PC Gamer
North American CS:GO team Cloud9 at ESL Katowice, in March. Images via ESL Flickr.

When a member of North American CS:GO team Cloud9 unapologetically admitted that he and his teammates used adderall during a tournament in March, esports league ESL reacted swiftly, announcing that it would enforce randomized drug testing at its next event before it pursues a larger policy in partnership with two organizations dedicated to anti-doping practices.

An incident with performance-enhancing drugs was inevitable for esports, which are growing more than ever alongside the popularity of competitive games and livestreaming. ESL s stopgap measure of implementing random tests for ESL Cologne in August is welcome, but how will drug testing be handled going forward? How will a league like ESL react during a tournament weekend when one of its players tests positive for a banned substance?

To get further clarity on the ESL s perspective on this issue I spoke with Michal Blicharz, Managing Director Pro Gaming at ESL.

PCG: Why is the implementation of player drug testing necessary to the ESL?

Michal Blicharz: We are a company with the word sports in the name. The integrity of our competitions is paramount to what we do. We have already invested enormous amounts of resources to combat online cheating with our ESL Wire Anti Cheat software and the time has come for us to do something about performance enhancing drugs. In the past 18 months the salaries of the best esports players have risen about ten fold and the prize money aggregates per game have gone into high millions. The temptation is there for players more so than ever and it s on us to educate gamers, preserve the integrity of our competitions and, if necessary, punish those who break the rules.

"The reaction from the video games and esports industry has been overwhelmingly positive."

Do you believe that other leagues will follow your example?

Blicharz: What other leagues do is really up to them. We are of course willing to share our experiences and best practices if they reach out for help.

Is there currently, or are you planning, any retroactive investigation into teams' activities?

Blicharz: We have considered it, but we do not think that it is realistic for us to gather enough conclusive proof retrospectively. We are currently focusing our efforts on establishing good procedures for future events.

Has the ESL spoken directly with Cloud9 about the admission that its players used adderall during ESL Katowice?

Blicharz: When we first heard about this issue, we focused our energy on what we can do moving forward. This is not to say that we are indifferent to what may or may not have happened in that specific case, but it was clear that a more urgent need was to find real ways to prevent those situations from happening in the future.

As for the player himself, or his team, we are unable to retrospectively test the team for PEDs, therefore any investigation would likely prove to be inconclusive.

How has the new policy been received by teams?

Blicharz: The reaction from the video games and esports industry has been overwhelmingly positive. At the core of it, teams are interested in being provided a fair playing field.

It's also on the teams to make sure gaming is clean and I hope they will actively play their role as well.

If a player is prescribed adderall, or another drug, by a doctor, would they be permitted to use it during an ESL competition?

Blicharz: We are currently consulting with NADA on how to handle it and to learn what the best practices are that we can apply to what we do. We certainly do not want to disqualify players who have legitimate medical conditions.

Section 2.13.3 of the current ESL rulebook reads, "If a participant gets disqualified from the ESL One during an ongoing stage, all it's members get banned until the end of main event." If a player tests positive for a banned substance at an ESL event, what will happen?

Blicharz: Our league operations and legal teams are working on updating the rules, and the exact terms of all sanctions are yet to be determined. We want to treat doping like any other form of cheating. This is something our Director of League Operations should speak to, but we will very likely punish illegal doping the same way we would punish cheating in a match. In essence, those things are not different from each other as far as the integrity of the competition is concerned.

Along with incidents like the betting scandal in Counter-Strike earlier this year, do you believe there's a need for the CS scene, or esports in general, to become more mature?

Blicharz: Of course esports has to mature. It's not even 20 years old! At the same time, in many ways it's outgrown some sports that have been around almost a century. It takes time but we will get there.

Thanks for speaking with us, Michal.

PC Gamer
The more the merrier? Image by CrudeCuttlefish

Since the time Valve began publicly tracking hours-played in July 2009, I ve launched 341 different games from Steam. Today, Steam adds at least that many games each month and a half—55 each week, on average, or almost eight per day. There s no question that Steam is saturated. Steam grew by 561 games in 2013, but added 1,814 in 2014. Seven months into 2015, there s already 1,592 new games on Steam. But is that truly a problem?

Steam s library is growing at the fastest rate in its 12-year history, and those of us who play and write about PC games full-time will never dig more than a spoon into Steam s mountain range of more than 5,600 games. It s certainly tempting, even natural, to label that as a problem. Last year, there was a wave of concern following a Gamasutra post that visualized the volume of new games hitting Steam. Kotaku wrote that the trend was hurting developers and gamers. Spiderweb Software s Jeff Vogel told of the imminent burst of the indie bubble, and others jumped up from their chairs to agree: there are too many games on Steam.

