PC Gamer

Photo credit: Riot Games.

League of Legends takes the spotlight this weekend for its EU and NA Summer Finals (which just might draw the spotlight away from the recent controversies rocking the scene.) That s not your only option, however: there s plenty of fighting game tournaments taking place all over the world, Dota 2, CS:GO, and the return of PC pro Smite. Have fun!

League of Legends: 2016 NA and EU LCS Summer Finals

There's a lot of high-stakes LoL taking place over a short period of time over the next few days. On Saturday, the third place matches in both the NA and EU LCS Summer Finals will take place, with Unicorns of Love vs. H2K taking place in Europe at 08:00 PDT/17:00 CEST and Immortals vs. CounterLogic Gaming taking place in the US at 12:00 PDT/21:00 CEST. The timing for the grand finals on Sunday are the same. Find more information, and the livestream, at LoLesports.

Dota 2: World Cyber Arena EU Qualifier

You'll forgive me for not having too many precise schedule details for this one, as... well, beyond the matches that have already been played, they seem a little hard to come by. Nonetheless, there is some top-tier Dota happening this weekend even as the majority of the scene wrestles with the inevitable but still-spectacular roster drama that follows the International. This is the EU qualifier for the next WCA. The previous one was, by all accounts, a gigantic shambles that people only forgot about because the Shanghai Major was a higher profile shambles. But at least there's Dota to watch. Check Gosugamers for up to date stream and schedule info.

CSGO: ESEA Season 22, Power-LAN 2016, CyberPowerPC Summer 2016 Pro Series

There's a lot of mid-tier CS:GO taking place across the world this weekend, from North America to Denmark to Poland. On Saturday, check out the playoffs for Power-LAN 2016 starting at 02:00 PDT/11:00 CEST here's the official site for more info (it's in Danish, mind.) CyberPowerPC Summer 2016 will be running throughout the weekend, starting at 09:00 PDT/18:00 CEST on Saturday and 11:30 PDT/20:30 CEST on Sunday (more info here). Finally, ESEA Season 22 concludes on Sunday with $50,000 on the line. Tune to the livestream from 01:00 PDT/10:00 CEST.

Smite Pro League: Fall Split

PC Smite is back for another season and this weekend is your chance to get in on the ground floor. Matches began yesterday and continue through to Sunday, starting at 11:00 PDT/19:00 CEST each day in both North America and Europe. You can find out more information on the teams on the official Smite Pro League site and find the livestream here.

Capcom Pro Tour: Lots of Ranking tournaments

Look, we've got limited header space here, alright? Ranking Capcom Pro Tour tournaments this weekend range from Absolute Battle in Dallas, USA to Argentina Pro Gaming Series in Argentina to an Online Ranking Event in Europe to OzHadou Nationals 14 in Sydney to Fight in Rio: Olympia in Rio de Janeiro. As such, you can expect a decent standard of fighting game play regardless of when you tune in: check each official site, listed above, for further details. Keep an eye on Twitch s Street Fighter V section if that s the game you re after.

PC Gamer

Fellow PC gamers, we are gathered here today to remember an old friend, one whose warranty expired long ago. As laid out in the law of the upgrade cycle, we must let go of those components that can no longer keep pace with modern demands. And so, it is with heavy hearts that we say our final goodbyes to you, our constant companion for the last 20 years.

Rest in peace, humble optical drive.

You were once a cornerstone of this community, a bringer of joy, a portal to play, an ally in our pursuit of entertainment. You gave us the gorgeous world of Myst, the sublime soundscape of Quake, the unprecedented complexity of Half-Life. You were a marvel of your age, drawing realms of infinite possibility out of those small, innocuous discs. At the time, it felt like nothing less than magic.

Nearly 30 years ago now, you entered this world with a vision. Armed with Red Book audio and full-motion video, you sold us the Hollywood dream, treating us to Mark Hamill taking on a race of giant cat aliens, Jeff Goldblum killing it as Dracula, Christopher Walken telling it to us straight, and... this immaculate performance. Video games seemed poised to replace movies altogether; why would we watch if we could play instead? Alas, it was not meant to be, but we'll always have those fond memories, thanks to you. Your legacy will live on inside us all.

As we commit you to the great server in the sky, let us reflect on all the good you did for this world. Who can forget how crucial you were during the dial-up days? The spiral cords of our 56K modems strained under the weight of individual mp3s; the thought of downloading an entire 750MB CD-ROM was unfathomable. Even when cable internet arrived on the scene, we still relied on you to support us through the file-size boom of the DVD era. Steam might have dethroned you eventually, but your stability during the platform's early, rocky years was what kept us gaming.

