PC Gamer

For the past few Junes, right before one of the busiest gaming weeks of the year, we ve taken a moment to imagine the E3 press conference that PC Gamers deserve. It s become one of our tiny traditions (along with Chris questionable behavior in survival games). Mostly it s an excuse for us to publish something entirely detached from reality before we fly to Los Angeles and publish every scrap of gaming news and opinion that our bodies will allow. It s therapeutic to daydream about Gabe Newell materializing atop a unicorn through a fog of theater-grade dry ice to announce Half-Life 3.

We get valuable stories, videos, and interviews out of E3—you can imagine how handy it is to have almost every game-maker gathered under one roof for a few days. But it s no secret that the PC doesn t have a formal, organized presence during E3. Generally speaking it s the time of year when Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo jostle for position about who can create the most buzz. Despite being a mostly exciting few days of announcements, E3 has never given the biggest gaming platform in the world an equal place at the table.

That s our collective fault, not E3 s. One of our hobby s greatest strengths is the fact that there isn t a single owner. The PC has no marketing arm, no legal department, no CEO to dictate what should be announced or advertised. And thank Zeus for that. The fundamentally open nature of our hobby is what allows for GOG, Origin, Steam, and others to compete for our benefit, for the variety of technologies and experiences we have access to—everything from netbook gaming to 8K flight simulation to VR.

Everyone involved in PC gaming has shared ownership over its identity. One of the few downsides of that, though, is that there isn t really a single time and place for PC gaming to get together and hang out. We love BlizzCon, QuakeCon, DreamHack, Extra Life, The International, and the ever-increasing number of PAXes. But there s something special about the pageantry of E3 week, its over-the-top showmanship, its surprises, its proximity to Hollywood. And each June, even as we ve jokingly painted a picture of PC game developers locking arms in a musical number, we ve wanted something wholly by, for, and about PC gaming.

Well, hell, let s do it.

For the past few months we ve been organizing the first ever live event for PC gaming during E3, The PC Gaming Show. Tune into our Twitch channel on Tuesday, June 16 on 5 PM and you ll see a spectrum of PC gaming represented on stage: a showcase of conversations, announcements, hardware, trailers, and other stuff that makes PC gaming great. We ve been talking to everyone we know, big and small—if there s a game or developer you want to see—tell us! So far, Blizzard, AMD, Bohemia Interactive, Boss Key Productions, Paradox, Dean Hall, Tripwire, and more have signed up to be a part of this inaugural PC gaming potluck (Paradox has promised to bring nachos), and we ll be announcing more participants as we lead up to June 16. And hey, the endlessly friendly Day[9] is hosting. We love that guy.

We re sincerely, stupidly excited about this. The PC gaming renaissance we re all living in deserves a moment of recognition during the biggest gaming expo of the year—it s about time! Listen in on Twitter and on our Facebook page as we share more details leading up to June.

PC Gamer

ESL and ESEA have teamed up to form the ESL ESEA Pro League, the biggest Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament in the history of the game. The league will consist of two divisions, one in North America and one in Europe, with 12 invited teams per division battling for their share of a $1 million prize pool.

ESL started out with Counter-Strike more than fifteen years ago," ESL Managing Director Ralf Reichert said. "Now, many years later, we are extremely excited to be in a position where we can take the industry to the next level with the first regular US$500,000 Counter-Strike league together with ESEA."

Pro league seasons will be scheduled around Valve-supported majors, with weekly online matches that "aim to consolidate the Counter-Strike market by providing consistent high quality content to the global esports audience." Full travel support will also be extended to teams taking part in the four-day offline finals that will be held in Burbank, California, and Cologne, Germany

The North American lineup has not yet been announced, but the European division will consist of the following teams:

Team Dignitas

Team EnVyUs

FlipSid3 Tactics

fnatic

HellRaisers

mousesports

Natus Vincere

Ninjas In Pyjamas

PENTA Sports

Team SoloMid

Titan

Virtus.Pro

It's not known how this jibes with reports from earlier this month that the ESL was negotiating with Twitch to create a new CS:GO league independent of Valve. No mention of Twitch was made in the announcement, and while it's a reasonable bet that this is somehow related to those talks—especially given the intent to "schedule around" Valve-sponsored events—it may also be a sort of "Plan B" instead. Whatever the case, Ulrich Schulze, ESL's managing director of pro gaming, made it clear that the new league is not exclusive.

