PC Gamer

Well-known Counter-Strike mapmaker FMPONE, he of de_crown and de_season fame, is working on a new map based on the Santorini island in Greece. FMPONE or Shawn Snelling as he's known IRL announced the map earlier this month but has just released a bunch of screenshots on the Mapcore forums. The map currently lacks texture work, but it still looks beautiful.

"For this level, I'm trying to purely map 'tones', until I'm ready to add in actual textures," FMPONE wrote on Mapcore. "The tones allow me to control for contrast without being overwhelmed by the need to balance specific colors within a scene. This also allows me to understand the types of props I need in an area without being biased by color preferences beforehand.

"This means I'm building a lot of geometry in place of meshes, for the time being, and the meshes will be added later by a talented artist named Dimitri."

The map layout is already playable (check out the link on the Mapcore forums) but remember: it's not complete. Check out the rest of the screenshots below.

PC Gamer

Seven professional Counter-Strike: Global Offensive players have been banned from Valve-sponsored events, including the upcoming ESL One Katowice. The bans come as the result of an August 2014 match between iBUYPOWER and NetcodeGuides.com, which has now been confirmed as having been fixed.

The allegations were detailed last week by The Daily Dot, with evidence that included screen caps of current Cloud9 player Shahzeb "ShahZam" Khan acknowledging that he was given advance notice of the outcome. Players involved in the fix used "smurf accounts" to place high-value bets on the match through the CS:GO Lounge, according to the claims, which have now been substantiated by the powers that be at Valve.

"We can confirm, by investigating the historical activity of relevant accounts, that a substantial number of high valued items won from that match by Duc 'cud' Pham were transferred (via Derek 'dboorn' Boorn) to iBUYPOWER players and NetCodeGuides founder, Casey Foster," Valve wrote on the CS:GO blog. "All together, the information we have collected and received makes us uncomfortable continuing any involvement with these individuals."

Seven players will be excluded from "participation in any capacity in Valve-sponsored events," according to the post:

  • Duc cud Pham
  • Derek dboorn Boorn
  • Casey Foster
  • Sam Dazed Marine
  • Braxton swag Pierce
  • Keven AZK Larivi re
  • Joshua Steel Nissan

Valve also laid out the ethical obligations of pro players, managers, and team staff, who "should under no circumstances gamble on CS:GO matches, associate with high volume CS:GO gamblers, or deliver information to others that might influence their CS:GO bets."

"As CS:GO grows, it s important to consider the substantial impact an individual professional Counter-Strike player has on the health and stability of their sport," it wrote. "Performing before an audience of millions of fans, they are ambassadors for their game the strength of professional Counter-Strike comes from the integrity of its players and teams."

The ESL, which recently announced a $250,000 prize pool for the upcoming CS:GO Katowice 2015 tournament, confirmed on Reddit that it would uphold the ban. "Like the blog post said, none of these players will be able to participate or contribute in any other form to ESL One Katowice or future Majors run by us, and we are currently finalising our verdict regarding other ESL leagues and these players," ESL rep theflyingdj wrote. "We do not have any tolerance for match fixing, have always made clear in our rules that players are not to be involved with any kind of betting and will continue to work on a clean and fair competitive environment for CS:GO."

The ESEA has also issued bans against the seven players in question, saying that while the bans are currently set for one year, it reserves the right to extend them indefinitely. It noted that it has since implemented its own policy explicitly forbidding players, managers, and sponsors from betting on their own matches, adding, "We strongly encourage all organizations, regardless of their affiliation with Valve, to mirror and enforce these bans so that a clear message is sent—there is no place for match fixing in professional gaming."

The number of players affected by the ban is relatively small, but the severity of the punishment sends an unmistakable message that match fixing will not be tolerated. Given the growing popularity of professional CS:GO, and the ballooning value of purses attached to tournaments like Katowice, it's a welcome development—and, I'd say, long overdue.

PC Gamer

Last week I schooled Lucas in his first-ever CS:GO competitive match. This week, we continue on Dust2, focusing on crosshair placement, timing, AWPing, and a bit of grenading.

PC Gamer

The ESL is headed back to Katowice, Poland, for a 16-team Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament with a prize pool worth $250,000.