In your youth, your laissez-faire attitude allowed our community to flourish unabated. I, personally, owe some of my favourite childhood memories to your liberal approach to game trading; as a kid, hiring and borrowing games was the only way I could afford to play. Thanks to borrowing a friend's copy of Diablo II, I discovered my penchant for click-'em-ups. Thanks to renting Battlefield 1942, I grokked the appeal of online multiplayer. Thanks to hiring out Baldur's Gate II, I realised that games could tell big, complex stories that actually leveraged their interactivity instead of ignoring it. Of course, we all understand why you had to jump on the DRM train once people started abusing your freedoms. Still, those unbridled early years were crucial in making our community as great as it is today.

The fact is, old friend, we simply don't have the space for you anymore.

Alas, those halcyon days are far behind us. The battle of the distribution models is over, and there's no question who lost. How could it have gone any other way? Steam lets us pre-order, pre-load, patch, and play, all without leaving the comfort of our desk chairs. Gone are the overloaded shelves buckling beneath the weight of bejewelled CD cases and boxy collectors editions. Never again do we have to rummage around in dusty attics and dank basements to find that old copy of Day of the Tentacle, only for you to whine like a circular saw when we put the disc in because it isn't mint-out-of-box.

For all the joy you gave us, we cannot ignore the dark times you begat. Refusing to read brand new discs until we'd carefully wiped off every minute mote of dust. Scratching up our favourite games as punishment for playing them too much. Demanding that we 'Insert Disc 2' when it was already in the damn tray. And those multi-disc installs! How can you expect us to set aside multiple hours just to swap GTA 5's seven DVDs in and out?

GTA 5's seven DVDs.

At least you re in a better place now, one where the RPMs are infinite and the CDs are truly scratch-proof. Because as much as it pains us to say it on this day of mourning, you were holding this industry back. Bite-sized games never stood a chance against the pains of disc-swapping. Aspiring developers cringed at the cost of pressing and shipping discs. If we hadn't moved on to the all-digital now, we'd never have known the haunting oppression of Papers, Please, the touching tale of Gone Home, the time-bending antics of Superhot. We'd have to bid farewell to our hundreds-large Steam libraries or else buy a second house just to store all the CDs.

The fact is, old friend, we simply don't have the space for you anymore. Not in our homes, and not in our hearts. Your place at the top of our PC towers is no more. Our mini-ITX cases no longer give you a berth. We will never again hear your mechanical whirr, your voice silenced by the hum of our bigger and better hard drives. From caches to ashes, from disc to dusk, your time is up. You re just too slow for this digital world.

16X. 8X. 4X. 2X. 1X. Eject.

PC Gamer

The Dark Rift has opened, and Vrogros the Underlord, the support hero who was revealed to the world earlier this month at The International 2016, has taken his place in the Dota 2 lineup.

Conjure waves of abyssal flame to immolate enemies held paralyzed in your spiteful grip. Feast upon the carnage of battle, gaining strength as foes perish around you, their attacks diminished by your very presence, the Dark Rift update page says. Tear a rift in reality to teleport yourself and your teammates across the map, delivering bloody retribution to any who would defy the will of Vrogros the Underlord.

I guess that's one way to put it. Described a bit more prosaically, the Underlord's abilities include Firestorm, an area-of-effect fire spell; Pit of Malice, which traps and damages enemy units; Atrophy Aura, which weakens nearby enemies and grants bonus damage to the Underlord; and his ultimate, Dark Rift, a teleport that carries the Underlord and all nearby friendly heroes to a selected friendly unit's position.

The update also brings a new post-game summary to Dota 2 that will provide detailed reports on different aspects of player and team performance that will help break down game flow and visualize critical turning points. Scoreboards, graphs, teammate stats, and other relevant information will all be at your fingertips and because statistics aren't much good if they can't be viewed over time, summaries of past matches will be saved for later viewing.

PC Gamer

I don't remember which game we were playing, but it was the kind of Japanese RPG that listed everything you needed to know about its characters down the side of the screen. Magic points, coins, food, all summed up with helpful numbers. Only one of them was abbreviated: HP.

What does HP stand for in this game? I asked my friend, an expert on JRPGs.

Health pineapples, he confidently replied. You have to knock all the pineapples off before you can hurt someone.

HP, whether it stands for hit points, health power, or indeed health pineapples, is one of many mechanics to come to video games via the original tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons. However, the idea of representing the amount of punishment a character can take with a discrete number of points is much older than D&D. And while we might all know what the abbreviation means, it turns out that what hit points are meant to represent isn't quite so obvious.

"They didn't care if they could kill a monster in one blow, but they didn't want the monster to kill them in one blow." D&D co-creator Dave Arneson

In a 2004 interview with GameSpy, D&D's co-creator Dave Arneson explained that the earliest version of the game didn't have hit points. The rules had evolved from wargames he and fellow D&D inventor Gary Gygax played, in which a single successful attack was all it took for a soldier to die.

That changed when they started experimenting with having players control individual heroes rather than entire armies, as players identified with them much more strongly. As Arneson put it, They didn't care if they could kill a monster in one blow, but they didn't want the monster to kill them in one blow.

