in your MMR become improbable. If you’ve ever seen a popular streamer or Youtuber attempt to rank an account from Silver 1 to Global, you’ll notice that it usually takes a long time to progress during the Silver stages. This happens because the account has been intentionally deranked by a player losing repeated games on purpose. During this time, the rating system will believe it has obtained a good idea of the player’s true rank, and therefore responds slowly to subsequent victories. This isn’t to say you’ll never be able to climb the levels again. Given consistent hard work and competition with those above your level, your RD will widen again, allowing greater steps up.

A hiatus will reduce your rank’s certainty, but often leads to degradation.Quit playing CS:GO for a month, and you’ll find your skill group has vanished, requiring a draw or win to earn it back. If you stop playing for longer, there’s a good chance you’ll return at a different rank than before. It has often been suggested that MMR decays over time when inactive, but again it’s tough to find evidence to back this up. The most probable cause for degradation comes from increases in Rating Deviation. 

Your ranking range becomes less certain over time between games, increasing in RD. Each sudden drop represents a match played, letting the system believe it can more precisely identify your true rank.

The longer it has been since your last match, the less certain the game can be of your level, which means you could be matched against players of a wider skill range than you would normally. If you’re in the upper half of the skill groups, you’re more likely to be matched against those lower than you due to the larger pool of players. However, if you find your rank has dropped then it’s best not to worry, as your increased RD should allow faster recovery.

PC Gamer

The League of Legends LCS continues to dominate the headlines at the moment, but there are actually a fair few other events taking place this weekend. There’s plenty of action from the CS:GO: DreamHack Masters to the Heroes of the Storm: Global Championship. We even have the Hearthstone Winter Playoffs to look forward to. All the details on this weekend’s events can be found below.

League of Legends: 2017 EU LCS Spring Split

H2K Gaming bounced back from their tough loss against G2 by beating Team ROCCAT, while G2 Esports earned its sixth straight series win after sweeping Origen 2-0. The Giants and ROCCAT are still the underdogs of the tournament, but both teams are determined to improve their scores this weekend where they’ll face H2K and Splyce. The competition’s looking extremely fierce and we can expect to see some exciting games as we go into week five. This week’s schedule and stream can be found over on LoL Esports.

League of Legends: 2017 NA LCS Spring Split

Echo Fox had another fantastic week as jungler Akaadian snowballed his team with an early advantage that allowed him to apply pressure all other the map. Team Dignitas even managed to secure their second win when they defeated in EnVy 2-0. Meanwhile, Team Liquid narrowly lost their match against Cloud9, but Piglet and Reignover showed great potential with their jungle and AD carry plays. The full schedule and stream can be found over on LoL Esports.

CS:GO: DreamHack Masters Las Vegas 2017

Following the success of the first ever DreamHack Masters in Malmö, DreamHack has taken their explosive CS:GO tournament to Las Vegas. The World’s best CS:GO teams have been busy battling it out at the iconic MGM Grand and Garden Arena for their chance to win the $450,000 prize pool. The competition is set to be fierce and we will find out whether anyone has what it takes to beat the current titleholders Ninjas in Pyjamas. The full schedule can be found here, while the stream can be found by heading over to Twitch.

Hearthstone: 2017 HCT Americas Winter Playoffs

Last weekend the European branch of the Hearthstone Championship Tour kicked off and determined which four players (Pavel, Neirea, GreenSheep, and ShtanUdachi) would be competing at the Hearthstone Winter Championship in the Bahamas, as well as crowning Pavel the HCT EU Winter Champion. This weekend we’ll see which players have what it takes to represent the Americas and be crowned the HCT Americas Winter Champion. The matches kick off on Saturday at 08:00 PST / 17:00 CET, and continue Sunday at 09:00 PST / 18:00 CET. You can find the weekend’s schedule and official stream here.

Heroes of the Storm: Global ChampionshipSeven teams have booked their ticket to the Western Clash at IEM Katowice. Tempo Storm, Team 8, and Gale Force eSports from North America made the cut during week four of play. Misfits secured their spot after defeating Team expert 3-0, while fellow European teams Fnatic and Team Dignitas will also be joining them. Both NA and EU schedules can be found here, while the stream can be viewed by heading over to Twitch

PC Gamer

Anti-cheat software has a lot of weight to pull in the modern age, with few major games going to market without some form of online competitive mode. Detecting and smiting cheaters is a thankless task too, with most folk ignoring anti-cheat technology unless it stops working effectively. Typically enough, Valve has a new approach in mind.

During a discussion on the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Reddit page, one user asked why Valve doesn't implement auto-detection for spinbots – bots that literally spin on the spot, auto-killing every player in range. Other users posit quite reasonably that it wouldn't be hard to detect this supernaturally quick and effective player behavior. That may be true, but according to a Valve spokesperson writing in the thread, it wouldn't be the best approach.

