If I told you five years ago that we'd have six viable maps for competitive Counter-Strike in 2007, you would’ve looked at me like I was a Cylon (or a Power Ranger, whatever was cool then).  CS was the most popular online game in the world; there was no reason to think we wouldn't have, at the very least, a dozen by now.  In some respects, there are actually fewer – we realized along the way that some maps sucked for competitive play, but didn't figure out a way to replace them.

Sure, there have been small forays into mapmaking by current organizations.  CPL gave us de_cpl_mill years ago, and they’ve since turned out two maps (de_cpl_strike, de_cpl_fire) that are like pens that write underwater – kinda cool, but nobody uses them.   CEVO’s been proactive about putting new maps into the rotation: they’ve sponsored mapmaking contests and added maps like de_season, de_losttemple_pro and de_russka to their regular rotation.  Unfortunately, these maps have struggled to gain popularity and widespread LAN usage, largely because they’re widely-regarded as “CEVO” maps and organizations are hesitant to promote a different league by using their maps at a tournament.  (This is especially true for an organization like CPL, with an online affiliate in direct competition with CEVO.) 

Here’s the bottom line: at CPL Winter 2006, Fnatic played de_train four times because they had thirteen matches and five maps to play on.  It’s time for some good new maps.

So let’s consider: what makes a map “good” for eSports?  (Hint: mindmaze isn’t.)

Please form two orderly lines as you attack the bombsite.

First, it’s exciting.  This is easier to quantify than it sounds: if you compare the “exciting” maps (de_dust2, de_nuke, de_train) with maps that have fallen out of the rotation (de_prodigy, de_aztec, and, to a lesser extent, de_cbble), you’ll notice that evenly-balanced and offensive maps tend to stick, while defensive maps drop like Jack Bauer’s associates.  So we should make maps that give the offense a slight edge most of the time.

Why give the offense the advantage?  Not only do players seem to like maps that do this, but we’re also trying to draw more fans to eSports.  Look at the established professional sports.  Who was more fun to watch in the NFL this year: the Cincinnati Bengals (great offense, little defense) or the Oakland Raiders (great defense, 404: offense not found)?  Which poker stars have really become big?  It’s the aggressive ones, guys always on the offensive, like Gus Hansen or Phil Ivey.  People appreciate great defense, but they FEEL great offense.  Big offensive plays get names: The Catch (Montana to Clark), The Shot Heard ‘Round The World (Thomson), The Shot (MJ).  People yell “GOOOOOOAAAL” until they’re ready to pass out; nobody yells “steal” or “save”. The big three-pointer that forces overtime is always more exciting than a block that keeps the game tied, because success is more fun to watch than failure (or the status quo). 

We also need to make sure new maps are good for competition.  Getting professional gamers (retired or active) involved during the mapmaking process is a good start – their high-level scrim and match experience will help tweak the map for good competitive play (e.g., good nading areas, counter-flashing possibilities, etc.) while avoiding problems  like narrow choke points and visibility issues.  Plus, getting professional players involved should make getting wide-spread acceptance much easier; it’s like golf, where hiring Jack or Arnie (and soon Tiger) to design your golf course immediately makes it prestigious.  You won’t be able to please everybody – every new stadium makes people miss the familiar feel of the old ballpark – but if we can get the new maps accepted by online leagues and LAN organizers than the rest of the people will follow.

There are plenty of people in the community perfectly content with 1.6 and the current map rotation.  (Presumably, they’re the same people who’d grind out Level 200 in WoW, if Blizzard let them.)  In one sense, they’re right: the maps themselves are fine.  But eSports as a whole isn’t. How many retirement threads from star players have we seen on the CAL forums or GotFrag, where the poster talks about how the game got boring and repetitive?  Is it a coincidence that Ksharp returned to competitive CS only when 3D switched to Source?  The Source maps may have the same names, but like any 1.6 fanboy will tell you, it’s like playing a whole new game.   Keeping our stars can only be a good thing -- as individual players get more recognition nationally and globally, they bring us all along for the ride.  We need to do everything we can to keep them in the game.

Playing the same maps stifles gameplay too.  Even brilliant CS minds like tr1p, Xeqtr and moto can’t make any new strats on dust2.  There aren’t any new boosts to explore. Every angle has been peeked, every nook has been stacked, and every corner has been spammed.  Adding new maps will reward these players for developing strategies (and not copying them) and thinking in-game.  We shouldn't punish u5|hare because the tortoises finally caught up.