Seven months into 2015, there s already 1,592 new games on Steam.

Those who point at the perpetual logjam of new releases feel that Valve has abandoned any semblance of quality control. They fear that Steam will become like the App Store, known more for what it rejects than what it showcases. And they have a point: who wants lazy mobile game ports, halfheartedly erotic pinball, soccer-fighting games, something called SpaceCorn, or Gynophobia, a horror shooter about abnormal fear of women, on Steam? How can deserving, independent gems to stand out in an ecosystem filled with junk? And when games do break through, how can developers retain interest long enough to build a healthy community?

The most irrationally paranoid thought is that we re inching toward the PC gaming equivalent of the video game crash of 83, when the level of saturation of games and platforms gutted the industry, forcing many hardware-makers and publishers to collapse or withdraw forever. Consider this prescient quote from 1986 by Hiroshi Yamauchi, Nintendo s president: Atari collapsed because they gave too much freedom to third-party developers and the market was swamped with rubbish games.

How small studios feel about Steam

Whatever your reaction to this trend, the people whose lives are most braided to it are independent developers and publishers. And when I reached out to them to talk about Steam, I was surprised that the majority of them are unfazed by how crowded Valve s platform has become.

To Swen Vincke, CEO at Larian Studios, today s Steam is simply a return to the way things were before digital distribution, but not in a bad way. Access to retail used to determine which games we got to play, something that hampered the evolution of videogames, says Vincke, who believes digital distribution has created a true renaissance in the industry. However, the quantity of games being released now means that the new barrier to entry has become discoverability, and as a developer you need to plan from day one how your target audience will find out about your game, and ensure that your game has more reasons to be played by players than a similar game your competitor may be making. Which, if you think about it, is exactly how it s always been. There are just more competitors now, so there s no room for slacking. That s a good thing, too, in my opinion.

Paradox Interactive has grown in parallel with Steam over the past several years. They ve become a more diverse publisher in that time, having a hand in Pillars of Eternity this year as well as Cities: Skylines and stuff like Magicka. Despite this, you d expect Paradox to be exactly the sort of entity that s sensitive to a crowded market. Games like Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis—heritage franchises for Paradox—rely on word of mouth, on player anecdotes, to spread their reputations, capture attention, and grow.

Rocket League and ARK: Survival Evolved are recent hits on Steam.

But Susana Meza Graham, COO at Paradox, mostly shrugs off Steam s open-doors policy. Yes, on any given day, there are a lot of games being released. And of course visibility is a challenge for developers, just like navigating the content is a challenge for consumers, says Meza Graham. But the challenge of visibility has always been there for us in one way or another. During the years of retail the survival of your business depended on your ability to get shelf space. And shelf space was dictated based on pedigree and previous releases, your marketing budgets and your ability to commit to a release date six months to one year in advance.

Like Vincke, Meza Graham sees Steam as more of a blessing than a burden to discoverability. Digital distribution, she says, has completely changed how games are developed and brought to market overall, mainly because the people playing the games are much closer to the process from start to finish, and games are developed and supported over a longer period of time after release. That, more than the volume of games releasing, has impacted the way we work with our projects.

Room for everyone

The smaller studios I spoke to mostly echoed these sentiments: sure, Steam is crowded, but that doesn t mean PC gaming will become a zero-sum, winner-take-all marketplace. We definitely feel a lot of pressure but we also fundamentally trust the PC audience, says Paul Kilduff-Taylor from Mode 7, who released Frozen Cortex in February. There's a big group of gamers who want novel-but-intelligent games with a lot of depth and that's what we aspire to make; we'll continue trying to do that at whatever scale is viable in the future because it's what we love doing.

I also spoke with Greg Kasavin, a veteran of the industry who made the transition to game development after working at GameSpot for 10 years. I'm happy that we live in a time when games are more accessible than at any point in the past, both for audiences and for creators, says Kasavin. For creators this state brings some new challenges of having to gain visibility in an increasingly crowded market, but that set of problems I think is far, far preferable to the alternative where only a handful of people in the world are able to develop and publish games. Kasavin says that Supergiant Games approach to making games hasn t changed. I think we've seen similar growth and challenges in other media industries, and in the end I think it's what's best for the medium, even if it's inconvenient for some individual content creators who might personally benefit more if they didn't have as much competition.

We have to differentiate ourselves in a way that hopefully doesn't derail our process but still makes us visible and provides value to fans.