Arneson had previously made his own rules for a naval wargame set during the Civil War called Ironclads, and together with Gygax had collaborated on a Napoleonic naval game called Don't Give Up The Ship! Both games had a mechanic that allowed for ships to take multiple hits before being sunk, which they'd borrowed from the wargaming rules designed by author Fletcher Pratt in the 1930s. They borrowed those rules again for D&D.

In his book about the history of simulation games Playing At The World, Jon Peterson explains why hit points were such an important idea: Hit points introduce uncertainty and variance [ ] In Dungeons & Dragons, even when the prospects of a hit are near certain, the damage dice provide another potential survival mechanism via endurance, another way of forestalling death and increasing the drama of combat.

Art for Gary Gygax's Advanced Dugeons & Dragons Monster Manual, predating the earliest D&D PC games.

From table to screen

Like D&D, video game combat discovered a new sense of drama with hit points. Early arcade games like 1978 s Space Invaders typically killed players with a single successful enemy contact, using multiple lives to prolong the experience. Replacing that with the ability to survive a set number of hits before dying added a finer-grained rise in tension. It removes the frustration of being reset to the start of a level every time a player is so much as brushed by an enemy, and as the number of hit points remaining falls your anxiety rises in direct correlation.

Being on your last life may make you cautious, but there's a smoother transition with hit points. You gradually shift between playing more carefully as you approach half-health, biting your metaphorical nails as it dwindles below that, and sinking into erratic risk-taking when only a sliver of life remains.

Video games inspired by D&D were the first to copy hit points, as far back as 1975 games PEDIT5 and DND, which were coded for the PLATO system designed by the University of Illinois. DND was also the first game to have bosses, who could have hundreds or even thousands of what it called Hits.

Early RPG Dungeon (1982) for the PDP-10, which called hit points "Hits." Image via the cRPG Addict

The first official adaptations of D&D to PC were the Gold Box series begun by SSI with 1988 s Pool of Radiance. They followed the rules of what was then called Advanced Dungeons & Dragons closely, which meant beginning characters had very few hit points. Playing around a table there s always the option to fudge dice rolls to prevent deaths from feeling too arbitrary, but the computer was never so forgiving and players got used to reloading frequently.

Games that weren t licenced had no such problem. The first Ultima began players with a tidy 150 hit points, and the second with 400. Important non-player characters like Lord British had totals so high that killing him became seen as a challenge, and by Ultima III players were luring Lord British to the beach so they could attack him with cannon-fire, as if he was one of the naval ships in the wargames hit points came from.

Arcade games tended not to represent hit points numerically, however. Memorably, in the platformer Ghosts 'N Goblins (ported to the Commodore 64 in 1986) Sir Arthur lost his armor on taking damage, continuing to fight in his underwear.

One of the first game to represent hit points with the now familiar life bar was Dragon Buster, a 1985 dungeon crawler by Namco with a Vitality meter that changed from blue to red as you took damage from its bats, snakes, and cave sharks. While red life bars would go on to become standard, other ways of visualizing hit points have been tried with varying degrees of success.

Atic Attack from the Rare Replay collection, Health Chicken half-eaten.

1983 ZX Spectrum/BBC Micro game Atic Atac had a slowly depleting roast chicken that tracked your starvation, and dinosaur fighter Primal Rage used veins leading to a heart that exploded at the moment of defeat.

Other games have tried to make their life bar a part of the game world, as in first-person Jurassic Park game Trespasser where it's a heart tattoo on the protagonist's breast you have to look down at to check. In sci-fi horror game Dead Space the life bar is represented by lights on the back of your armor, which would be very useful if you had a doctor standing directly behind you. Each of these visualizations is just a way of integrating a hit-point counter into the world, but in doing so they free the player from having to correlate a number with something that should feel real and immediate. They re all still the same old hit points, under the surface.

MIDI Maze

The true origin of BJ Blazkowicz and Doomguy.

MIDI Maze, a 1987 first-person shooter on the Atari ST, was an early example of both the deathmatch shooter and the idea of representing hit points visually. Each player was a floating smiley face, like a three-dimensional Pac-Man, and an icon of that face at the top of the screen became sadder as they took damage. Later shooters like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom would copy this idea, their protagonists' faces growing more bruised and bloody as they absorbed bullet after bullet.

On the next page: hit points through the 90s and 2000s with regenerating health and more twists from their D&D origins.

Halo is remembered for its regenerating shields, but it had traditional HP, too.

The regeneration generation

MIDI Maze is an early example of another change in the way hit points worked, as it also had regenerating health. It wasn't the first, however. The action-RPG Hydlide, released on Japanese home computers like the PC-88 in 1984, gave players back hit points when they stood still. Where other games had food and first-aid kits that functioned as magically as the healing potions in fantasy RPGs, regenerating health though no more realistic at least took health items out of the game world. It made healing an abstraction like hit points are, rather than requiring players assume Johnny Medkit has wandered the world ahead of them scattering healing items like seeds.