Taking place from March 12-15 at the Spodek Arenda, the tournament will feature the eight Dreamhack Winter 2014 quarter-finalists—HellRaisers, Ninjas in Pyjamas, Virtus Pro, PENTA Sports, Team LDLC, fnatic, Team Dignitas, and Natus Vincere—plus eight more teams that will be determined by upcoming qualifiers. The final stage of those qualifiers will be held offline in Katowice over February 14-15.

"When we took ESL One to Katowice last year, we saw some absolutely fantastic games and experienced a great atmosphere—particularly when Virtus.pro, a Polish team, were crowned champions in front of their home crowd, ESL Pro Gaming Managing Director Ulrich Schulze said in a statement. "Since then CS:GO has made incredible progress and we are honoured to once again have been given the opportunity to host a CS:GO Major with a US$250,000 prize purse.

Tickets to ESL One Katowice 2015 may be purchased here, and of course the whole thing will be streamed live for the benefit of those who won't be in Poland in March. Find out more at ESL-One.com.

PC Gamer

Welcome to schadenfreude corner. Today we submit for your approval the story of a CS:GO league player banned mid-match during an ESEA livestream.

YouTube user Megaberna captured the moment that ESP's Flex was booted from today's Main league game against Grandpa Berets.

According to ESP's leader 'espgodson', the team had no idea Flex was running hacks. In fact, Flex was only playing as a stand-in, as the ESEA require that two members of the previous roster are present for the first few matches of a season.

"Everything was very rushed and we only needed him to play 2 matches," 'espgodson' writes in a Reddit thread. "Anyways, just wanted to come on here to say that none of us had any idea he was cheating and absolutely no one on our team would ever intentionally do something like that."

Another comment in that same thread claims that, after the ban, Flex admitted to having used cheats on ESEA servers for the past week, and that he did it to stop himself from playing the game.

This is far from top-tier pro-drama; Main being the third division of the ESEA league—under Premier and Invite. Nevertheless, it's entertaining to see a competitive player get publicly shamed for cheating during a livestreamed match.

For more on cheating in Global Offensive, check out Emanuel's detailed investigation into what is a million-dollar business.

PC Gamer

The Counter-Strike: Global Offensive professional scene has suffered another gutshot, as evidence has come to light appearing to corroborate claims that an August 2014 match between iBUYPOWER and NetcodeGuides.com was fixed. Text messages posted by Ashley Blacklotus Leboeuf, a former girlfriend of Torqued player Derek "dboorn" Boorn, indicate that the outcome was prearranged, and that alternate accounts were used to place bets on behalf of other team members.

The authenticity of the exchange was confirmed by The Daily Dot, which posted screen caps of the exchange as part of a detailed investigation into the affair. Boorn acknowledges in the messages that iBUYPOWER "really did throw the match," and that community member Duc "cud" Pham used alternate accounts to place bets on the outcome. Information provided by the betting site CS:GO Lounge, meanwhile, confirmed that Pham used "smurf accounts" to place nine maximum-value bets on the match, each of them earning him a return of nearly $1200.

Perhaps most incriminating, CS:GO pro player Shahzeb "ShahZam" Khan, who now plays with Cloud9, issued a statement acknowledging that he placed a bet on the match based on advance knowledge of the outcome. Leaked images of a chat between Khan and an anonymous third party prior to the match were the first indication of a fix, although prior to this he had refused to comment on their authenticity.

"The day of this match I had placed a bet on iBUYPOWER. I brought up the bet while talking to Casey Foster, he then voice-called me on Steam Friends and told me to change my bet. He made it very clear the match was going to be thrown," Khan said. "I didn't want to get involved with any of it but I changed my bet, as I thought would be logical at the time while also sharing this information with a friend whom I assumed to have bet the same."

The CS:GO Lounge said in a statement that it does not tolerate match fixing, and that "hopefully this will now bet he last of match-fixing drama that we have."

PC Gamer

One of the most common things I hear from CS:GO players is that they have no intention of playing Competitive mode. For a variety of reasons, too: it's intimidating, it's unfamiliar, and it's a 45-minute commitment to being judged by strangers, potentially. But it's also the best way to play CS:GO—if you've been reading along, you already know.

I wanted to create a guide to getting into competitive play, but I decided that doing real-time coaching for a Competitive virgin might be an interesting. I grabbed GamesRadar's Lucas Sullivan, whispering sweet tactical nothings in his ear throughout his first match. What we recorded, I hope, represents a collection of some of the adjustments in mindset, positioning, and behaviors that players need to make when transitioning to competitive play.

