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The best shooters endure. While the state of the art moves on in other genres and leaves old designs in the dust, it’s as fun to fire a well-made shotgun from an early 90s FPS as from one released today. For that reason, this list runs the gamut from genre classics to those released in the last year. There’s bound to be something for you inside.
Hullo! John is preoccupied with wizards right now, so I’m taking over for the rundown of last week’s top ten on Steam. It was an interesting week, bringing back some welcome old games and slamming in some shiny new ones. Largely, it’s all about robots and survival.
The long story of Counter-Strike is a series of minor but meaningful changes. Track the last few years of patches, and between hundreds of weapon skins, you see subtle but serious modifications to map layouts, recoil behavior, and anti-cheat. If you time-traveled a CS player from 1999 two decades into the future to play CS:GO today, they'd find it familiar enough: the AK-47 is still the workhorse of the T-side arsenal, the Nordic countries are still better at the game than everyone else, and de_nuke is still in the active map pool.
If things continue along their current trajectory, however, that last staple of Counter-Strike’s identity may be the next casualty of its ongoing evolution.
Of the seven maps in the current “active duty” map pool—that is, the maps available for players to choose from at big tournaments—Nuke is by far the least popular. So far in 2018, 214 matches of CS:GO have been played at high-level tournaments, and of all those matches, only nine have been played on Nuke. The next-least-played map sees over double the usage, with 20 appearances in high-level games over the same time period.
These numbers didn’t used to be quite so grim. The map saw more play back in 2014, when 15 of the 111 games played at major tournaments were played on Nuke, placing it firmly in the middle of the pack compared to the other active duty maps. Since then, its popularity has waned sharply, despite a graphical overhaul and substantial redesign in early 2016.
What happened to Nuke?
When I pose that question some of the game’s top-tier professionals, I learn that there’s not much of a consensus on why the map has fallen out of favour. Opinions range from believing that it’s a great map and that people just aren’t bothering to learn the unique tactics required to be successful on it, to believing it’s a fundamentally flawed map that can’t be fixed without completely reinventing it.
French pro Nathan "NBK-" Schmitt, currently of G2 Esports, finds himself close to the first position. “In general I think Nuke is a very underrated map,” he says. “I think it’s a very interesting map [due to] its layout, and that it's very different and unique compared to other maps.”
Questioned further, NBK- offered a hypothesis. “The main thing, I think, is that teams are either very good at it, or average-to-bad on it,” he explains. “So those teams that are average or bad on it are going to be 70-80% of the teams … and the teams that can play very well on it will get the map banned because it’s gonna be a 100% win against teams that are a bit lower.”
In other words, it boils down to how large the skill disparity is between the teams that actively practice Nuke, and those that don’t bother to focus on the map because it doesn’t see much play at major tournaments. The nature of the CS:GO tournament format is that each team gets to ban at least one map from being played during any given match, so for the teams that don’t practice Nuke, it’s a no-brainer to ban it when playing against a team that’s known for their Nuke play.
Nuke's uniqueness exacerbates this problem, too. The more ways in which the map differs from the rest of the active pool, the more bespoke strategies and map-specific knowledge are required to do well on it, and the more time a team would need to dedicate to practicing it if they wanted to catch up to the teams who already know what they’re doing on it. Nuke, with it’s unconventional bombsite placement and total lack of a traditional mid configuration, finds itself on the extreme end of the spectrum as far as divergence from the status quo.
The end result is that no one ever gets to play it except in the event that two of the few teams who do bother to practice Nuke happen to run into each other in a tournament bracket. Of course, this means that the map is stuck in a bit of a negative feedback loop. Because no one plays it, teams aren’t incentivized to practice on it, and because no one practices on it, no one wants to play on it when it comes time to pick maps during major tournament matches.
There are also criticisms to be made about the design of the map itself, from those with a less enthusiastic view than that of NBK-. Jimmy "Jumpy" Berndtsson, the current coach of Fnatic, finds himself in this camp.