"So some bad news: any hard-coded detection of spin-botting leads to an arms race with cheat developers – if they can find the edges of the heuristic you’re using to detect the cheat, the problem comes back," the spokesperson wrote. "Instead, you’d want to take a machine-learning approach, training (and continuously retraining) a classifier that can detect the differences between cheaters and normal/highly-skilled players."

That sounds simple enough if you don't know what's at stake, but actually, it's an approach to anti-cheat which ups the ante entirely: both in possible effectiveness and the sheer cost of operating it.

"The process of parsing, training, and classifying player data places serious demands on hardware, which means you want a machine other than the server doing the work. And because you don’t know ahead of time who might be using this kind of cheat, you’d have to monitor matches as they take place, from all ten players’ perspectives."

The spokesperson continued: "There are over a million CS:GO matches played every day, so to avoid falling behind you’d need a system capable of parsing and processing every demo of every match from every player’s perspective, which currently means you’d need a datacenter capable of powering thousands of CPU cores."

Apparently Valve has "started this work" and already has an early version of the system deployed to Overwatch – a self-regulated community dedicated to reviewing cheat reports in the game. The company will "continue this work and expand the system over time".

PC Gamer

Photo credit: Heather 'sapphiRe' Garozzo

As the bombastic opening to last month’s ELEAGUE Major demonstrated, esports have come a long way since the LAN parties of the ‘90s. Within this developing environment, more and more unique careers are emerging. While CS:GO’s casters and analysts rival even the players in popularity, a further selection of vital backstage roles are only just starting to gain attention. Chief among these unsung heroes are CS:GO’s observers.

What is an observer?

By controlling the in-game camera, the observer decides which player perspectives or camera angles are broadcast during the match. When you’re watching an online stream, every viewpoint is chosen by them. With the onus on ensuring that the big plays are captured each round, the difference between a good and bad observer is not to be understated. Experienced observers are few and far between, and as tournaments continue to expand, it’s a position increasingly in demand. I had the chance to speak with Heather ‘sapphiRe’ Garozzo, one of CS:GO’s most accomplished observers, on what the role entails.

“An observer is essentially an in-game director for a match,” Heather says. “There’s a main director who’s telling people when to go in game, when to look at the team, the analyst's desk or the host. Then there’s the in-game director which is the observer. My job is to direct the action in the game. Essentially I’m a storyteller. I’m telling the story of a round or the match.”

A former professional competitor, Heather has been playing CS since its initial release in 1999. Alongside her gaming career, Heather began covering CS:Source as a freelance writer, travelling at her own expense to cover various events. Eventually noticed by companies such as ESEA and ESL, Heather moved onto CS:GO coverage until, out of the blue, she was asked to observe a match.

“One weekend, former competitive player impulsivE said he needed an observer,” recalls Heather. “I said you need a what? An observer? I guess I’ll give that a shot. I was kind of nervous as I’d never done that before and hadn’t really thought of an observer as a thing. I used to watch hundreds of demos, thousands of demos of teams for analytical articles. It turns out I was pretty comfortable with it.”

As it happened, this match was part of the 2015 ESL One Cologne Major Qualifier and opened the door to a career that few playing the game were even aware of. Since then, Heather has worked at a great number of notable events including the MLG Columbus Major and ESL Pro League Season 2 Finals.

Know the players, know the game

Anticipating the key moments in each round is no easy task, with players often spread across all corners of the map. A good knowledge of the scene is therefore a great boon. Getting a grasp of which players are the main entry fraggers, AWPers and lurkers is just the beginning. Getting to know the players themselves is the real goal.

“I’d say what really sets me apart from the average observer is that, because I get to observe these guys so often, I know their style,” says Heather. “Like [EnVyUs’ AWPer] KennyS. He likes to play these very aggressive angles on Dust2. We’re watching the map most of the time, so we’re watching little dots on the radar. We’re not just clicking round through players trying to find something. When I see KennyS’s dot on that particular spot and I know he has an AWP? I’m probably gonna switch to him if I see a T approaching.”

“Another example is Stewie2K,” Heather adds. “He’s typically known for pushing through smokes. A lot of players see smokes as a wall. Not Stewie—don’t switch off him because he’s probably going to do something crazy. I think it really makes a difference for me, it allows me to be more reactive when I can anticipate the players.”

Photo credit: Helena Kristiansson/ESL

Caster relationships

This knowledge extends beyond those competing to the external talent. Another key part of an observer’s work is to compliment the casters. During a match, casters are often in direct communication with the observation team, making requests for specific viewpoints or statistics. Working in tandem over a number of tournaments, Heather has built up a rapport with CS:GO’s top casting talent, and is able to adapt her style to suit them.