"There is no exclusivity attached to ESL ESEA Pro League," he wrote on Twitter. "Teams can play whatever tournaments they want on the side."

ESL ESEA Pro League action will begin on May 4. Details are up at pro.eslgaming.com.

PC Gamer

Shawn FMPONE Snelling is a modder and mapmaker for CS:GO. His work on CS:GO includes de_cache, de_crown, and the recent de_season remake. Shawn s currently working on de_santorini.

First things first: for me, this isn t about taking sides . I like Valve. And as for the community, well, I m part of that.

I m a modder, and I deserve compensation. Or, to be exact, I deserve the option to ask for compensation if I feel that s reasonable.

Let s talk about what that looks like for a second. Is it 25% of a sale on a Steam item? Should Valve and Bethesda get 30% and 45% respectively of any item I sell? Actually, I m not sure. If I m selling one trillion units, I m not minding that cut really. If I m selling six units and I m eating ramen noodles under a bridge somewhere in Detroit, I m minding that cut a lot.

Steam is a huge platform, and when Valve promotes your stuff as a modder, you re in the territory of making huge money. Huge money, for doing what you love. You can t really get that elsewhere, and that s a credit to Valve and how great Steam generally is and has been. So that cut, I m not sure I mind it as much as you might think. But let s go ahead and agree Valve needed to put more thought into their plan, or at least into explaining and executing their plan. There are real considerations here that just don t feel like they were addressed at all (did you know that some Skyrim mods can completely break your game?)

Here s my real question: just how effective is this system going to be at rewarding modders?

Well, if everyone is pissed off at Valve and refusing to purchase stuff, not very; in that situation, modders won t get paid.

The de_season remake, one of FMPONE's recent projects.

So let s talk a little bit about this, shall we? Let s agree that modders deserve to get paid. That s right, I said it. Those people who put their time and effort into something that provides you with countless hours of entertainment. Let s start the discussion right there—those people deserve to get paid. But only if they dig the idea.

This is the trajectory of most mods historically: a small team of people works very hard to make something they feel is special and unique, and very often it is. Many of them have no interest in professional game development. Many do, and their mods serve as their resume when they look for a job in the industry. These hardworking individuals have an intense and productive relationship with the community, only to be shuffled off and placed into cubicles where their artistic voice is diluted and stifled churning out sequels for giant publishers. Instead of earning money doing what they love, they re earning money so that they can someday do what they love once again. Compensating modders is one potential answer to this thoroughly broken dynamic producing lousy games for all of us.

People immediately identified serious and troubling issues with Skryim s paid-modding plan.

Speaking personally, the Steam Workshop has gotten to a point where it s netting me a real salary and I feel rewarded and compensated for my work. I love what I do, and Valve has created a system which enables me to do it full-time, and to learn and improve every single day. Explain to me again why I secretly want to go develop the gaming equivalent of a TPS report?

However, even if the industry was a wonderful utopia, I actually kind of like working from home and not having a boss. Is that wrong? Am I bad person? Nah. I ve got a pretty sweet gig. And that s thanks to Valve and Gabe.

That s right, I said it! COME AT ME, INTERNET, LET S RUMBL—no I already regret saying that please do not come at nor rumble me.

To me, Gabe is still the same good guy he always was. But we need to realize a few things about Valve.

First and definitely foremost, they suck at communication. There are legitimate reasons for this that I could get into, but I won t bother. We know they suck at communicating. And that recently hurt modders. Because Valve communicated their plan ineffectively, it turned people off completely, which meant hey, modders might not get paid at all! As a modder, that makes me sad. Actually, it makes me worry about eating. Which is more scary than it is sad.

Secondly, and let s be honest, Valve s plan kinda sucked. If you re going to announce a bold new initiative, you should probably avoid mentioning that part where you re not going to pay people a majority of what their sale earns. Even if a handful of Skyrim modders could quite plausibly make hundreds of thousands of dollars in the near future, the revenue splits we ve all seen just don t look great. And that big uproar Valve faced is proof that Bad Marketing leads to Bad Stuff.