Daniel Jacobsen, studio director of Gaslamp Games (Clockwork Empires, Dungeons of Dredmor) mostly agrees with his peers, but believes that business awareness has greater value today than it did in the past. There s more emphasis on PR and advertising across most non-AAA studios, says Jacobsen. The major change for us is that now we can't just have a game that people want to play. For the best chance at success we have to be a game company that people want to support which is making games that people want to play. We have to differentiate ourselves in a way that hopefully doesn't derail our process but still makes us visible and provides value to fans.

Of the feedback I received from developers, Dave Marsh, co-founder of Zojoi, expressed the most concern. As an indie studio, we re big fans of giving any developer the chance to publish their games in the largest marketplace on the web, says Marsh. While we have received solid support from our publisher and Valve, the sheer number of titles (and sales) available drives down the price players are willing to pay, hurting our ability to make the kind of games our fans love for the PC market. Thus we are forced to consistently offer Shadowgate at significant discounts, putting us in a precarious position: change our development model, find additional funding, look at other platforms, or leave the market altogether. Marsh s comments recall a debate in 2012, when concern was raised that the high frequency of Steam sales would diminish the value of PC games overall.

The approach for us is the same

I also spoke to two major indie PR representatives, the people working every day to rise above the surface of Steam s churning, ever-rising sea of games. Like Jacobsen, both of them underline the need to stand out, but neither mark Steam itself as the problem. So many games launching weekly dramatically increases the need for a well thought-out communication strategy—getting lost in the noise is more of threat than ever, says Stephanie Tinsley Fitzwilliam of Tinsley-PR, who over the years has worked with Stardock Entertainment, Devolver Digital, Piranha Games, Deep Silver, and others.

Evolve PR, like Tinsley-PR, represents a spectrum of independent game makers. The company s founder, Tom Ohle, doesn t seem to flinch at the volume of new stuff hitting Steam each day. There is definitely a lot more noise out there, but fundamentally the approach for us is the same: figure out the appropriate audience for a game and then try to reach that audience, says Ohle. This all just puts even greater pressure on developers to really stand out, to make games that offer something unique. Whether it's visual style, game mechanics or narrative themes, developers have to make their games different in some way from competitive offerings. Even then it's no guarantee that the game will succeed or get attention. You're still relying on media and content creators—already overloaded by the number of requests they're getting—to actually open emails or read a tweet or whatever... and considering we get about 25 to 40 percent open rates on our emails, you're always fighting a bit of an uphill battle.

Steam isn't an obstacle

Most of us, less than a decade ago, were buying our PC games in boxes. And independent developers, in order to get their games on those physical shelves, had to deal with a number of middlemen: distributors, publishers, disc manufacturers and printers, and the retailers who would ultimately decide how many copies of a game deserved to be on display.

Steam leveled the playing field on PC. And getting in early was a boon to games like Garry s Mod, Killing Floor, Peggle, and Audiosurf, when the ratio of tens of millions of users to only hundreds of games assured a disproportionate amount of promotion. But Steam stopped being a platform that guarantees some level of success and exposure years ago. Today Steam is, for the most part, the playing field—a massive shelf of 5,600 titles where everyone gets, for the most part, equal prominence.

But when we say that Steam now has a discoverability problem, the laziest possible criticism that I myself have been guilty of parroting, we fail to examine how the entire landscape of digital communication has shifted to promote discovery, more than compensating for whatever comparatively trivial changes in policy Valve has made in the past couple years.

Millions of people now operate massive engines that promote discovery: YouTube, Twitter, Reddit, Twitch, websites like ours—all resources that didn t exist in anywhere near the same form even three or four years ago. Livestreaming was universally a hassle as recently as 2011; now it s a one-button proposition through utilities like ShadowPlay and OBS.

This is the new normal. Valve s policies have made Steam something of an open port—the digital equivalent of Ellis Island. But Steam itself isn t a problem, it s merely a reflection of the larger, exciting state of PC gaming, the intersection of game development tools being more accessible than ever, engine licensing in particular becoming cheaper (or free), and the greatest level of evangelism and grassroots promotion of PC gaming since 1999. Steam isn t where developers compete—they compete in the much larger ecosystem of communities and systems of sharing that constitutes PC gaming.

PC Gamer
Eyes on the prize. All photos courtesy Dreamhack's Flickr.
TRIGGERNOMETRY

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

Last year's  DreamHack Valencia was more of a second-tier tournament in CS:GO, featuring many outdated lineups such as k1ck and the old HellRaisers (and an all French grand-final that amusingly featured two players with current VAC bans, Sf and KQLY). But this year s DreamHack received some pep in its step by integrating with FACEIT, buffing the prize-pool and bringing elite teams who would theoretically qualify from three regions: Europe, North America, and Oceania.