PC Gamer

The PC doesn't have a platform holder, and that's a blessing. But there's no denying that Valve's role is an important one in the industry, and that its decisions often have a tremendous impact on our hobby. With great popularity comes great responsibility: here's how we'd like to see Valve apply itself this year.

Make TF2 exciting again

Phil Savage

My favourite Valve thing of 2014 was the anticipation around the release of Love and War update. There was excitement, there was speculation, there was a funny Source Filmmaker video. It was everything a TF2 update used to be, with one exception: the update. There was a time when TF2 updates warranted the amount of excitement they received. The class events were significant. They dramatically changed the way you could play a class—giving new, divergent tactics to familiar operators. Also maps. TF2 launched with six maps. It now has over 70.

The Love and War update didn't have that game changing feeling... Sorry, I'll try that again. With the exception of the Conga taunt, the Love and War update didn't have that game changing feeling. The weapons were good, but I don't think weapons—even something as well-defined and desirable as the BASE Jumper—carry the same weight they once did. When there's only one way to play a class, a new item set has massive ramifications. Now there are multiple ways to play, and one more doesn't make as much difference.

In all, 2014 was a quiet year for TF2. Even the long-anticipated End of the Line community update was muted by Valve's decision not to include the Snowplow map. Their reason, supposedly, was that it was deemed too confusing and challenging for new players . And this is from the people who made Hydro. This is my worry with Valve now. It feels like they're afraid to take risks. The most exciting new inclusion of the year was the grappling hook, and that happened without fanfare as part of the Mann Co. Beta initiative.

Imagine if the same energy and excitement leading up to the Love and War update was rewarded by a new game mode, new maps and a goddamn grappling hook—all definitively released, rather than hiding away in beta. TF2 would, once again, feel like an event. Yes, maybe one of those maps would be terrible, but that would only make it more exciting when more maps appeared—these ones learning from past mistakes.

Aside from the Halloween event, every map added to TF2 in 2014 was released into beta. In 2015, I'd love to see the confidence come back. To see the TF2 team declare something ready—not just with a release, but with a week-long build-up that showed how a seven-year-old game could still feel fresh, exciting and essential.

Make the Steam Controller work

Tyler Wilde

It feels like ages ago that we were all talking about Steam Machines and the Steam Controller. It wasn t really that long ago, but Valve went pretty quiet on both fronts after a generating a lot of interest. I m still interested—not so much in Steam Machines, because if I stick a PC under my TV it ll probably be a laptop or something I build myself, but in the Steam Controller.

I m fascinated by what Valve s trying to do with the thing. Back when Evan tried it last year, he found the trackpads unwieldy, but if Valve can really design a new kind of controller that both emulates a mouse (and it ll never be as effective, of course) and works for games I d rather play with a d-pad or analog stick, then we may have a new best PC gaming controller in our hands. It s promising that, after we were a bit unimpressed by the first demos, new mockups keep appearing, which suggests that Valve is still tinkering with the whole design. I hope we see the latest prototype soon, and I m betting we will at this year s GDC.

Grow CS:GO

Evan Lahti

CS:GO became, with plenty of breathing room, the second-most played game on Steam in 2014, hitting 400,000 concurrent players for the first time this month. A lot of that growth is owed to CS:GO s reawoken popularity as an e-sport: more people than ever are watching competitive Counter-Strike, and the recent DreamHack Winter tournament (even with a bit of controversy) was an exciting watch.

But Valve s content updates, patches, and e-sports aid hasn t come close to the support given to its flagship game, Dota 2. CS:GO s support isn t proportional to its popularity, and Valve faces a playerbase that s hungry for anti-cheat fixes, new maps, weapon skins, and ways to engage with the game they re invested in if they want CS:GO to retain its position as the most popular FPS on PC against games like Evolve and Rainbow Six Siege.

Valve needs to continue to keep pace with hackers, and it needs to look to the old days of TF2 for ideas on launching in-game events that don t simply feel like money-grabs veiled in playfulness. But what would really propel CS:GO is a proper, The International-level major tournament—something that Valve owned and operated itself rather than relying on CS:GO s great-but-fragmented leagues to build interest around it as an e-sport.