It was Halo: Combat Evolved that popularized regenerating health, which is ironic because it didn't really have it. Halo's hero Master Chief wears an energy shield that regenerates after a short interval without taking damage, but once that's gone he has a traditional life bar that can only be refilled with medkits.

However, the recharging energy shield was what gave Halo its famous 30 seconds of fun that happened over and over and over and over again as designer Jaime Griesemer put it, letting players pop out of cover to shoot aliens and then duck back to recharge and reload, and that's what had a lasting impact.

Hydlide for the Japanese PC-88 was one of the first to have regenerating health. Image via Hardcoregaming101

The idea was copied and modified by plenty of other games. Call Of Duty has become the flag-bearer for regenerating health, taking the blame for its propagation though it wasn't introduced until the second game in the series. Even in the mid-2000s as it was first becoming widespread, regenerating health was criticized by old-school shooter fans for removing some of the drama and tension that hit points represent. It's still enraging comment sections today.

Three games released in 2005 and 2006 all tinkered with ways of making regenerating health retain the sense of rising tension that hit points were first introduced to create. Condemned: Criminal Origins, Prey, and F.E.A.R. all set a floor on automatic healing so that if you take enough damage to fall below around 25% of your hit points you can't regenerate back above that line. It models a difference between taking a serious wound and the kind of graze action heroes can just walk off, and adds grit to more serious games.

Regenerating health was criticized for removing the drama and tension that hit points represent.

When the Just Cause games toy with this, only letting you regenerate a percentage of the most recent damage you take, it can seem at odds with their over-the-top action.

Horror games have also tweaked the way they use hit points to suit the genre. Zombie game Left 4 Dead slows you down the more you're hurt, making it harder to run away from the infected as if you're a movie character being worn down by the chase. In Silent Hill 4: The Room you regain health in your apartment, but when that safe space becomes tainted it stops healing you, a mechanical sign of its corruption that ensures you feel the same dread the character would.

A custom medkit skin in Left 4 Dead 2, via GameBanana.com

Back to the source

Still, across all of these games, what hit points represent isn't entirely clear. Are they purely the injuries you endure, as the suffering face of Doomguy suggests? If that's true why is it so easy to get hit points back, whether through healing items or regeneration or drinking Fallout's irradiated toilet water?

In The Lord of the Rings Online hit points are replaced by morale, which explains why singing a jaunty tune helps top it up. In the Assassin's Creed games it's synchronization, a representation of how accurately your digital simulation is recreating historical events although that raises the question of why being hurt during events where your historical analogue was also hurt doesn't improve synchronization.

Even in D&D it's unclear what hit points really are. In the Dungeon Master's Guide for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition, Gary Gygax wrote that hit points reflect both the actual physical ability of the character to withstand damage as indicated by constitution bonuses and a commensurate increase in such areas as skill in combat and similar life-or-death situations, the sixth sense which warns the individual of some otherwise unforeseen events, sheer luck, and the fantastic provisions of magical protections and/or divine protection.

(Charmingly, the rules then went on to explain that Rasputin would have been able to survive for so long because he had more than 14 hit points. )

Pool of Radiance (1988) was the first cRPG adaptation of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

Constitution, skill, sixth sense, luck, magic, and divine protection are a lot of things to bundle into one number, and raise further questions about why, for instance, poisoned attacks cause extra damage to your sixth sense . When asked about what hit points really are at conventions Gygax was dismissive, giving different answers to the question each time. Sometimes he said hit points represent the way swashbuckling movie heroes survive so many fights, or that they were an entirely meaningless number that represented nothing more than a way of making the game's combat more enjoyable for players.

That second answer is perhaps the best explanation. Given that hit points started out as a way of simulating the ability of a ship's hull to weather cannon-fire, it's only natural that there's going to be some vagueness and necessary abstraction when we apply that same concept to our video game heroes. They may as well be health pineapples, after all.

PC Gamer

Valve imposed a new rule for Valve-sponsored CS:GO events yesterday that forbids coaches from interacting with players while matches are underway: They may now talk to players only during pregame warm-ups, timeouts, and at halftime. The problem, Valve explained, is that unrestricted access to teams during matches effectively makes coaches a sixth player, and since the goal of our events is to identify the best five-player CS teams that exhibit the best combination of all CS skills, the current participation of coaches in the game is not compatible with that goal.

Not everyone agrees with Valve's assessment of the situation, however. A number of analysts and commentators took to Twitter to express displeasure with the new rule, some saying it's simply unnecessary and others claiming that it's outright damaging to the game.

Nonetheless, Valve seems determined to stick with the change. The ruling won't force the change upon all tournaments, but it will affect the Majors, which as you might expect are the largest tournaments in CS:GO. Valve began awarding $1 million in prize money for each major tournament this year.

Valve clarified its position on the ruling in a follow-up statement in which it said that it has spoken with pro teams about their coaches at past Majors, and had been assured that their focus was "on activities traditionally associated with coaching, such as preparation, support, opponent study, etc.