The event saw a flurry of stories determine its odd composition, with an Oceanic regional contender missing from the party due to both qualified teams (Renegades and Immunity) having to focus on the ESL One Cologne Asian qualifier running concurrently in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

With the dust settled from the event, and with Danish TSM bearing home a trophy and check for $40,000, let s reflect on the FACEIT 2015 Stage 2 finals at DreamHack Valencia.

Takeaway #1: Liquid have a long way to travel

Let s first focus on the all-American Liquid team, whose latest offline results heading in the tournament saw them take a map apiece off of elite teams Fnatic and Na`Vi at Gfinity Spring Masters II, as well make their continental rivals Cloud9 sweat in the quarter-finals of ESWC 2015, despite ultimately losing.

Expectations among the Liquid camp were not particularly high going into Valencia, considering the team s hapless group draw alongside Fnatic, TSM, and NiP. And despite no major blowouts, Liquid went down 9-16 in the opening match to Fnatic and then lost in their best-of-three to NiP the next day.

The fact of the matter is that the team requires fraggers nitr0 and EliGE to be heavily present, as well as fundamental support play from flowsicK and FugLy, and some form of this overall cohesion was missing in Valencia. The takeaway for Liquid from this series will be that the team needs to hit the drawing board, draw on its recent international tournament experiences, and practice set-ups and timings until they can compete at the highest level.

Takeaway #2: An ode to the old Virtus.pro

Despite some tournament wins in 2015, and a deep playoff run at this year s so-far only major in their home country, Virtus.pro is a shell of its old former self. Although the team continues to perform well online—a fact that is highly ironic considering that the team s core of NEO, TaZ, and pashaBiceps were notorious in CS 1.6 for poor online placings—which allows them to qualify and attend events, deep playoff runs seem less and less likely as time goes on.

This team is one of the most travelled in 2015, and with a median age for its players being higher than many teams , are thus particularly susceptible to event fatigue. No wonder then that no successful combination of players has been able to show up in its recent matches, and even the game-sense genius that is Snax is subdued as of late.

The opening game against Na`Vi was in Virtus.pro s favour until sloppy play on the Poles side cost them the opener. The next day s best-of-three group decider against Kinguin at first appeared to be a breeze, but a resurgent Kinguin squad bounced back after map one and took de_dust2 away from VP to force a third map.

And from there, legends tell that a third map was never played. Or, a third map could not have possibly been played considering the savage dismantlement that went down on de_cache. Virtus.pro stood up from their computers with a 0-16 drubbing on the books.

The story here is similar to Liquid s case, although in a different ultimate direction. Both teams will have to look to the future, however Virtus.pro s road looks to be a downhill slope as of now.

Virtus.pro stood up from their computers with a 0-16 drubbing on the books.

Takeaway #3: Kinguin Kings

The replacement of one Swede for another, dennis for SKYTTEN, seems to have had immediate effect in the Scandinavian-Belgian-Portuguese superstar team that is Kinguin. Although the team s upset victory over Virtus.pro has been mentioned, the team even managed to take de_inferno off of Na`Vi in the Group A decider match (despite ultimately losing 2-1).

The tale of Kinguin is one of infinite promise, as well as delivery on all the past months previous hype. The revelation that dalito is both IGL and coach behind the team (whereas other CS:GO team s coaches are sometimes seen sulkily prowling behind the team with not much real input) is no doubt one piece in the puzzle of the team s impressive showing at the FACEIT Stage 2 finals. However, one cannot simply discount the insane fragging ability of ScreaM, Maikelele, rain, and fox, and as the team s cohesion (and English language proficiency) improves—barring any hiccups—Kinguin will be a legitimate contender in any tournament format.

Takeaway #4: NiP An enigma

There is no question of the Ninjas in Pyjamas experiencing a fall from grace in 2015. With one title under their belt (ASUS ROG Winter) this year, as well as yet another finals placing at a major, the team survived off what little fuel in its tank remained to ride out a few events up until midsummer.

Yet recent events (despite breaks for NiP) have not been so rosy, with the team s crash-and-burn in the quarter-finals against a Hiko-powered FlipSid3 being particularly brutal. Thankfully, this past weekend saw a much stronger NiP fall in the Group A decider match against an admittedly worthy opponent of Fnatic, with NiP losing both maps 14-16.

There was much to be seen that was comforting: f0rest playing well, Finnish sniper allu having an impact, and GeT_RiGhT still displaying dedication and talent at a high level. However, the team still lack depth to their strategies and executes and one previously monstrous player has gone rather mute: friberg. In a season where many entry-fraggers struggle (more on that in Cloud9), friberg s poor statistics can be chalked up to a changed metagame yet there is still truth in the fact that the star of ESL One Cologne 2014 has taken a dip in his performance.