“When they made a change, when they added the outer catwalk and everything,” Jumpy says in reference to the changes made in the early 2016 update, “I felt it was a bit messy in a way, because as CT you can hide in so many spots, and as T you can [attack] in so many spots.” This abundance of choices, he says, led to a higher degree of randomness in high-level play, because it became harder for players to know where they should be looking.
He’s more enthusiastic about the latest version of the map that was released in February, saying “With the new changes now, I really like the update … I think it’s more balanced in a way, you can push yard now and the CT can’t hide everywhere, and Ts can’t exploit going outer catwalk really fast.” It’s unclear whether these tweaks will be enough to break the aforementioned feedback loop.
Another issue raised—one that will be far more difficult to fix with minor balance updates—relates to the overall layout of the map. On a normal Counter-Strike map, the two bomb sites that the T side must attempt to reach are generally on opposite sides of the map from each other, with enough distance between them that it will take a player a bit of time to run from one to the other. Nuke, however, is unique in the regard; its bombsites are stacked one on top of each other, occupying more or less the same footprint, but on two different storeys of the same buildings.
“Because of the levels, you can go down under and you hear them from up top, sometimes you’re just really confused, like ‘Am I hearing him down under, or is he above me, or is he to the right or the left?’ I think that’s the most confusing part,” says Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander, current captain of Astralis.
There are serious issues besetting Nuke from all sides. Some have to do with the nature of the map itself, and some to do with the nature of competitive Counter-Strike and how the map pools and tournament formats work. None seem to have an easy solution.
The good news is, in contrast to the widely varying views from the pro scene on what’s wrong with Nuke, their answer of what to do about it is surprisingly unified.
“I guess three or four times a year we should just sit down with Valve and talk about what we could do better at the different maps, and especially Nuke, because there’s a lot of people not liking to play that map,” says gla1ve.“If they’re planning on introducing a new map, [I’d like it if they] released it a bit before the major, let people try it out, then just have a meeting with all the final teams at the major and talk about the new map and what their plans for it are,” Jumpy echoes. “I know they approach some people, but they don’t have like a big meeting, just to talk through, to let teams open their opinions. I think they can learn a lot from the players, and I think the players can learn a lot from the developers.”
Even NBK-, who has few grievances with the current design of Nuke, feels like there’s room for more communication between Valve and the pro scene. “I think [it’s] important for the players to talk with Valve and tell them what is not possible on a map,” he says. “For instance if they take something out of a map, or they add something, or they change something, if most of the pro players see it as a problem, I think that should be where Valve decides to change things and listen to the players.”
The consensus is clear: Valve still needs to do more to gather feedback from the highest-level players of their game, and use that feedback to make improvements that will increase the calibre of play at the top level. Whether that will be enough to save Nuke remains to be seen, but the pro scene believes that it will be a net good for Counter-Strike in general, and has at least some chance of being able to revitalize one of the game’s most iconic locales.
As I drag my groggy-faced body to the monitor at 6.30 each Monday morning, I click the bookmark for my Steam Charts RSS and scrunch up my face so my forehead and nose curl over my eyes. How bad will it be? How familiar will the list of five-year-old games be? How will I think of… BUT WHAT IS THIS?!!?! FOUR new entries! Far Cry 5 taking up only one slot! No Witcher 3! No Skyrim! It’s like Christmas, where Christmas is a day you just about get through without things being as bad as they were last year. (more…)
Loot boxes in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, and FIFA 18 are games of chance and do violate Belgian gambling regulations, the country’s Gaming Commission has declared. Their loot boxes will need to be removed, the Commission says, or the operators could face hefty fines and potentially prison time. This is a big development as governments view loot boxes and their ilk with an increasingly critical eye. The Commission started investigating loot boxes in four big games last year following Star Wars Battlefront II’s fiasco, though ironically Battlefront II is the only game whose loot boxes they deemed not gambling – after its recent changes, anyway. (more…)
Hot on the heels of the Netherlands declaring loot boxes are gambling and therefore illegal, Belgium has had its say.