We were always open with them about our opinion that distributing the work of 5 players (e.g. keeping track of the economy, calling plays and mid-round calls, and general situational awareness) across 6 people was not in line with our goals, one of which was to make it possible for new teams to emerge and compete at the highest levels. We had no concerns with the other coaching responsibilities and at the time any potential harm was hypothetical, the statement says. Since then it has become apparent that teams are, in fact, transitioning away from fielding players that have a wider breadth of skills and instead relying on coaches to handle some of that work.

Ironically, what prompted the new rule was an email from a team coach, sent to an event organizer and forwarded to Valve, seeking a greater level of access to the players during matches. The forwarded email made it clear that despite the conversations we had with them, teams were further investing in coaching in a way that was contrary to the goals of the Majors and the concerns we had expressed. It was important to make a decision before teams further invested in coach IGLs and we decided to rein in the role of coaching in the next Major to exclude player responsibilities, Valve wrote.

We understand that there will be some short term disruption for teams that have made an investment in coach IGLs [In-Game Leader], it concluded. However, we intend the Majors and Minors to be events that can be won by any team of 5 players that demonstrate excellence in all skills of CS and this adjustment is intended to ensure that this remains true.

Short term disruption may be understating things somewhat: As HLTV pointed out, a number of high-profile teams including Natus Vincere, NiP, Liquid, mousesports, and FaZe make use of coaches, and losing access to them so suddenly is bound to have an impact on their performance. It won't take long to find out just how much, and which teams are best able to overcome it: ESL has adopted the rule as well, meaning that the first CSGO Major to operate under this new rule will be ESL One New York, which runs over the weekend of October 1-2.

PC Gamer

There's a decent spread of competitive games to watch this weekend, from Street Fighter V to LoL to top-tier CS:GO to one of the biggest Overwatch tournaments yet.

League of Legends: NA and EU LCS Playoffs

After last week's delays, hopefully this week's LCS playoffs will run a little more smoothly. There are two series to be played this weekend in both NA and EU, with EU kicking off at 17:00 CEST/09:00 PDT and NA starting at 21:00 CEST/13:00 PDT. In Europe, catch SPY vs. H2K on Saturday and G2 vs. UOL on Sunday. In NA, catch Immortals vs. Cloud9 on Saturday and TSM vs. CLG on Sunday. More information and the livestream can, as ever, be found on LoLesports.

Overwatch: Atlantic Showdown

There's $100,000 up for grabs in one of the biggest pro Overwatch tournaments to date. The best of the European and North American scenes will go to war to determine who rules the transatlantic Overwatch roost. If you've not watched pro Overwatch before, this is a great opportunity to learn what it looks like when 80% of your team is not Genji. Play begins at 10:00 CEST/01:00 PDT on both Saturday and Sunday and you can find the livestream right here.

CSGO: ESL Pro League Season 4

The ESL Pro League is your best bet for top-tier CS:GO this weekend, with teams competing for a shot at the $750,000 grand finals in Brazil later in the year. Play begins at 16:30 CEST/08:30 PDT on both Saturday and Sunday and you can find the livestream on ESL's official streaming site.

Capcom Pro Tour: Summer Jam

Summer Jam X in Pennsylvania is the latest stop on the ongoing Capcom Pro Tour, showcasing a wide variety of fighting games. If you're in for Street Fighter V, however, then the top 32 begins on Saturday at 22:00 EDT/19:00 PDT/04:00 CEST (the following day in Europe). Catch the top 8 an hour earlier on Sunday: 21:00 EDT/18:00 PDT/03:00 CEST. This event has a decent spread of livestreams covering different games, and you can find a full list on the official site.

PC Gamer

Inferno has always been one of the most iconic maps in Counter-Strike, both in 1.6 and Global Offensive. Many of the biggest tournament finals have ended on the map, along with some of the most memorable plays of all time. Almost every pro team knows exactly how to play it, and as a result Inferno matches were often the closest and most unpredictable.

Earlier this year, Valve dropped the bombshell that Inferno was to be removed from the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive active duty map pool and replaced by an updated version of Nuke. This change would have a major effect on the pro scene, as what felt like an entirely new map was replacing one of the staples of pro CS:GO. Teams would have to adapt quickly and devise new strategies for Nuke while forgetting everything they knew about Inferno.

A few months after the switch, teams have started to play Nuke more and more, with mixed results. Many of the top squads are comfortable on the map, whereas others are still banning it out. It has certainly shaken up the pro scene, but it seems like the top players in the world can t quite agree if this was a good change or not.

I m definitely not a fan of the new Nuke, says Robin "flusha" R nnquist, a former member of Fnatic, who were considered to be one of the best teams in the history of CS:GO. We played it a few times and we tried to get better at it and so on, but it's such a chaotic map, you don't know how well you can actually play it. There is just too many things to hold and the timings, if you have the wrong timing you are going to die. It s just a bad map.