I admit, the community response was surprising and worrying.  Seeing Gabe downvoted on Reddit is, uh… spooky! But I m also deeply impressed with how legitimate the community s gripes have been. I hope Valve reads some of the discussions on Reddit, because they re precisely not whiny entitled gamers crying about having to pay for stuff. People immediately identified serious and troubling issues with Skryim s paid-modding plan.

I do think there are solutions to the current situation. If people are opening their wallet, they want to get something great as a result. The idea that anyone, regardless of curation or objective criteria, can simply charge $100 for an Extra Apple, isn t alright. There should be some level of subjective, human-level curation. I believe that 3rd party DLC works well. You have to put in time and effort as a developer, but customers like knowing that they re getting quality content. After all, customer happiness should be what matters, even if Valve hates the idea of bottlenecks.

The next glaring issue is paid mods ceasing to function or breaking your game. Obviously, that is unacceptable, and a 24-hour refund policy is inadequate.

Perhaps most importantly, gamers do not want to pay for bugfixes on a product they ve already purchased. The workshop should have a clear promise to customers (a rule, if you will): bugfixes and bugfixing mods will be FREE for customers, even if that means bugfixing contributors have to settle for donations. Incentivizing people to fix bugs in AAA games is wrong -- that s the developer s job. The community isn t here to clean up after major corporations, and rules are necessary when the alternative is exploitation and unethical business practices.

Talented hobbyists are beginning to become talented pros. As a gamer, I want that.

I believe these are important steps forward. Talented hobbyists are beginning to become talented pros, people more capable of delivering high-quality mods to you. As a gamer, I want that. I believe that modders could soon have the opportunity to pursue their own path and explore interesting ideas with totally unprecedented creative and financial freedom—I don t believe that s bad for modding culture . Quite the opposite.

Valve, please put together a plan that sucks less; or at least, seems to suck less. But, most importantly, please continue to support modders. Like you ve done. Like no one else really does. As a modder, I appreciate it more than I could possibly tell you in this short article.

Over the past three years, you guys have literally changed my life for the better, and an internet mob will not deter me from saying it.

Read more of Shawn's thoughts on the issue of paid modding and Valve's announcement on this Reddit discussion.

PC Gamer

The ESL is negotiating a deal with Twitch, Vulcun, and top Counter-Strike: Global Offensive teams to establish a new CS:GO league independent of Valve. What's particularly interesting (and potentially alarming) about the plan is that according to the Daily Dot, the new league would be exclusive, meaning that teams playing under its auspices would not be allowed to play anywhere else. The ESL, however, says it's not seeking to prevent teams attending tournaments put on by other organizations.

The plan is being backed by Vulcun, which earlier this week announced that it had raised $12 million in new financing through investors including Sequoia Capital, Universal Music Group, Mark Pincus of Zynga, and other "angel investors." Sources say the total value of the package offered by ESL and Vulcun runs around $18 million, a "hefty chunk of which" will be paid to teams in exchange for the exclusivity agreement. The deal will also reportedly see exclusive online broadcasting rights granted to Twitch.

The exclusivity angle was challenged by Managing Director of Pro Gaming Ulrich Schuzle, however, who tweeted a link to an ESL post on Reddit shortly after reports of the negotiations came out. "There is only one thing to say about this: ESL is not interested in locking out any tournament organizers from running CS:GO events, nor teams from attending them," it states.

Either way, as the Daily Dot points out, it seems clear that the ESL would like to distance itself from Valve. The CS:GO tournament at ESL One Cologne announced earlier this year is billed as the largest in the world, with a $250,000 prize pool, but unlike previous tournaments that were "community funded" in conjunction with Valve, this year's event is being covered entirely by the ESL. The change struck me as odd at the time—why say "no" if somebody else wants to foot the bill?—but now it's making a little more sense.

An awful lot of questions remain unanswered, including how the new league would handle Valve-imposed bans on players involved in the recent match-fixing scandal. It's not yet a done deal, and the report says other CS:GO organizations are trying to reach Valve, which is apparently in the midst of its annual employee holiday in Hawaii, in hopes that it will intervene. If they can't, or if Valve decides to stay hands-off, it will mean some very big changes to the pro CS:GO scene.