Takeaway #5: The rise of Na`Vi

Na`Vi can be arguably classified as part of the new trifecta of elite teams, with the other two being Fnatic and TSM. After fiddling around with variations of lineups for nearly two years, and always bringing tantalisingly close results bar a gold medal, the 2015 Na`Vi lineup with flamie and seized is a surefire winning one.

The rise of Na`Vi began with the team s victory at ESL PL Winter, continued with their win at StarSeries XIII, and was cemented with the team s closely fought victory over Cloud9 at ESWC. Despite a tendency to occasionally throw away comfortable leads—as well as a healthy grouping of fiery tempers on the team—Na`Vi continue to deliver high class strategy and play in CS:GO.

At DreamHack Valencia, the Na`Vi lineup looked a little shaky however this Russo-Ukrainian-Slovakian team were still able to make a deep playoff run and take a map off champions TSM in the semifinals. GuardiaN may be perhaps the most consistent player in terms of statistics that the game has yet to see (the only other contender who comes to mind is Fnatic star olofmeister) and he finds ample help from fragging duo Edward and seized when necessary.

The final cog in the Na`Vi machine was flamie and it was the Russian s exceptional clutch plays and solid holds that turned Na`Vi from a tier-two team into a tier-one team. However, at the FACEIT finals, flamie was notably absent, even going 34-51 in the semi-finals against TSM. Na`Vi will need all the firepower it can get if it wants to rack up more gold.

Takeaway #6: Full-on Fnatic

Has the world s current top team taken a dive? All five players on Fnatic are still capable of peaks of CS:GO greatness and if Fnatic s decider match victory against NiP is any indication, the team still function on a focused and disciplined level.

However, it can be argued that Fnatic have found a kryptonite in two teams (although it remains to be seen if the reason is merely the effect of being at the top and having all teams gun for the top dog), which are TSM and Cloud9.

The former team makes sense, as the elite Danish squad is Fnatic s near rival in terms of teamwork, raw skill, and map precise play. A best-of-one series is always up in the air in this case, and depends on which players are ready to go out of their minds with insane plays.

Cloud9 however, are a bit of a surprise, and a pleasant one at that. The charismatic American team (sporting one Canadian in the form of shroud) took Fnatic to the wire on multiple maps (as well as winning one) at the $500,000 finals of the ESL ESEA Pro League. This resiliency against Swedish skill returned in the semi-finals this weekend when Cloud9 trounced Fnatic 2-0, including in an overtime thriller on de_train, a map which is quickly becoming a point of contention for these two teams.

Fnatic seem to have no issue yet, although two players previously known for deep game-impact, JW and flusha, can be seen to go under at times. KRIMZ, once the most complete CS:GO player, is also more subdued as of late. Yet with olofmeister still turning most team s defenders into Swiss cheese on his T sides, Fnatic are still up there among the very best, locked in a slightly disadvantageous struggle with TSM.

Takeaway #7: No time like now for North America

Cloud9 survived the turbulent NA Shuffle and resurrected with a significantly buffed roster. Three grand final finishes in three weekends is no small joke in a scene as diverse and vibrant as the CS:GO one, and if entry-fragger and recent retiree fREAKAZOiD can pick up on a few more frags, then this team will have no discernible weakness for the most part.

Communication issues have been smoothed out (at least as past weekends POV s have demonstrated) and the team looked even more in sync in Valencia. Skadoodle is making a viable campaign for the best AWPer in the game (although GuardiaN and KennyS would still like a word) and shroud is finally playing a comfortable and consistent carry role.

The CEVO finals may just be Cloud9 s chance to do North America a favour and finally bring home the 1st place finish, assuming the team can surmount regional rivals, Na`Vi, and Virtus.pro (with the final team being a particular thorn for Cloud9).

Takeaway #8: The era of TSM

TSM successfully defended their FACEIT 2015 League trophy and took another first place finish into the vault. The team have been stable with no real roster changes in 2015 and karrigan s role as an IGL is now indisputably better than that of old leader, FeTiSh.

Despite a streaky event attendance record (which should be solved now that the team have survived Danish exams season) and the unfortunate best-of-one blunders that led TSM to finish dead last at ESL ESEA Season 1 finals, TSM are still definitely the second-best, if not the best team in the world.

Proof is in the pudding, and the TSM pudding is preferably served with a dose of Danish hygge, which one experiences when watching the team play pitch-perfect Counter-Strike. It s frightening how coordinated the team can be at times, and with previous choke issues appearing less and less frequently, this is the team to watch for the second half of 2015.

The FACEIT League 2015 Stage 2 finals at DreamHack Valencia saw eight teams enter and one emerge victorious. Truly, no team finished in what might be called a static and stable result for said team, and each team is currently expectant of a better future or dejectedly watching its performances suffer. Such is the state of current CS:GO in a way, and the flux and volatility in itself are things well-worth watching for those who don t even play the game.