This opinion seemed to be shared by many pro players when the switch first happened, as many players were critical of the map on social media and the majority of teams banned out the new Nuke in any pro matches. However, one team that seemed to be happy about the change was Ninjas in Pyjamas, who were one of the best teams on the old version of Nuke.

We are big fans of Nuke, says Adam "friberg" Friberg from NiP. We played Nuke a lot before it was removed and it was probably our go to map. We are very excited to have it back, but we probably need more time to be the best on it.

The original version of Nuke was a very divisive map. Some teams, such as NiP, would always pick it, while others would avoid it like the plague. This new version seems to have a similar reputation, but even players who were considered to be some of the best in the world on the original version are still not sold on new Nuke, and preferred the Inferno map that it replaced.

I was not a fan when they removed Nuke originally, I think people who didn't play Nuke back then didn't know how to play it properly, says Finn "karrigan" Andersen, captain of Astralis. As for taking out Inferno, I started to like it more and more. In the beginning it was very Counter-Terrorist sided but they made a lot of changes, especially with the new round time, to make it better. I feel sad that they removed it, especially switching it with a Nuke that I don't think is ready yet. What I worry about the most is that Nuke gets updated all the time, and they are making changes all the time on the map. So if I invest time now I am concerned that there will be a big update because something happened that Valve didn't like.

Of course removing Inferno was always going to annoy some people, especially the teams that played the map a lot. But looking at the competitive map pool there aren't all that many other options to take out, as the maps are all pretty settled outside of Nuke. Interestingly it was captain of the current world champions, SK Gaming, who offered up some alternatives that could have been replaced by Nuke.

SK Gaming's FalleN. Photo credit: ECS.

I don't think Inferno should be gone to be honest, says Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo. If I could remove one map it would be Cobblestone and maybe Dust II, but Dust II is a map that everyone knows CS for, so it is pretty difficult to remove it. But Cobblestone is pretty unbalanced right now. Ultimately it s not up to me, so we will be practising Nuke and we hope to make it a good map for us.

Again it was Ninjas in Pyjamas who provided a vastly different opinion on this matter. Team coach and Counter Strike 1.6 legend Bj rn "THREAT" Pers gave his thoughts on Inferno s removal.

Nuke is still way better than Inferno, which was the worst map in the map pool, says THREAT. It was the least tactical map and the most random map, because you cannot gain any information and you just have to guess. I didn't like that aspect at all.

Regardless of the players opinions on the Nuke and Inferno switch, they will have to get used to playing the new version of Nuke. Having a map that you just cannot play gives a team a serious disadvantage at the pro level. However from the pros that we have spoken to it certainly seems that this may not have been the right time to make the switch. There are still a lot of issues with Nuke, which really need to be sorted out quickly, while the classic Inferno map remains one of the best CS:GO maps of all time. What the future holds for these two maps is unclear, but right now it seems that Valve may have acted too hastily on this one.

PC Gamer

Deemed to give certain teams greater advantage over others, Valve has introduced new rules which limit coach communication during Valve-sponsored esports matches.

Although still permitted to converse with players during pre-game warm ups, 30-second timeouts, and during halftime, the new rules which have been endorsed by the ESL state coaches are now banned from interacting with their teams when actual rounds are underway.

Posted by HLTV, the email signed by Valve s Ido Magal reads as follows:

"With unrestricted communication with their players, coaches can currently function as a sixth player, and not solely as a source of guidance or training. Activities such as keeping track of the economy, calling plays, and general situational awareness are important components of CS gameplay. If a person is performing these actions, we consider them a player.

Since the goal of our events is to identify the best five-player CS teams that exhibit the best combination of all CS skills, the current participation of coaches in the game is not compatible with that goal. To address this problem, future Valve sponsored events will enforce the following coaching rules:

During a match, the coach may only communicate with the players during warm up, half-time, or during one of four 30 second timeouts that the coach or player can call. Obviously, third party events can use whatever rules they want but if you want to align your events with ours then we recommend using this coaching rule."

According to HLTV, the first major event to implement the new rules will be ESL One New York which kicks off towards the end of September. In light of the ruleset change, there s already murmurs among top players of inter-squad discussions on how to proceed, strike action and even union formations.

PC Gamer

Photo credit: ESL

In what feels like the end of an era, Swedish side Fnatic have announced a huge change to their CS:GO roster, releasing three players, JW, flusha and KRIMZ from their lineup. While some teams in CS are known for regular changes, there are also the stalwarts, NiP, Virtus Pro and Fnatic, who have maintained (roughly) the same core team for many years. It therefore holds significant weight when these mighty bastions finally crumble.

Rather than fully disband, the three players will be moving to join their former teammate, pronax, in team GODSENT, of which they will become co-owners and shareholders. This surprise announcement (released just fifteen minutes before GODSENT were scheduled to play a match) follows in the footsteps of Danish side Astralis, who left the TeamSoloMid organisation to form their own.To fill the void left behind, Fnatic have welcomed GODSENT players twist and Lekr0, both Swedish players of talent. The final slot has been taken by wenton, who will be looking to prove himself after Fnatic s lacklustre performance during his time substituting olofmeister.