PC Gamer
GeT_RiGhT, Ninjas In Pyjamas' consummate lurker. Photo via HLTV.org.
TRIGGERNOMETRY

We write about FPSes each week in Triggernometry, a mixture of tips, esports, design criticism, and a celebration of virtual marksmanship.

Veteran Counter-Striker GeT_RiGhT did an AMA on the Global Offensive subreddit today, giving his take on the state of CS:GO and how his team, NiP, prepares for tournaments. Below are Mr. RiGhT's most interesting responses.

He doesn't mind the AWP nerf

Question: "What do you think about the new AWP update?"

"I'm fine with it, nothing that affects me in the whole to be honest - Even tho it sucks abit with the autosniper ;)"

Question: "Do you think Valve i heading towards the right direction with the last update and former updates?"

"Yes."

Question: "When you can change one thing (only one) in CS:GO what would it be?"

"I have no idea, I like how it is now.. Pistols could be nerfed tho?"

Question: "What do you think is the most blatant problem currently in CS:GO?"

"I don't know to be honest, there has been alot of different updates since the beg nning of GO - Some has been good, some bad - But in the whole general point of view, I think the most updates are fine. Like, I do like the new update even tho alot of people complains, but sometimes u have to just "adapt" on how the things are and be 'fine' with it if you ask me.

I'd love to get back when you could actually run'n'spray update tho.. ;)"

Cobblestone is his favorite map

Question: "What do you think about the current status of the competitive map pool? What is your favourite map, and your least favourite, and why?"

"I'm actually 'kinda' okay how it is now, even tho they have removed (train - best map before) and now nuke (my other favorite map) :((( But I'm really looking forward to see how the new train will be played, going to be cool.

My favorite map before was cbble/cpl_fire and nowadays cobblestone! And the least one, Not sure to be honest. I don't like dust2 time to time!"

NiP's newest player brings "calmness" to the team

Question: "What does Allu bring to NiP that allowed you to finally take down Fnatic?"

"We actually won over fnatic before we played with allu, so that wasn't the problem if you ask me. What allu brings is alot of laughter, more calmness (can you write that?) ideas that you thought of but thought it was not fit to us as a group and more understanding on how he/we want to play the game.. Basically, a great team player! There is more that could be added, but there is so many more questions that I need to answer so I hope this is fine for now! :)"

...and playing calmly matters

Question: "Did you have to work on keeping your cool?"

"We have forced ourself to become more relax and get a better understanding that if we want to become better as a team and feel more calm. We have to be calm."

His match prep is simple

Question: "Do you have any routines before you play a big match?"

"Take it easy, listen to music - Go volume 0 on the knife round - get a good grip/understanding on how You want to play the game. Nothing more."

Question: "What do you do in preparation for a major tournament?"

"Play play play play play play play play demos play play play play play play demos play play play play play play etc ;D"

He plays MOBAs

Question: "Do you actively play any other games than CS?"

"Alot of League of Legends at the moment.. But I'd love to play some Doto [sic] time to time and other mobile games on my phone (at the moment I'm playing Geometry Dash)"

PC Gamer

Earlier this week CS:GO released an update that made significant changes to some of the core aspects of the game, including the design of popular maps, weapon balance, and tagging (movement speed loss when shot). We asked Counter-Strike expert and commentator Duncan Shields to outline what these changes mean for CS:GO. —PCG

The CS:GO update released on March 31st contained numerous fixes, particular to some key weapons for the competitive scene and to most of the maps used in the Active Duty map group. Let's run through the major adjustments Valve made.

Slower sniping

The AWP has been changed so that players move much slower while scoped in. This change takes many of the standard AWP pick spots and turns them heavily into the favor of the Counter-Terrorist (CT) sniper, as the Terrorist will not be able to scope in before moving out to take a shot quickly, where previously it would have been a similar chance for both snipers and the offensive sniper could have perhaps gotten away to cover if he missed his shot.

The impact this will have on the competitive scene is likely to be drastic, as AWPing was already a niche skill and it was rare to even see teams run two AWPs on either side of the game. In particular, teams like Titan and Na`Vi, who rely heavily upon the individual sniping strength of kennyS and GuardiaN, should find some difficulty in adapting, as they will get fewer T-side kills from their AWPers and lose a key strength from their stars. Players of CS 1.6 may note that the changes are more in line with how the AWP was back in that iteration of Counter-Strike, but a key difference is that quick-scoping—firing without letting the scope animation complete—was significantly more accurate and possible to control back in 1.6.