PC Gamer
Movement tip #1: Levitate, and never, ever touch the ground.
TRIGGERNOMETRY

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

The vast majority of CS:GO players are focused on getting better at aiming. Being able to click on heads really well is the sexiest aspect of the game—everyone wants to be like KRiMZ or GeT_RiGhT and wire impossible, highlight reel-worthy headshots.

In actuality, the vast majority of CS:GO players would benefit most from focusing on improving the way they move, on adopting new techniques, on learning how movement influences accuracy, when and when not to crouch, and so on.

Movement is an easy thing to take for granted, but like most areas of Counter-Strike, movement is its own discipline, something that takes a mixture of techniques, knowledge, and intuition do do well. Forcing yourself to sit through a few minutes of video tutorials can unlock some epiphanies about bad habits and how to take your game to the next level. To that end, I've collected some recommended videos on movement below.

Strafing and shooting

Crouching vs. walking

How to throw grenades quickly

How to bunnyhop

PC Gamer
All photos courtesy ESL's Flickr page.
TRIGGERNOMETRY

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

Ninjas in Pyjamas (NiP) are the royalty of CS:GO. Four of the five active members were the core of the lineup which went 87 straight maps before losing offline. The dynasty that won its first 10 offline tournaments. The legends that placed top four in their first 31 tournaments. Even since then, they have continued a legacy of top placings, having made the final of all five CS:GO majors, winning  ESL One Cologne in August of last year. Still, they are a special team, which comes up with magic in big matches. Yet this is not an NiP that is the best team in the world or close to it.

Problems in the pyjama province

It is still routine for NiP to place top four, practically, but the days of GeT_RiGhT and company taking home trophies seem so far away. In 2014, with their classic lineup, they won three big titles. In 2015, they have failed to win a single big trophy in eight attempts, thusfar. NiP are still a special lineup, capable of playing the majority of the top teams closely when everything comes together. The primary problems for NiP are that they still tend to lose those nail-biters against the elite teams and that the dangerous landscape of the top end of the competition scene means they typically need to beat two strong teams in series to win a trophy. In short, even NiP's best is currently not enough to take a title from a FNATIC, TSM or EnVyUs, the teams they're most likely to face in a final.

f0rest

Waning personnel power

The only questions asked of the old lineup were of support player fifflaren's play, since he was often the statistical sore thumb standing out among players who were all close to the best at their positions. The players who replaced him, in particular the explosive but erratic AWPer Maikelele, found that scrutiny transferred to them. The arrival of allu, the consistent and efficient Finnish sniper, has shown us, however, that NiP's problems no longer lie with the fifth man. Allu has been a model of regularly excellent performance, leaving us to look at the other four and ask who is failing to deliver a championship performance in their role.

Shockingly, the first place one must consider is with one of the stars, as aim master f0rest, still one of the world's best pistol players, has routinely stumbled in big games and found himself lacking a star level impact on his team's fortunes. With allu and GeT_RiGhT both posting good numbers, the third star has been very much waning in the last few months. Beyond f0rest, issues can be observed with both former in-game leader Xizt and friberg. The former has been slumping for at least the last few months, though he does still win some memorable clutch rounds, and the latter just had possibly the worst tournament of his career with NiP's group stage elimination at Gfinity Spring Masters II.

Xizt

Trying everything

NiP have been aware their results are not up to par and attempted numerous changes. They switched up some of their most famous CT postions on maps. They've brought in former 3DMAX player and CS veteran natu as their new coach. Finally, they've even shifted the in-game leadership role to lurker GeT_RiGhT. So far, each change has had mixed results, often working somewhat early on and then leveling back off to a similar effect later. Unless big results come, one cannot help but feel that Xizt will return to holding the reigns, much as the Ninjas did revert some of their positional changes.

The future of the dynasty

This NiP does not look like the team of old in as much as it does not look capable of holding the number one spot in the rankings. With the right draw and collection of individual performances, they can still win a trophy or two, but even that will take some momentous fortune and is far from guaranteed. For NiP, this is the period in which they learn if they can live with being a top team but not the best. If FNATIC are not at the top, surely it will be TSM. If not TSM, then EnVyUs may rise again. The only thing which seems certain, is that NiP's time has passed, at least with this legendary core. Nothing lasts forever, in life as well as CS:GO.

Duncan "Thorin" Shields, also known as "The Esports Historian," has been involved in esports journalism since 2001. He writes for a number of sites on a freelance basis, provides on-camera analysis at CS:GO tournaments and produces YouTube interviews and commentary. Follow Duncan on Twitter and Facebook.