“I have to work very closely with [them]” says Heather. “If you don’t have a good observer, the talented casters are going to be unable to do their job. They’re the narrators and I’m directing for them. I’m fortunate enough that I get to travel to a lot of different events. I’m seeing these guys every other weekend so I get to know them and build up a chemistry.”

“Sadokist likes to call things out that he wants to talk about, so I have to queue those up for him on the main screen,” Heather gives as an example. “Semmler likes to cover how many players lived or died on previous rounds so I need to dig into the scoreboard and damage done on players. It really helps to get to know their style. To the audience we want it to look like one complete package, not a bunch of different people.”

Photo credit: Heather 'sapphiRe' Garozzo

Rules of thumb

The level of involvement and prior knowledge required to reach the top might seem daunting, but Heather is quick to offer some basic tips to improve your observing significantly.

“There’re definitely a few rules of thumb. For example, in a 1v2 I’m almost always going to put the camera on the one person, because he’s always more likely to do something more impressive or pull off a clutch,” Heather advises. “When 5 Ts are pushing one CT, I could keep trying to guess which one is going to get the kill, but the better guess is to go on [the lone player].”An observer’s goal is to consistently find the most exciting part of the match. This can involve swapping between both sides based on the pace of a team or which segment of the round is occurring.

 “At the beginning of the round, you usually want to show the terrorists as they’re the ones that need to advance on the map,” says Heather. “What they’re doing is the most important thing on the map, unless the CTs do something special. Let that part unfold and then, when they’re about to execute onto a site, you often want to switch to the CTs.”

How to start observing

If observing sounds like your thing, the tools included in CS:GO make starting out easier than ever—but you’ll need to earn some experience before you hit the big leagues. Fortunately, Heather suggests, there is plenty of demand.

“I think of it as similar as the route to casting,” says Heather. “ESL is not going to hire you without some sort of experience, as you’re working with the directors and producers. Even after I got my start at ESL, I tried to do a lot of things on my own. For example on ESEA, or ESL and FACEIT there are literally hundreds of matches every night which go unstreamed, and people want to watch those. That’s a great opportunity to practice and build content on your Twitch stream. It’s as easy as firing up your stream [and posting the link] on a match page.”

An additional route is to work with those keen to get involved in other areas. The popularity of match commentators like Anders Blume and Henry “HenryG” Greer has led to many new faces keen to practice their casting talent. Most will be more than keen to work with an observer and ease their workload.

“I think that would be a great way to do it,” Heather says. “You have caster duos but I think it would be cool to have caster-observer duos. It’s really hard to cast and observe at the same time, so observe for them and you can both get experience.”

Photo credit: Heather 'sapphiRe' Garozzo

Deserving attention

By virtue of being an off-camera role, observing has been slow to gain recognition by the community—but times are changing. Last year’s ESL Pro League Season 2 Finals included observers among their talent announcement, and casters have even been making an effort to commend their good work.

“It’s such a nice feeling when they do that and it’s great to know we’re getting more attention,” says Heather. “I definitely notice that. Things as simple as that when the crew are picked up in the morning, we go with the talent. Casters are going to have preference for who they want to work with. Even on reddit too a lot of people get excited when a particular observer is announced.”

With most observers starting out as fans and players of the series, it’s fantastic to see their work gain appreciation in the audience. As esports evolve, here’s hoping these hidden stars continue to be acknowledged.

PC Gamer

Last year, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive's Inferno map was given a fresh lick of paint before being offered to players to test out and file feedback. Check out our 'before and after' Inferno slider gallery over here to this end, and know that said makeover has now led Inferno to replace the game's renowned Dust2 arena—with the latter being removed from Active Duty. Dust2 is still playable, however retires from the competitive esports scene as it stands.  

Now "front and centre" on the Competitive Matchmaking map selection screen, Dust2 can still be enjoyed in deathmatch and casual mode, however the changes brought by Inferno's new look have seen it poke its nose in front.   

"In the wake of the ELEAGUE Major (congratulations Astralis), we’re making a change to the map pool: Inferno has returned to Active Duty, replacing Dust II, and will be featured at the next CS:GO Major," so reads an update post on the official CS:GO blog. "As in the past, the updated Active Duty pool is automatically selected when you enter Matchmaking." 

The post continues: "And in Casual and Deathmatch game modes, it’s now a bit easier to play your favorite maps. Map groups have been separated into additional categories: Active Duty, Hostage, Reserves, and Dust II." 

Let me now turn this over to our competitive Counter-Strikers: is the ascension of the reborn Inferno a good move, or a cartographic nightmare?


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