In CS:GO, there is a random component to quick-scoping, meaning that AWPs are more likely to be overrun and killed. The kill bonus for AWPs was already weak to the extent that the weapon's strength primarily lay in either having a star AWPer or being able to control a position and win the round, thus making back some of the investment via the round win bonus. On their own, AWPs are highly cost-inefficient weapons, unable to make back the money spent on them purely by kills made with them. Many in pro scene have already spoken out about this change and it is hoped that it will be in some sense reverted, though, knowing Valve, that does not seem entirely likely.

The Tec-9 nerfs

To say the Tec-9 was overpowered previously would be a vast understatement. The pistol was so powerful that it made sense to buy it on every single save round as Terrorist at the pro level, such was the likelihood of being able to get a kill and then parlay that into picking up a weapon. Teams like FNATIC and EnVyUs were already the best in the CZ era and adapted to become even more frightening with the Tec-9.

Typically, weapons should be balanced in CS around making their accuracy related closely to how much you have to stand still to achieve such accuracy. The Tec-9 betrayed that balance and thus threw off the whole standard dynamic of CS:GO. Yes, we saw more T side rounds won, but it came at the price of the integrity of how the CT side should conceptually be able to be played.

The changes see the damage of the weapon fall-off, hopefully preventing some of those  long, random headshot kills onto enemies with full weapons, and rewarding the ability to close the distance. The magazine size has also been reduced to 24, since it could essentially be spammed with impunity in its previous, 32-shot capacity.

M4A1-$

The price of the M4A1-Silencer was increased by $100 to $3,200 to "align the weapon s price with its utility," Quite a bizarre statement, really, in light of the fact its lower clip size of 20 bullets, in comparison to the M4A4's 30, already balanced the weapon heavily against its unsilenced counterpart. Many pros have already begun practicing their M4A4, as that $100 and 10 more bullets is suddenly looking vastly more cost-efficient.

Running and gunning

A regular complaint from professionals is that the movement speed and lack of tagging has allowed too much mobility from Terrorists, who seemingly fly around corners and overwhelm opponents who have even hit them on the way. The introduction of  increased tagging, based on weapon, looks to help balance that out and reward those who land shots on their opponent, hopefully allowing spots such as the pit in long A on Dust2 to be more easily covered when one does not immediately get the kill. 

All aboard

Train has, as previously promised, been added to the Active Duty group. In the early days of CS:GO, as in 1.6, this was a core part of the map pool, but was reduced due to both being considered tremendously CT-sided and rarely being picked to be played in competitive games. The new train has been reworked and it has been promised to be easier to secure bombsite takes with, particularly at the outside site. With the advice of some pro-gamers apparently having been taken on board, hopes are high that the map can bring a new dynamic to the map pool in the pro scene.

The old Train suffered from the differences between 1.6 and CS:GO, as it did not allow players to move under trains, a key component in 1.6 to allow Terrorists to hold onto sites after planting and not be easily found. Even with the outside bomb spot moved closer to the Terrorist mid, the map was still heavily biased to the CT side. NiP's early dominance on the map scared many top pro teams away from playing it, leading us into the era of it being almost permanently banned, similar to the status nuke has taken on now among the top teams.

I'm Duncan "Thorin" Shields, also known as "The Esports Historian," and I've been involved in esports journalism since 2001. I write for a number of sites on a freelance basis, provide on-camera analysis at CS:GO tournaments and produce YouTube videos on my channels. Follow my work on TwitterYouTube, and Facebook.

PC Gamer

This week's Triggernometry is all about the basics of flashbanging. CS:GO's blinding bomb is one of the fundamental tools of competitive play, but the techniques surrounding flashing can be pretty opaque. This video gives an overview of how flashes work and demonstrates two maneuvers, the pop flash and the fake flash.

For more advanced techniques, consult Swag

PC Gamer

CS:GO s  ESL One Katowice last weekend drew more than a million viewers at its peak, a record viewership for any version of professional Counter-Strike. If you hold that number up against the number of people who gathered around League of Legends late last year (11 million concurrently) it looks slim, but it s a significant milestone for the FPS genre, which has struggled for decades to pull a large audience around its various competitive scenes.