PC Gamer
One of the added community maps, de_zoo.

Valve deployed an update to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive this evening that adds Operation Bloodhound, a fresh set of community maps and weapon skins that you can pay $7 for the chance to play and earn.

Rails, Resort, Zoo, Log, and re-released versions of Agency and Season are included in the Bloodhound Access Pass, which also opens up two new campaigns, a continuation of the web of challenges players can complete to earn weapon skins or unlockable crates.

New maps are welcome, but the packaged metagame content is the least interesting aspect of CS:GO to me—I d much rather weapon unlocks be attached to an enhanced stats system that helps me understand where I m at as a player. Instead, Valve has added another layer of profile progression, Profile Rank. As you increase your Profile Rank, not only will your CS:GO profile evolve to show off your new title and icon; but the first time you rank up each week will earn you a weapon drop. It s weird that player profiles will have two pseudo-military ranks—one to measure their competitive skill, and another to measure how much they ve played across all modes.

Other than map tweaks, there are no stated changes to weapon balance or other aspects of CS:GO. I do like that the match timer for casual has been cut by 45 seconds to a more respectful 2:15, but otherwise the focus of this update is squarely on shoving more maps, monetized missions, and weapon skins into the game. But hey, the new Falchion knife (already listing at about $400 at the time of this post) has a cool animation, I guess.

PC Gamer
Photos courtesy ESL.
TRIGGERNOMETRY

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

To witness greatness in real-time is a rare gift. From Michael Jordan's second three-peat run with the Bulls to Gretzky's titles with the Oilers, many wish they could be transported back to see such feats unfold in their moment of taking place. The greatest lineup in CS:GO history may very well be the current FNATIC lineup, and it's far from done yet.

This five man FNATIC squad, completed late last June, has amassed a record which gives them a legitimate claim to the throne of the great Ninjas in Pyjamas, which seemed impossible to even approach. FNATIC has won 10 offline titles, made 13 finals and reached the top four in 17 out of 18 tournaments. Teams like LDLC (now EnVyUs) and TSM have had their moments, the latter perhaps still on-going, where they appeared to be the best team in the world, but the FNATIC train keeps rolling along and consistently gets deep in tournaments and then out-paces its rivals by being better against the field.

The personnel to dominate

The easy way to describe a historically dominant line-up like this would be to say that they're simply 'too good,' but in a sense that's accurate. FNATIC's success has come first and foremost as a result of having a line-up which is too good in terms of talent and the roles they can perform at a world class level in. In the early days of their initial run of dominance, beginning in October, they were led by the impeccable fundamentals of KRiMZ, locking down bombsites entirely and helping define a meta of CT-side dominance, which would sweep the entire top end of the CS:GO scene.

The sidekick at that time was JW, the impossible-to-predict and supremely explosive AWPer/rifler hybrid. With KRiMZ's providing a solid backbone to the team and the others being excellent team-players, JW was freed up to be the ultimate wild-card player, going where he pleased and finding the right moments from which to explode into opposing teams. While those two have had their moments and tournaments since, the new star of the team has been olofmeister, whose skill level is ridiculous. Olof is an all-around package player the likes of which has probably never been seen before in CS:GO, as he is one of the world's elite riflers and yet can also AWP as well as almost every primary sniper in the game.

Spurred on by olof's individual peak, FNATIC have been able to supplement his play with much-improved form by Flusha, the man whose dip in form late last year and early into this year partially accounted for FNATIC's brief drop-off. Flusha is not just the reliable clutch round player he built his career upon being but has recently also been topping scoreboards and even bringing some sniping into his game, successfully. FNATIC take the cliche "embarrassment of riches" and make it seem only apt to describe the luxuries they possess in terms of players. Take any other top five side in CS:GO and switch around which players will carry the team and you'll likely find yourself with a significantly worse team, while FNATIC are again winning titles and reaching finals again and again, even winning their major in the post-KRiMZ era.

Gods of Inferno

In two of FNATIC's early big international offline competitions they found key losses on inferno contributing to their elimination. That map would become both the home ground for FNATIC in the coming months and one of the most dominant maps of any team in the game's history. A team mastering a specific map is an often overlooked aspect of dominance. Ideally, it should be one that other elite teams play, ensuring it won't be banned, and then forces respect bans from lesser teams, opening the map pool even more for the dominant team. FNATIC's Inferno is the perfect example of such a scenario in CS:GO.

FNATIC have lost less than 10 times offline on inferno with this lineup, despite having played it at least 32 times. This was the map which both put all of the FNATIC players in their ideal positions, but also took advantage of the massively CT-sided meta of late 2014. Today, FNATIC still maintain their dominance in the map, despite the meta having shifted and teams racking up many more T-side rounds in a time when the Tec-9 is particularly strong.