The Belgian Gaming Commission looked at Star Wars Battlefront 2, FIFA 18, Overwatch and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and found only Star Wars was not in violation of the country's gambling legislation - and that's only because EA stripped out the game's loot boxes after its launch debacle.
It determined FIFA 18, Overwatch and CS:GO's loot boxes are a game of chance and so are subject to Belgian gambling law. Battlefront 2, at the time the investigation was conducted, did not have loot boxes, so escapes unscathed.
Bully Hunters was unveiled last week as a program aimed at combating the harassment and abuse of women in online games, a worthwhile idea that raised eyebrows with its methods. It was billed as a "vigilante in-game hit squad" made up of elite women gamers who would "beat bullies at their own game." Basically, players encountering abuse in CS:GO were encouraged to contact the Bully Hunters, who would then send one of their players to "infiltrate" the game and deliver righteous justice through a righteous ass-kicking.
Noble goal, dubious process, and unsurprisingly it all went about as wrong as it possibly could have. Following allegations of toxic behavior by Bully Hunters members themselves and the resurfacing of tweets by representative streamer Natalie "ZombiUnicorn" Casanova containing homophobic and abusive language, sponsors and supporters quickly pulled out, the Bully Hunters website and social media pages went dark, and today the company behind it pulled the plug on the whole thing.
"BullyHunters pitched us with a simple idea - let’s work together to fight online harassment. And because we believe that’s a noble cause, we supported it," Steelseries said in a statement announcing the end of its partnership with the group the day after it debuted. "It’s now clear that we didn’t do a good job in understanding exactly what we were supporting. And we’re sorry for that."
Vertagear issued a similar statement, also on April 14, saying that anti-cyberbullying efforts are a worthy cause, and that it had hoped to draw attention to the problem and encourage the growth of a less toxic gaming environment for everyone.
"However, the information that we received before the start of the campaign not only contradicted the execution of it, but we discovered after the fact that it was sorely lacking," Vertagear wrote. "Our biggest mistake was not thoroughly vetting the details of the campaign to ensure that the execution would be up to the proper standards expected, and we apologize for that and the horrendous results of this event."
The Diverse Gaming Coalition weighed in as well, citing Casanova's Twitter history as specifically problematic. She has previously used what could charitably be called "combative" language in tweets, and a clip of her using a homophobic slur during a livestream was also shared to Twitter.
"Various tweets show wrongdoing by host, Zombi Unicorn, which are actions that Diverse Gaming Coalition does not condone, although she was not solely to blame for the Bully Hunters initiative as a whole," The Diverse Gaming Coalition wrote. And while it was under the impression that the Bully Hunters would continue, it "does not align with our mission and vision statement as a non-profit. Because of this, we are deciding as of now, we are dropping as a partner from the Bully Hunters initiative."
Casanova addressed her use of toxic language in a statement in which she said that, "due to the overwhelming amount of harassment, toxicity, hate & threats," she would be stepping away from the project.
She also suggested that she too was misled by the campaign, specifically with regard to the statistics about abuse that it quoted. "Projections based on market size estimate of 32.7 million female console gamers in the US by YouGov, and 9.6 percent reported that they quit playing a certain game permanently because of harassment as reported by International Business Times," she wrote.
"Those statistics were extrapolated by Bully Hunters to express a point that sexual harassment has negatively effected more women this way. I used those stats from their posts and was told the sources would be listed on the site. I also didn't feel qualified enough to discuss them in depth, so I noted to watch the event to hear the licensed psychologist and guests discuss it better."
The cumulative effect of the damage was simply too much to overcome, and marketing agency FCB Chicago, which launched the program, told Polygon that it is over.
"As this effort did not live up to our high standards, we decided to end this program, but hope the conversation it has raised around ending harassment in gaming continues," global chief communications officer Brandon Cooke said. He added that other involved organizations provided no financial support or sponsorship.