Beyond that, I d love to see a CS:GO API opened up. Part of Counter-Strike is eliminating bad habits, and right now there s no easy way to track your match history (beyond watching your last few replays) or dig into meaningful stats.

A full year of Dota 2 updates

Chris Thursten

In 2015, I'd like to see the Dota 2 team continue to open up about their plans and processes. At the same time, I really hope that they're able to make this a bigger year for the game than last year. A lot of time has been invested in an engine update that will introduce custom game modes and make it easier for Valve to develop new additions in the future. That's great news - and user-generated content represents a potentially exponential increase in the game's scope. At the same time, I don't think I'm alone in wanting a stronger run of official updates. That means more new heroes in 2015 - potentially the first Dota 2-specific heroes - and proper seasonal events.

Valve may not see it the same way: they could argue, convincingly, that the future of Dota 2 was and should be in the hands of its community. Be that as it may, I think the last couple of years have shown that leaving everything up to the wisdom of crowds creates confused expectations and entrenches divisions. From the pro scene to the potato bracket, the Dota 2 community could use a bit of stability - and a solid year of official updates from Valve could help establish that.

Steam would benefit from a visual overhaul

Andy Kelly

Steam s feature set took a big step up with the addition of curators and, er, the colour blue in the client s basic skin in 2014. I would like to see a bit of housecleaning on the design of it—maybe contemporise the fonts a little bit. Reskinning is obviously an option, but I d like Valve s basic layout to be little more up to date. It s still very similar to when I first signed up years ago. On the one hand, that familiarity is nice, but on the other, Big Picture Mode and the Steam app on iOS show how much cleaner the basic layout of Steam could be with a refresh.

The thing we all really want

Chris Livingston

Let's address the strider in the room. For years now, every single bit of Valve news and every update Steam pushes through has resulted in a fresh round of sarcastic yet subliminally hopeful chatter: Half-Life 3 confirmed!

To which I say: slow your roll, Internet. We've got some unfinished business to attend to. A broken promise. A missing chapter. A little something called Half-Life 2: Episode 3.

I'm confident this is, deep down, what we all really want: another two-to-three hours of content using the same assets and enemies from Half-Life 2. We want to fight more slow, stupid Combine soldiers while they issue their familiar barks. We want to solve yet another giant see-saw puzzle with the gravity gun. We want to stare at a brick wall waiting for a new level to load, then run through the new level for three minutes, then stare at another wall while the next level loads. We want to climb back into that rusty, ugly-ass car and hit the gas only to immediately hit the brakes because the radar is showing a supply cache. We want to spend more time watching Alyx Vance do a bunch of cool things like bashing zombies with the butt of a shotgun or using a sniper rifle or climbing over walls, which we, as Gordon Freeman, cannot do ourselves for some reason. Most of all, we need to hold Valve accountable for their promise, made in June of 2006, that the three episode series will conclude by Christmas 2007. That's the "three" that's important, here. Not Half-Life 3. Episode 3. Make it happen.

j/k, of course. This year, Valve, just announce something, anything genuine about Half-Life 3, even if the announcement is that it's never going to come.

PC Gamer
PC Gamer

TRIGGERNOMETRY

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

Article by Tomi "lurppis" Kovanen

Let's examine what's happened in the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive scene during its annual off-season over the past few weeks, and what events are going to take place in the early part of 2015 as the teams return to action.

Shakeups in North America

Big changes took place in North America directly after the ESEA Invite Season 17 Global Finals concluded in Dallas on December 7. Cloud9 continued their disappointing streak of showings with a measly 5-6th place finish, and though iBUYPOWER played admirably given their player situation, the real surprise of the event was North American team Denial, who took down Cloud9.

Shortly after the tournament finished Cloud9 expectedly made a change, though it wasn t the one anyone expected. The team s star Hiko departed with Denial s AWPer ShahZaM taking his place. Losing ShahZaM effectively killed all the hype built around Denial.

iBUYPOWER then recruited back their former in-game leader DaZeD, while also adding Hiko on a temporary basis. To make room for the duo, they cut ties with their newest two recruits nitr0 and desi, who joined after the team shockingly removed DaZeD and steel in the aftermath of ESWC.

RpK, above, replaced KQLY on French team Titan. (Photo courtesy HLTV.org.)

