The Steam Workshop is a giant thing, containing over 24,000 Skyrim mods, over 413,000 Portal 2 levels and, for some reason, over 100 Goat Simulator characters and mutators. It's also a profitable thing. Team Fortress 2, Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive all have curated Workshops—letting players pick the community-made items that will go on sale in the game.
Valve has now announced that, since the launch of the Workshop in 2011, the total payments to individuals for the creation of in-game items has surpassed $57 million.
Previously, only Valve games had curated item Workshops—something Valve attributes to the "sheer number of challenges required in order to scale to a global audience of creators and players". Seemingly, these hurdles have been overcome, as the Workshop is now hosting curated item Workshops for Chivalry: Medieval Warfare and Dungeon Defenders: Eternity.
"Purchases of this great new content directly enables those community members to continue practicing their craft and making more awesome content," writes Valve, before going on to say that they expect more curated Workshops in "the coming weeks and months".
Valve is pretty much an unknowable obelisk: giant, powerful and unfeelingly silent. Due to this absence of communication, the few voices that do emerge from the studio are amplified ten-fold. Hence why you may recognise the name Yanis Varoufakis. During his time as Valve's economist-in-residence, he ran a blog dedicated to analysing and explaining the studio's virtual economies.
Now, Varoufakis has a new job. He's today been named Greece's finance minister.
Varoufakis was at Valve from 2012-2013. Despite not playing games, he said in his introductory post that he was fascinated by the virtual economy Valve had built—specifically that it was an economy with hard data for every transaction. "Think of it: An economy where every action leaves a digital trail, every transaction is recorded;" he wrote at the time. "Indeed, an economy where we do not need statistics since we have all the data!"
Through Varoufakis's analysing, we learned how gifting played a part in TF2's economy, how a sophisticated bartering and arbitration formed around trades, and how Valve doesn't even fire people like a normal company.
Varoufakis's role as finance minister is quite a departure from the academic study of non-existent headwear. Greece was hard-hit by the economic crisis, leading to a debt crisis that has resulted in high unemployment and bankruptcy. Varoufakis himself is seen as a radical—one who has referred to austerity measures as "fiscal waterboarding".
That, though, is the purview of serious political reporters. As a videogame reporter, I feel it's my responsibility to do something dumb. Here, then, is a series of suggestions Varoufakis could take from his days at Valve that would instantly, definitely, fix Greece's economy.
- Randomly give a fish on a stick to citizens as they go about their day. Also, sometimes a trilby.
- If you set a hat on fire it is worth more money. Because reasons.
- All trade will now be based on the conversion rate: Two Refined = Stout Shako.
- The most valuable thing you can own is now a decapitated rabbit's head.
- Abolish physical crop exports. Switch to digital :weed: exports. They're worth more.
- The Trojan Horse, but with Crates.
- Make Half-Life 3
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.
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.
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.
Aperture Science isn't the only one with a secret underground base. Deep in the Antarctic lies a hidden subterranean facility, filled with puzzles, lined with traps, and shrouded in mystery. Why is it there? What is its purpose? Below the Ice, a mod for Half-Life 2, invites you to find out. Just watch your step.
The mod begins with you arriving in the Antarctic, where you quickly stumble upon the entrance to a facility buried in a glacier. There's a sign warning against trespassers, which feels a bit pointless. You've either traveled all the way to the
north south pole and aren't going to turn around and go home because of a sign, or you're a polar bear penguin and you can't read anyway.
Entering this facility requires passing a bit of an intelligence test in a number of grid-like puzzle chambers. Many involve the simple pushing of buttons, though figuring out how to reach those buttons, and what those buttons actually do, can take a while. The chambers aren't particularly forgiving if you make a mistake, either. Prepare to be crushed, fried, or fall to your death if you slip up.
Once you've convinced the puzzle chambers you've got a brain in your head, you're granted access to the rest of the facility, which appears to have been abandoned. While exploring, you'll discover living quarters, science labs, and a series of offices. There, you'll begin to piece together the story behind the facility, which ties in to both the fiction of Half-Life 2 and Portal. It's not just a matter of walking around and reading notes: even though you've escaped the test chambers, there are still plenty of puzzles to solve to gain access to the facility's control rooms, observation chambers, and science labs.