"In most cases they were just supporting the cause. SteelSeries helped connect us with a few gamers and provided some headsets for the live event. That’s all," he said. "One [host was paid], but the other was not."
Despite the outcome and the deluge of personal harassment she's experienced as a result, Casanova defended the goals of the project, if not the way it went about achieving them. "Love it or hate it, it did its job," she said. "It’s brought a lot of attention to this. It’s opened up the discussion to more people. Yeah, it’s brought a lot of trolls, but it’s opened the discussion."
Join us for our weekly skip through the bountiful fields of fresh gaming joy! Hold our hand as we guide you down the top ten selling games on Steam, to discover which heart-lifting original content has caught the attention of the enthused gaming public! Someone please help me! (more…)
The Time's Up movement that caught fire in the wake of #MeToo and allegations of sexual misconduct against notorious Hollywood scumbag Harvey Weinstein has now made its way to videogames, in a distinctly gamer-esque fashion. Beginning on April 12, a self-styled A-Team of "elite female gamers" calling themselves the Bully Hunters will offer their services to victims of harassment and bullying in CS:GO by infiltrating games and beating down offenders "through the sheer force of their unmatched skill."
"The time for harassment in CS:GO is finally up," the group said in an announcement. "A collective of gamers, brands and organizations have teamed up to create a first-of-its-kind global tool that connects victims of in-game harassment with gamers who want to help, called the Bully Hunters. The Bully Hunters are a vigilante hit squad of elite female gamers who have banded together to end sexual harassment and abuse in the popular game CS:GO."
The campaign is backed by some high-profile supporters, including Twitch streamer ZombiUnicorn, a spokesperson for the campaign, as well as SteelSeries, Vertagear, CyberPowerPC, the Diverse Gaming Coalition, and the National Organization for Women. The members themselves have chosen to remain anonymous, however, in order to avoid the ironic but entirely-too-predictable likelihood of harassment and abuse, although a rep said—optimistically, I think—that team members will do their best to keep the heat on the field.
"The Bully Hunters are prepared for the possibility of retaliation and are putting measures in place to combat that. They will not purposely incite or encourage additional harassment or abuse, and will only engage with harassers through gameplay, eliminating them from the game using their skills and talent," a rep explained. "Additionally, there will be a ratings system within the global tool which will allow both hunters and victims to rate their experiences, therefore reducing the chances of trolls infiltrating the system."
Dunking on online jerks is great, but the real point of the exercise is drawing attention to the problem of sexism and abuse online. The Bully Hunters claim that more than 21 million female gamers have reported in-game sexual harassment, "including extreme threats of sexual violence and death," and while that number is an estimate, the prevalence of abuse obviously is not. Yet all too often it's brushed off as mere trash-talk: Inevitable, but harmless.
"[The Bully Hunters] hope that through more conversation, fewer online gamers will tolerate this behavior and work to put an end to it. They are also calling on software companies to take action to no longer tolerate sexual harassment and discrimination in their games," the rep said.
The Bully Hunters is meant to be a "long-term initiative," and they're looking to expand their presence beyond CS:GO, although which games they may move into next is still being decided. Naturally, they're also looking to grow their numbers. Signups will be taken at the Bully Hunters website, but they were clear that they won't take just anyone.
"To become a Bully Hunter, a gamer’s statistics will be evaluated to ensure they can compete at a high level to eliminate harassers," the rep said, without delving into exactly what "statistics" will be examined, or how. "Additionally, their history of play will be reviewed to ensure they haven’t been reported for any type of in-game harassment with other players."
The goal of the campaign is laudable, but since abusive behavior is Bully Hunters' Bat-signal, you can see the group itself being a magnet for abusers—especially since at least some of the action will be livestreamed to the world on Twitch. But maybe that's part of the point—to draw negative attention away from average gamers and let them know they're supported.