New opportunities

It would be hard for onlookers not to see this change as a downgrade for Fnatic, given that they re losing two of their most experienced players in the form of JW and flusha. Both of these players were present at every Major victory during Fnatic s reign. However, the acquisition of GODSENT players gives Fnatic a real chance to revitalise themselves. Twist should acclimatise quickly, holding previous experience with olof and dennis under LGB. Lekr0, fairly new to the upper echelons of competition, could offer a fresh perspective and will be one to watch closely as he establishes himself in the coming months.

The swap to GODSENT represents a return to old ways for JW and Flusha, who competed with both pronax and znajder under the Fnatic banner back in 2013. Departing messages from each player hint at ideological differences within the team. This combined with the move to become co-owners of GODSENT indicates that the players rather than the organisation may have been behind the split.

Photo credit: ESL

Perhaps the most surprising change comes in the separation of olofmeister and KRIMZ, who were renowned as one of CS:GO s most efficient and dangerous pairings. The question for GODSENT will therefore be who can provide the star-player performance in their lineup. Having struggled to perform during olof s downtime, it will be up to KRIMZ to excel once more without his teammate to rely on. In addition, there s a real chance that the move to GODSENT will see JW return to primary AWPing, an opportunity for him to reassert himself through the quick-firing, aggressive play that brought him to fame in the first place.

Going down in history

Fnatic s core of olof, KRIMZ, flusha and JW will surely be remembered as one of the strongest forces in Global Offensive s history, producing a staggering display of dominance throughout 2014-15. In 2015 alone, Fnatic won no less than five $100,000 prize tournaments, including both Katowice and Cologne Majors. Few beyond NiP can rival their past success and it may be some time before we see another side in charge for so long. In contrast to NiP s slow decline, Fnatic ran into trouble when olofmeister suffered from significant wrist problems and was forced to take a break for his own health in April. Competing with wenton as a substitute, the swedes seemed to fall into disarray, never quite recovering even upon olof s return. Despite this, Fnatic hold a superb legacy in CS and their success will likely be remembered for years to come.

PC Gamer

Image credit: duncasaurus_ on Reddit.

Skins are a big deal in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Since launching in the Arms Deal update in August 2013, gun paint has become as much a part of Counter-Strike culture as defusing bombs and rescuing hostages. For most of us, a weapon 'finish' or skin is a fun way to liven up your arsenal a reward system within an already rewarding FPS. But skins are also a contentious business and, more importantly, a symbol of a player's status. And when it comes to showing off, there's no gun more likely to drive others green with envy than the M4A4 Howl the closest thing Counter-Strike has to a legendary gun.

The M4A4 Howl stands alone when it comes to gun finishes in Counter-Strike. Though you ll occasionally see other guns and knives listed at a higher price, the StatTrak M4A4 Howl (Factory New) is uniquely valuable. The rarity of the Howl doesn't come from its gorgeous red striping and the fiery creature emblazoned along the left side of the receiver, but rather from the story of theft, DMCA takedowns, and banned players that made it famous. It could've just vanished from the game forever, but Valve made it a legend.

Image credit: TH3X on Steam.

It's just skin

The story of the Howl traces all the way back to 2010, when Valve made huge changes to one of its most popular games, Team Fortress 2, that introduced a microtransaction economy called the Mann Co. store. At the time, no one could foresee how this move would impact just about every Valve game as players began trading, crafting, and buying a variety of items using Team Fortress 2's virtual marketplace. Only a year later, Valve expanded on the system by creating the Steam Workshop, where modders and artists from the community were invited to submit their designs to be used and voted on by other players. If those designs were especially popular, Valve would officially include them in updates to Team Fortress 2.

It could've just vanished from the game forever, but Valve made it a legend.

In the two years that followed, the Steam Workshop began creeping its way into other games like Dota 2 and Skyrim, providing a unified marketplace for user-generated content and, for Valve's games, creating a birthing ground for one of the most complex microtransaction economies in all of gaming. It wasn't until 2013 that the Workshop found its way to CS:GO for players to design and share new maps and game modes. At the time Counter-Strike was still a divided community, with many players choosing to stick with the two previous iterations Counter-Strike: Source and Counter-Strike 1.6. It was only after Valve released the Arms Deal update finally letting players purchase and trade custom skins for their weapons that CS:GO transformed into the multiplayer and esports phenomenon that it is today.

Image credit: Nitor_cs on Reddit.

In 2014, the marketplace for skins was exploding with players routinely trading rare knives and gun finishes for hundreds of dollars. Artists, inspired by the wads of cash modders were making if Valve chose their designs to be sold in their games, began flooding the CS:GO Workshop with their ideas for the next hot skin that would have players in a frenzy but not all of those ideas were original.