The more you progress, the more the facility begins to reveal its secrets, and its true size. While you're navigating the place, unlocking doors, turning on lights, locating missing pieces of technology, dabbling in teleportation, and piecing together its history, also keep an eye out for a series of memory sticks. Find enough of them hidden throughout the mod and it will give you an alternate ending.
There's probably a few hours of play here, depending on your smarts. Some of the puzzles aren't particularly sophisticated: to progress, it's generally more important to carefully examine your surroundings for clues than to be some sort of 10th Level Puzzle Wizard. There's some decent music throughout, and while the map's set dressing is a bit plain, and a few custom textures are a little underwhelming, it's a nice mod if you're in the mood for some gently-paced puzzle solving.
You can grab the mod here and untangle the mystery for yourself. To install, extract the folder into your sourcemods directory (\Steam\steamapps\sourcemods), and restart Steam. Below the Ice will appear in your library. You'll also require Half-Life 2 and Source SDK Base 2013 single-player. You can find the latter by viewing your Games Library in your Steam client, selecting "Tools," and double-clicking it from the list.
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.
I've played Dota 2 almost exclusively since July 2012. For a long time it was the only game of its type that I played, and I've spent an order of magnitude more time with it than any other game of, well, any other type. I wouldn't be surprised if the time I've spent learning to wizard exceeds the time I've invested in games generally over the last two years. I held, for a long time, that you couldn't play more than one of these games seriously. I still believe that. Over the last few weeks, however, I've made a concerted effort to learn another—Smite. It's taught me a few things about the genre as a whole, and made me question a few further things that I held to be true about Dota 2.
Here's one new idea: surrender mechanics directly benefit support players. Back in July of last year, I wrote this article about why Dota 2 doesn't, shouldn't give its players a surrender button. I haven't entirely changed my mind about that. I still believe that the 'white flag' option makes these games less interesting overall. The Dota 2 experiences you remember are the late-game upsets, the incredible comebacks. Surrendering truncates the game, closes off possibilities, places hard limits on all of that fascinating complexity. In the abstract, I maintain that if a player is in a position where they must surrender then something has gone wrong with the game's provision of comeback mechanics. What I now realise, however, is that the decision to surrender is, in and of itself, a phenomena worth examining. The possibility of surrender creates new dynamics that alter the way you perceive the story of a match.
Dota 2's lack of a surrender option means that regular matchmaking games always end when one team destroys the other team's base. They can end no other way. It takes carries with good items and smart play by core heroes to do this, and the run of patches following last year's International have attempted to do away with ten-minute death pushes by giving defenders more options. Not only do games run longer, but the most important characters, in the end, are almost always the ones at the top of the farm priority pyramid. Earthshaker might start the ball rolling, but Faceless Void gets to kick it into the goal.
The same is true of Smite, to an extent. The role of the support, in both games, is to control the first half of the match so that it is your carries, not the other guy's, who ultimately succeed. This is where the 'Soccer Mom Crystal Maiden' meme comes from, and why support players are generally so rare—the role requires you to give up a substantial portion of your claim to glory. I've been playing support exclusively since I started to learn Smite because almost nobody volunteers to do it. As in Dota, everybody wants to play a solo roaming hero or carry. They want to make the big, game-ending plays—not the subtle supportive ones.
Teams can surrender in Smite, however, and this alters the prospects of what a support player can achieve. The goal stops being 'how do I ensure we have the best possible lategame' and becomes, in part, 'how do I break their spirits to the extent that there is no lategame'.
I'll give you an example. I've been playing a lot of Ares, a durable support who lacks burst damage but whose ultimate ability can completely turn a teamfight. The spell is called No Escape. Chains fly from Ares towards enemy players in a radius as he leaps into the air. After a few seconds he crashes down, dragging every player chained towards a central point and stunning them. Dota fans: imagine the lovechild of Magnus' Reverse Polarity and Disruptor's Glimpse. New Smite players tend not to buy the crowd control-breaking items that would get them out of dodge, so in these low-level brackets No Escape can act as a game-ending psychological weapon.