Changes in Europe s tier one teams

A few of Europe s best teams made a change in the off-season as well, and a few of them may be yet to come. First and foremost the Danish team Dignitas, who had struggled throughout the fall after consistently making the semi-finals of every earlier tournament in 2014, decided to remove their in-game leader FeTiSh, whose leadership style and individual skills had been called into question, and recruit former mousesports player karrigan.

Titan, whose old member KQLY was VAC-banned before DreamHack Winter, finally settled on their fifth player after attending ESEA Finals with their coach as a temporary solution. They welcomed back RpK, former VeryGames star who quit playing CS:GO in December 2012. In h s final event before the two year break, he topped the statistics at DreamHack Winter 2012, despite a lopsided loss to NiP in the grand final.

In the lower tier teams, Copenhagen Wolves kicked their in-game leader gla1ve, whose bad behavior at the Gaming.dk Finals earned him a ban from the organizer s future events, and filled his spot with FeTiSh, who was removed from Dignitas. PENTA, who are directly qualified for the next major, recruited nex and strux1 to replace r0bs3n and fel1x.

mousesports, oddly enough, removed their star player allu, who currently ranks fourth in the world in HLTV.org s statistical database. They also cut ties with tabseN, signed stand-in and mouz legend gob b to a full-time contract, and welcomed back Troubley, who played for the organization in 2012 when CS:GO first came out.

Top North American team iBUYPOWER. (Photo courtesy HLTV.org.)

December 2014 tournament results

A few notable tournaments took place in December. fnatic won $20,000 by defeating Virtus.pro in the grand final of ESEA Invite Season 17 Global Finals, with iBUYPOWER rounding up the top three. France then won ESEC Finals, a nations cup-style tournament which limited each country s team to three players from any team, beating Sweden in the grand final. The finalists in Belgrade also featured Poland and Finland.

The first MLG qualifier was won by Dignitas, sporting their new member karrigan, who led the team to three impressive best-of-three victories over Titan, Virtus.pro and LDLC. However, it s important to note that Dignitas never stopped performing online even with FeTiSh at the helm—the team has always struggled when there is more on the line, specifically in big matches.

In North America mouseSpaz shocked everyone with wins over iBUYPOWER and Torqued to claim a spot at MLG. mSpaz came practically out of nowhere and quickly won fans over with strong play as tarik lead his team to a surprise win while streaming his matches live.

Virtus.pro had to miss out on MLG s second European qualifier with Acer A-Split Invitational s playoffs taking place simultaneously. The Poles won the tournament in Germany and $5,000, by taking down Danish unu.AiN, playing under the banner of Reason Gaming, in the grand final. PENTA finished third with nex, who wound up joining the team, as a stand-in.

Second MLG qualifier was then topped by LDLC, who managed to avoid their toughest competition—fellow countrymen Titan, still playing with coach ioRek at the time—and took down Polish ESC in the grand final to clinch a spot at the event in Aspen.

Across the Atlantic Ocean iBUYPOWER, once again with Hiko playing as a stand-in for the team, defeated their competition in the second MLG qualifier to avoid the embarrassment of having to miss out on the biggest CS:GO tournament on their home soil so far.

Coming up in 2015

2015 will be kicked off by MLG s inaugural CS:GO event at the X Games in Aspen, Colorado. A total of $50,000 will be given out at the event on January 23-25, where eight teams will be competing for the title.

MLG invited fnatic, NiP and Cloud9 for the event early on, and since then the participant list has been filled with Dignitas and LDLC qualifying from Europe, iBUYPOWER and mouseSpaz qualifying from North America, and KaBuM topping the Brazilian qualifier.

Merely a few days later will be ASUS ROG Winter, which will hand out $25,000 in prizes for the top four finishers at the tournament taking place at Assembly Winter, a large Finnish gaming event on January 30-31 in Helsinki, Finland. First three invited teams are NiP, HellRaisers and Titan.

Additionally, a number of online leagues will be kicking off shortly, to ensure there will be plenty of CS:GO to watch on a weekly basis. The list of leagues expected to start in the coming weeks include ESEA Invite Season 18 and SLTV StarSeries XII, with ESL Pro Series Winter 2014-2015 already live.

HLTV.org has coverage for all the tournaments mentioned above, and will be on-site at both MLG X Games in Aspen, and ASUS ROG Winter 2015 in Helsinki, Finland.

You can contact @lurppis_ on Twitter.

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