On March 30, 2014, a skin and a sticker were uploaded to the workshop under the title 'Howling Dawn' by Steam users Auzzii and sic. The skin, which would go on to earn more than 4,500 positive ratings, was supposedly the original work of Auzzii. In the description he wrote, "I wanted to make an intresting [sic] illustration, so I created this. It originated from a picture of my dog, it's kind of taking the out of him in a way as he's the complete opisite [sic] to the wolf."

A month later that skin and sticker were officially added to CS:GO as part of the Huntsman collection because of their popularity among the Workshop community. These collections would drop special cases in-game that players could purchase keys to open and earn one of the skins contained within. Those that were lucky opened up a case to find a flashy new M4A4 Howl.

CanisAlbus's original artwork that Auzzii stole.

Crime and punishment 

While the Arms Deal update that brought skins to CS:GO played heavily on themes of illegal black market trading, it was never intended to facilitate actual theft. But in June of 2014, Deviantart user CanisAlbus discovered that's exactly what had happened the popular Howl skin wasn't inspired by Auzzii's dog, it was a shameless copy of his own artwork.

"Someone has stolen one of my artworks to make a custom skin for a gun in a game called Counter-Strike: Global Offensive," CanisAlbus wrote in his Deviantart blog. "I'm just letting you know(sic) that I did design this piece, but I didn't upload the items to the stream [sic] marketplace and the spineless worm who submitted it didn't have my permission to do so. However, I have reported both copyright infringements and I'm hoping that the items will be removed soon."

As CS:GO continued to become more popular, the price of a Howl skin skyrocketed.

Days later, Valve announced that they had received a DMCA takedown notice regarding the use of CanisAlbus's artwork without permission and responded. "When we launched the CS:GO Items Workshop, our goal was to provide artists with a space to share their creative ideas," Valve wrote in a blog to the community. "By design, the Items Workshop has very low friction for artists to submit their work new contributions do not require Valve review or approval." They do however, require that modders sign a legal agreement before uploading their creations.

The community didn't react kindly. In a Reddit thread one user wrote, "[it] took me a damn week to finish the artwork for my skin, disregarding the time spent modifying the pattern to fit the gun properly. Auzzii is a tool for doing this, and honestly I'm pretty surprised it hasn't come up sooner."

A comparison of the old Howl (left) and the new (right). Click the arrows to enlarge.

Howl, the Howling Dawn sticker, and the five other guns from the Huntsman collection that sic was involved in making were removed from the weapon cases though they would still remain in player's inventories. In the case of Howl and its sticker, both were given original redesigns by the CS:GO team to reflect their original aesthetic but avoid infringing CanisAlbus's copyright.

For sic, this revelation of theft was a slap in the face. He had been making CS:GO skins for months, and compared to first-time contributor Auzzii, stood to lose a lot more. In an update to the Howling Dawn's original Workshop page, he implied his ignorance of the theft. "Guys please take note that I am not the guy to stole the art. It was proposed by Auzzii that I use HIS art to make a skin or sticker, which was the worst decision I've made by far looking at what's happening. I've already contacted the artist Canis about this matter and apologized, hoping to get a solution for this matter."

Unfortunately for sic, the only solution was a lifetime ban from Steam for himself and Auzzii.

Making a legend

What makes the Howl such a remarkable story is that Valve simply could have remade the skin and wiped its hands of the matter. Valve s redesign was its own property, so there was no need to pull new copies of the weapon from being generated in weapon cases, but in doing so they created CS:GO's most unique skin.

Following the redesign of the finish and sticker and the announcement that neither would be attainable beyond the stock that already existed in player's inventories, Valve embraced sic and Auzzie's illicit activities and bumped Howl up into a category all its own by assigning it 'Contraband' level of rarity. To date, no other item in CS:GO carries this descriptor.

With the skin no longer available for purchase, the remaining stock quickly became valuable items for any CS:GO player's collection. Using archive.org to view CSGO Analyst, we can see that by the end of 2014 the skin was being listed at roughly $270. As CS:GO continued to become more popular and the esports scene took off, that price skyrocketed to the $1,800 it is today.

The new Howl noticeably changes the wolf in CanisAlbus's work to a more non-descript beast.

Skins in CS:GO come in different qualities, but the Factory New with the StatTrak add-on that tallies kills has become an icon among professional players. GuardiaN of team Natus Vincere hoards six StatTrak Howl (Factory New) M4A4s in addition to lesser quality ones a total worth an estimated $12,000.

There's no telling how many Howls are still in circulation. Because the Steam marketplace places limits on the price of items, those being sold are through third-party CS:GO trading websites. Stickers can still be purchased right now for over $150, however. But if you've got a lot of money to burn and are looking to own one of the most sought after finishes in CS:GO, a StatTrak M4A4 Howl (Factory New) is the closest thing CS:GO has to an Excalibur or a Mj lnir. And it's all thanks to two thieving artists.

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