Case in point: my last game. The scoreboard is relatively even twelve minutes in. Both teams are almost entirely comprised of junglers and high-damage solo mages. As support Ares, I'm the exception. One of our guys disconnected at the beginning of the game and didn't come back for a few minutes, ceding an early gold and experience lead to the other team that we're only just clawing back. They've grouped up to push down middle lane. I tap two key combinations into the Tribes-style audio command system.
[VD2] Defend middle lane!
[VVVR] Ultimate is ready!
I approach the clustered enemy team from behind, from the jungle. The third-person perspective makes shooter-style sneak attacks a possibility. My blink is on cooldown, but I'm among the enemy team before they have time to do much about it. No Escape connects with all five. During the leap I draw them forwards, closer to our tower. They're dragged into a Chronos nuke; into that impassable ring thing that Odin does; into Loki, who presses a bunch of buttons I guess. (I'm still learning the gods.) Full teamwipe, a five-to-zero victory. They surrender immediately afterwards.
I wasn't the character who picked up the multi-kill, but I, the support, was the character who ended the game. I'd dealt the killing blow to morale in a way that I couldn't aspire to do to the enemy's base.
While I still don't think that a surrender mechanic is ultimately right for Dota, its presence in Smite has demonstrated the role it can play in redistributing power among the team. It allows for demonstrable displays of authority among 'subordinate' player roles, and creates scenarios where victory emerges from something other than a mounting lead in farm or experience. These kinds of psychological early wins play a huge role in Dota 2, of course, but I think the greater emphasis on the power of late-game carries makes them less visible to players who aren't specifically looking for them.
'Momentum' is a word that comes up a lot while discussing the way that teams win games of Dota, and I've written before about the way that this can be thought of both in terms of game mechanics and team psychology. Wins tend to beget more wins, because you've gained a material and emotional advantage. 'Snowballing'. Recently, I've been thinking about this slightly differently. I think there comes a point in the game where your team is in a position to decisively flip the 'victory switch', to turn an advantage into a done thing. This means more than just following the trajectory your momentum has laid out for you—it means identifying an exact methodology for ending the game and then pulling it off. It means closing off uncertainty and confirming victory; if a team's surrender represents a collective willingness to lose, then flipping the victory switch means collectively voting to win.
In that Ares game, the 'switch' could be defined as the moment we planned and achieved a one-sided teamfight victory. In a game where the majority of players on both teams had found themselves taking inconclusive trades in the jungle, a single convincing five-on-five was needed to establish dominance. In a sense, our opponents were right to surrender when they did: that fight in mid demonstrated superior capability stemming from a better-rounded draft, and it is reasonable to assume that we'd be able to repeat that success throughout the game and ultimately win. It was the beginning of the end and therefore, in some ways, the end itself.
Teams throw away their leads when they fail to make their advantage appear insurmountable. In Smite, the version of this I've seen most often is the single-lane death push. The key objective in the game is a Titan which, unlike the Ancient, can fight back against an attacking team. It loses power with every lane of buildings that you eliminate, but players on a roll typically attempt to punch through a single lane and win the game the most direct way they can see. This is often a really good sign if it happens to you, because it demonstrates that your opponent is willing to take risks—they are keeping the possibility space of the match open even as they attempt to end it, giving you options rather than decisively flipping the switch that takes your options away.
In a Smite match like that, that 'switch' might constitute the destruction of a second lane of towers, another Phoenix, or the Fire Giant. In Dota 2 it might be a faked-out split push that baits enough teleports to open up Roshan, followed by a jungle invasion that catches the smoke gank designed to counter the push your opponent believes is coming. These strategies are rarely seen in mid-level pub matches because they require teams to stop, assess what it would take to undo their own advantage, and then act decisively to reduce the chance of that happening to near-zero. It requires a desire to end, not just finish fast.
Learning to play a game with a surrender option has helped me to get better at identifying these moments, because it gives you unique insight into the mind of the enemy team. A surrender call tells you the exact point at which you have successfully drained hope from the equation: where even they agree that the victory switch has been flipped, and flipped by you. Over the course of a couple of weeks you learn the various shapes that moment can take.
That it sometimes takes the form of a play by the guy who buys all of the wards is a bonus, all things considered.
To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.
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."