Granted, the fact that spectators could earn  rare editions of CS:GO weapon skins by watching might ve had something to do with Katowice s popularity. I d rather credit that excitement to its matches, the majority of which were excellent through the four-day event. Coming into Saturday, the semifinals were stacked: Polish home team Virtus Pro was matched against Fnatic, who s considered the most-skilled team in the world. On the other side of the bracket, Dreamhack Winter 2014 champs (as Team LDLC) Team EnVyUs faced off with Swedish stalwarts NiP.

I recommend jumping into the Watch panel in CS:GO to watch some of the final matches in-client, but if you're short on time, here are some of my favorite clips from the event.

Katowice's early rounds included more than a few blowouts, but this video collects some of the best moments from early play

GeT_RiGhT pulls an insane 4K on de_dust2

Neo and Pasha make a memorable moving boost on Cobblestone

Device patiently lines up two NiP in banana on Inferno

Good breakdown of Pronax s strategy in some key rounds against NiP and VP

Friberg pulls a crazy double-kill on a single AK spray on the final map of the Katowice finals to keep NiP in it

Another great breakdown of Cloud9 s T-side pistol round execution against TSM on Nuke

MojoOnPC pulls in teams' in-game voice chat to share some of the funny moments from the competition, including team kills

PC Gamer
Counter Logic Gaming competes in the Katowice 2015 qualifier. All photos courtesy HLTV.org.
TRIGGERNOMETRY

We write about FPSes each week in Triggernometry, a mixture of tips, esports, design criticism, and a celebration of virtual marksmanship.

Article by Tomi "lurppis" Kovanen

The fifth CS:GO major is days away as the world s best teams are soon starting their travel to Poland for  ESL One Katowice 2015, where the new world champions and winners of $250,000 will be crowned after four days of play, beginning this Thursday.

16 of the world s best teams are present, including the top eight finishers from the previous major,  DreamHack Winter 2014. Joining them are eight teams from the offline qualifier, which also took place in Katowice, a month ago.

In this preview we ll focus on the absolute best teams present in Katowice. For a longer preview featuring all sixteen squads, head over to  HLTV.org for their ESL One Katowice 2015 coverage, including interviews with every team in attendance.

Pronax at MLG Aspen.

Fnatic

Sweden (flusha, JW, KRiMZ, olofm, pronax)

Fnatic have a strong case for being the world s best team right now and likely come into the major as the favorites to win it all. Three of their current players won the very first CS:GO major roughly 15 months ago, and now the organization is vying to become the first team to bag two majors in the game.

After a surprising loss to NiP at MLG Aspen, the black and orange regained their top spot with a dominant performance at Pantamera Challenge that saw them top four of the world s best teams in a day filled with action in Stockholm.

pronax s team has a favorable group draw, and are a favorite against every team in the world in a best-of-three series. If the ex-LGB duo of KRiMZ and olofm keep their performance up, and flusha resurfaces, fnatic could easily become major champions come Sunday.

Prediction: 1st

Shox, as a member of Team LDLC.

EnVyUs

France (Happy, kioShiMa, NBK, shox, SmithZz)

Definitely a top two team in the world right now, EnVyUs formerly known as LDLC are the defending major champions from DreamHack Winter three months ago, and more recently have won MLG X Games and placed third at Pantamera Challenge. Not a bad resume, but the recent loss stings.

Though fans will tell you how amazing Happy is as a caller, his leading is actually fairly poor compared to his peers, as his team usually wins by pure skill instead. In fact, Happy in 2015 is a much better fragger than he is a leader, based on how EnVyUs plays.

Key players for EnVy are shox, previously the world s best player, and kioShiMa, whose inconsistent entry fragging can be the key to nV s wins, or the reason for their downfall. Their play will decide whether NBK tweets out of frustration or happiness at the end of the event.

Prediction: 3-4th

NiP veteran GeT_RiGhT.

NiP

Sweden (allu, f0rest, friberg, GeT_RiGhT, Xizt)

The Swedes of NiP went through a roster change after a disappointing showing at Pantamera Challenge, despite top two finishes at DreamHack Winter and MLG X Games, and a win at ASUS ROG in late January. They removed Maikelele to add former mousesports member allu—who is not Swedish.

