When Counter-Strike: Global Offensive first launched back in August 2012, CS players around the world could hardly believe it. It'd been nearly eight years since Counter-Strike: Source, and the idea of a new CS was perhaps a little too much for our shootybang brains to comprehend.
But while Global Offensive was a fun new addition to the CS catalogue, it was rather too similar to CSS for its own good, to the point that many players simply described it as “CSS with better visuals.” As a result, that initial boost of excitement died off rather quickly, and many players even went back to CSS and the original 1.6, where they felt more comfortable.
But check out the latest player figures on Steam, and you'll find that Global Offensive is now consistently the second-most played game (after the beast that is DOTA 2, of course). With 130,000 concurrent users each day, and that figure constantly climbing, CS:GO is not only the most popular Counter-Strike ever - it's nearly the most popular PC game ever.
How the heck did this happen? The answer is simple: CS:GO has received more than 60 updates since launch, ranging from hefty game-changing alterations, to new maps and features. Let me take you on a tour of how Global Offensive went from being merely CSS 1.5, to the definitive Counter-Strike experience.
The Big Competitive Update
When CS:GO first launched, the competitive features were severely lacking, to the point that many players found it easier to find competitive matches via IRC than using the in-game matchmaking facilities.
Valve was clearly aware of this, and in October 2012 a new "Queue" matchmaking system was integrated into the game. This functionality made it so much easier to join up with a group of friends and get a competitive match underway. This system has been fine-tuned multiple times since this first update, of course, but it was this initial boost to the game did wonders for its future.
Around this time, the Elo ranking system was also replaced by a Skill Group system. Once you've won 10 competitive matches, the game puts you into a skill group and bases its matchmaking on whatever rank you currently hold. Since this was introduced, the matchmaking system in CS:GO is now one of the best you can find in online video games to date, consistently throwing close-call clashes your way.
Weapons and Menu overhaul
At the start of 2013, weapon balance in CS:GO was completely overhauled. Suddenly the feel, power and recoil of many of the weapons was altered, based on feedback from pro players.
And oh wow, was it a welcome change. Many of the more floaty weapons now felt tight and responsive, while some of the more overpowered weapons such as the P90 weren't so ridiculous anymore. Experimenting with weapons became a rather big deal, and no longer did you find that everyone was simply using the M4, the AK and the AWP the whole time.
It wasn't just the weapons either - the menu system was wangled to the point of no return. All of a sudden it was actually possible to find what you needed in CS:GO, including starting online matches with ease.
The Workshop and Hostage updates
Early 2013 was a busy time for CS:GO. In February the big Maps Workshop update landed, allowing modders to easily show off their creations, and for players to find, download and vote for their favourite user maps. This would become very important for the Operation updates later in the year.
A month on, the Hostages update was revealed. Up to this point competitive matches were mainly played on defusal maps, since the hostage system was, well, a little lacking. With this update, hostage maps became viable competitive candidates.
This was thanks to some massive tweaks to the base concept. You now had to carry hostages to the end, impeding your vision and speed - but you only had to save one hostage, and you were given additional time when you picked one up. After a decade of hostage maps being solely a casual ordeal, it was incredible to see them being competitively.
Time for some Payback
April 2013 saw the start of something wonderful - the CS:GO Operation. First came Operation Payback, a paid update for the game that gave players access to a selection of user-created maps in a competitive space.
Now, this may sound strange to non-players - why would you want to pay money to play maps for a limited time that you can download for free anyway? Essentially, it was Valve's way of curating the Maps Workshop, and giving hardcore players a way to feel part of the community. The exclusivity of being able to play these maps on a officially competitive basis was the icing on the cake.
As it turns out, the Operations system has been quite the success, and two more Operations - Bravo and Phoenix - have launched since then. What's utterly wonderful to see is that, where CS:S was essentially a Dust2 24/7 simulator, these Operations have helped CS:GO to kick the Dust2 problem. I can't even remember the last time I played Dust2, thanks to all these gorgeous, clever new maps.
The Arms Race
When the Arms Deal update launched in August 2013, a year after CS:GO first launched, some players were dubious. It introduced the Steam Marketplace into Global Offensive, much like Team Fortress 2 had before it - except that instead of buying and trading hats, it was all about weapons and skins.
As we now know, this was the single biggest update that CS:GO has seen to date. Hundreds of weapons are now sold and traded every single second via the Marketplace, and weapons drops and crates after each competitive or casual match help to spur the weapons trading onwards.
Slowly but surely the majority of players shifted from showing slight disdain for the multicoloured weapons and flashy knives, to seeing the system as the best way to define yourself as a Counter-Strike player. I was simply happy to finally have the option to rename my P90 "The Spray90".
The February boom
If you thought the CS:GO team was done there, you'd be quite incorrect. February 2014 saw a barrage of big updates for the game, including Operation Phoenix, two free maps, a stickers system, and a brand new, game-changing weapon.
The CZ75-Auto is a strange but wonderful beast. It's the first ever automatic pistol for Counter-Strike, and it's extremely cheap, making it perfect for an "eco" round. However, it only comes with 24 bullets, and those disappear in two quick bursts. It's all about killing someone and stealing their weapon, and it's gorgeously tactical in the right hands.
Meanwhile, Overpass and the return of Cobblestone were both maps to rejoice about, while right-clicking with nades now allowed you to throw them underarm - a rather underrated addition to the CS arsenal.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive may have been a little lacking when it first launched, but thanks to a development team that was fully focused on making this the Counter-Strike that its players deserved, we're now left with one of the most incredible online shooters you can play to date.