Still going

While the great NiP lineup is long gone and they seek to establish a new championship team, FNATIC is still very much in the flow of their run of greatness. Winning their last two events and having made the final of four of their last five offline events, FNATIC are still the best team in the world and the best against the overall field of teams. Their last title came after a brutal 3:0 victory over Virtus.pro, a great CS:GO line-up in their own right, in the final of Gfinity Spring Masters II. FNATIC have more in the tank, so tune into their greatness at an upcoming CS:GO tournament.

PC Gamer

TRIGGERNOMETRY

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

When I launch CS:GO and my eyes wander over my ever-growing pile of Hours Played, a thought often eats away at me. I ve put hundreds of hours into Terrorisming and Counter-Terrorisming—thousands if you include Source and 1.6. I spend more time playing CS:GO than I do interacting with my loved ones. How the hell am I not a Counter-Strike master yet?

The truth is that getting better at Counter-Strike by only playing Counter-Strike can be a really slow, ineffective way to get better at Counter-Strike. Especially if you aren t taking the time to watch and analyze your own matches, it s possible to spend months or years making the same mistakes.

Fundamental parts of Counter-Strike are opaque. Which surfaces can and can t be penetrated, and by which weapons?  How do flashes work? Can a player that loses the first two rounds of a match afford an AWP? You have to be willing to do some homework and take in raw facts about the game, information that drives deeper realizations about how it can be played.

For me, that learning has opened up a better appreciation of CS. When I embraced it a long time ago, the game went from being about motor skills to being a chess match about money and clock management, scouting, feints, morale, reading audio cues, and play calling.

That said, there s an infinite amount of information you can lay eyes on to study. Below, I ve gathered a set of recommended videos for players who want to gain the confidence to play competitively or get over some of their existing matchmaking hurdles.

Rifle spray patterns, techniques

Rifles are the bread and butter of Counter-Strike at all levels, and understanding how they work (and their key differences) is equivalent to a basketball player working on their free-throws. CS:GO pro adreN is really direct in his advice ( Never crouch, it has no effect on your recoil ; You should never start off with a spray at this range ) and talks about how to manage shooting while moving.

Money management

The second of three videos in a series about CS:GO s economy, TheWarOwl digs into the mentality around buying and saving in CS in the early stages of a match, when adhering to certain guidelines is especially important. I like the way he compares the practice of predicting your opponent s economy to counting cards in blackjack.

Chokepoint timings

Counter-Strike is carefully tuned so that CTs and Ts have to rush out of their spawn points in order to establish map control. Playing with the timings (by, say, throwing a grenade at a certain spot to stop a rush) at these meeting points between is central to succeeding at CS.

Mouse sensitivity

The advice I give to everyone is to make your sensitivity as low as possible while still being able to turn 180 degrees consistently.

Flashbangs

For my money, flashbangs are the least-practiced, most misunderstood aspect of CS. So many players simply go through the motions of buying and carelessly throwing flashbangs without knowing whether (or how) effective they are against an opponent. My video from earlier this year touches on two basic techniques for flashbanging and breaks down the geometric rules that determine whether someone gets blinded by one.

PC Gamer

Every highly-specific hobby you can imagine has a dedicated home on YouTube. Backyard metallurgy46-minute marathon Kinder Egg openingsChildren in suits evaluating junk food. YouTuber ZaziNombies makes Lego game guns, and he's pieced together everything from the Scout's Force-A-Nature to a whole series of zappers from Destiny.

Joining that armory this week is Counter-Strike's iconic long gun: the AWP. ZaziNombies used about 1100 Lego pieces to put together a four-foot-long facsimile, including a convincing reconstruction of the AWP's optics that's mostly tires. You can tell he's done this before. The color is more mint than the AWP's classic olive drab, the plastic rounds seem smaller than the .338 Lapua that AWPs allegedly shoot, and the trivia ZaziNombies rattles off is clearly from a Wiki, but otherwise the resemblance is striking.

PC Gamer
TRIGGERNOMETRY

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

The Counter-Strike community, and modders in general, have a long history of remaking film and TV settings as maps. Years ago I gunned through everything from the Batcave to the island from Lost in Counter-Strike: Source and CS 1.6. That tradition continues in de_peachtrees by Nipper, a recreation of the massive apartment tower that Karl Urban fights his way up over the course of Dredd (which, its borrowing of The Raid's concept notwithstanding, is one of my favorite action movies of the past few years).

How well does this homage hold up as a casual or competitive CS map, though? I take a look at de_peachtrees along with de_resort and de_sub in the video above.

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