That allu is a Finnish player who speaks Finnish as his native language could be a problem in the short-term for NiP, depending how well they are able to work around the potential communication issues that might surface. Another big factor is their style—has Xizt finally let go of their years-old setups?

NiP once again pack so much skill that with their routine it s hard to imagine them not making the semi-finals in Katowice. From there on out the differences will be so small that even allu s communication could matter, but if he, f0rest and GeT_RiGhT are firing on all cylinders, it won t.

Prediction: 2nd

Pasha

Virtus.pro

Poland (byali, NEO, pasha, Snax, TaZ)

Virtus.pro have had a rocky few months in 2015, with group stage exits at both ASUS ROG, a tournament with weak competition, and Pantamera Challenge, to show for their efforts. Last year Virtus.pro broke through as an elite team at this event, and they will hope to repeat their performance.

While Snax remains one of the world s best players, the best player of the team, Pasha, has regressed considerably since his peak in the second and third quarters of 2014. If he returns to a form resembling a top five player in the world, Virtus can win the entire event.

Realistically there is nothing to suggest—aside from last year s precedent—that Virtus would be competing for a win here. However, given the home soil advantage they believe in, and the added motivation, it s reasonable to expect them to bounce back in Katowice.

Prediction: 3-4th

kennyS, currently the world's best CS:GO player.

Titan

France (apex, Ex6TenZ, kennyS, Maniac, RpK)

Titan have the world s best player in kennyS and one of the sharpest CS minds in Ex6TenZ. At Pantamera Challenge they proved they can hang with the best, and they will have a chance to score a huge upset when facing their countrymen EnVyUs in the group stage.

It s unclear whether Titan are good enough to win multiple best-of-three series against top teams, but they are dangerous enough that none of the teams listed above would like to face them. A lot will depend on apEX, whose performance has been very inconsistent.

Prediction: 5-8th

Device

Team SoloMid

Denmark (cajunb, device, dupreeh, karrigan, Xyp9x)

TSM have only attended one tournament so far in 2015, but they had a very good showing in Aspen, finally winning a best-of-three series—even if in the third place decider match—against a team legitimately stronger than them.

Since the Danes have not been active so far in the year, it s hard to say whether they ve been able to fix any of the issues that have plagued them for years—especially since the issues are big games, which you can t play from home. It s more likely they ll face another earlyish exit.

Prediction: 5-8th

Canadian-born Semphis plays for Cloud9, currently the best North American team.

Cloud9

USA (n0thing, semphis, sgares, ShahZaM, shroud)

The Americans of Cloud9 had a very weak autumn last year, culminating in the removal of Hiko for ShahZaM. Though they scored an upset win versus NiP at MLG and beat a weak Mousesports team at the offline qualifier, there simply isn t enough proof of Cloud9 being able to perform consistently.

In Katowice they will be in the toughest group with both Virtus and TSM present, so already advancing out of it would be an impressive feat. Odds are against Cloud9, but it s definitely not impossible to see them in the quarter-finals.

Prediction: 9-12th

Zeus (middle) and Edward (right).

Natus Vincere

Ukraine (Edward, GuardiaN, seized, starix, Zeus)

Na`Vi were one of the top five teams throughout last fall, but they have not attended a single tournament since DreamHack Winter. To further add to the confusion,  Starix said in his video blog that he may be getting removed from the team.

At this point Na`Vi are a complete dark horse who could crash out in the groups or make a deep playoff run, thus making them one of the most exciting teams to follow going into ESL One Katowice later on in the week.

Prediction: 5-8th

You can reach @lurppis_ on Twitter.

PC Gamer

This year's catalog of GDC panels included some Counter-Strike: "Community Level Design for Competitive CS:GO" a series of words that are alarmingly up my alley. There was no way I wasn't missing a panel dedicated to competitive CS:GO, especially when retired Counter-Strike pro player Sal "Volcano" Garozzo and Shawn "FMPONE" Snelling (who we've featured previously on our site in the series "Building Crown") were doing the panelin'.

I'm still writing up my notes and recorded audio from the presentation, which I'll share soon in a separate story. After the panel, though, I pulled Garozzo and Snelling in front of a camera to get them talking about the state of CS:GO's esports scene and the immortality of de_dust2, likely the most-played map in the history of gaming.

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