Imagine a LAN where we never had to see the same map played twice.  We could have a best-of-three finals on three different levels: one that’s balanced, one that rewards AWPing, and another that favors rifles.  Test the versatility of all the players.  Make sure the best team wins, not the team that plays well on train, nuke and inferno. 

An important part of teamwork is communication and chemistry, so if we want to reward those things, we need to put teams into situations that test them.  New maps help because they’re unfamiliar.  Players have to rely on their past experiences with specific teammates to make the correct rotation, not just rotate because that’s what everybody does in that situation.  I’m not saying we should get rid of the old maps entirely, just that we should test teams on as many skills as we can and new maps should be a part of that test.

Naruto wouldn’t be any fun if he got bored of being a ninja after three years, settled down with Sakura and opened up a Ramen shop, and CS is more entertaining when there are names like Ksharp, Heaton and SpawN playing.  New maps keep players interested and help prevent burn-out.  They allow for new strats and new situations, both of which smart players can take advantage of.  All we need is some person to create a dedicated mapping company, or an organization willing to take the first step and offer prizes for new maps to make sure that we don’t spend the next five years like we did the last five: playing the same maps over and over again while players got bored and quit for more exciting games with new challenges.  Hopefully at the next CPL Fnatic will have thirteen maps and five matches, not the other way around.

January 27, 2007

Welcome to the first installment of my weekly CEVO predictions!  For future reference, I’ll do predictions every Friday, two rounds at a time.  Since this is the first installment, there isn’t a recap for last week, but in future weeks you can see which ones I mangled and flame me accordingly. 

I’ll also be adding a “week in review” section next week.  It’ll be a general recap of eSports news: player movement, league news, team news, stuff like that.  But for now, on with the preds!

CEVO Round 3 (de_losttemple_pro)

Match of the Week

coL vs. 3D – The two top 1.6 teams facing off.  Rambo facing his old team for the first time.  Ksharp’s first match against coL after coming out of retirement.  I don’t care if you make love to 1.6 and Source makes you vomit -- drink some Pepto and grab a chair, you want to see this match.  I’d buy tickets to this game if I could.  I only wish that this match happened in Round 13 instead of Round 3, so we could get rid of the “3D lost because of the new roster” or “coL lost because of zet’s ping” arguments and see both teams in full force. 

That being said, coL is coming off a couple big wins, and zet’s Swedish ping isn’t as much of an issue on the Source engine; a 150 ping in 1.6 makes you the official team bait, but in Source you actually have a chance to help.  Both teams have some new members, but right now I think coL is a little farther ahead at working them in. 

coL > 3D    18-12

Clan eX vs. Forbidden – Forbidden is actively looking for a fifth to complete their roster.  LANDodger pet peeve: when a player leaves a team, there’s no system to work in a replacement.  You can’t bring them up from the minor leagues, since no top clans have an organized farm team, and you can’t use a bench player, since bench players would rather be starters somewhere else.  You would never, EVER see a professional sports team forfeit because they couldn’t field a team.  I think they’ll play, but Forbidden’s roster problems will cost them (at least) this match.  

eX > Forbidden   19-11.

EG vs. JMC – Why isn’t anybody talking about how good EG is? They have everything: dominating awper (shaGuar), one of the best tactical minds (tr1p) in the game and great riflers (blackpanther, stevenson, grt).  They also have plenty of experience winning huge games --  tr1p and shaG have both won major international LANs.  What’s not to like?  Even though JMC is a great team that just picked up another star in aZn, I’m giving this game to our northern brethren.

EG > JMC   17-13 

x6 vs. juked – I don’t see any way juked could win this match.  x6 has more talent, more experience and they’re gonna get more rounds.  Since I don’t have much to say about the match, can anybody tell me why CEVO has eighteen teams in Source-Pro, and only ten in 1.6-Pro?  This is a good idea?  Really?  Source has fewer players, a smaller fan base and fewer top-level teams.  If you’re a CEVO fan, get used to some lopsided matches -- there are teams in the league that just don’t have the stability and the scrim schedule to hang with the top teams.

x6 > Juked   22-8

Think playing against bots is easy? Try Johnny 5.

distinct5 vs. united 5 – distinct5 sits at 2-0 with a convincing win over Forbidden and a close win against Devastation.  u5 forfeited their last match and only put up ten rounds on EFG in Round 1.  With u5 just losing aZn and struggling a bit to adjust to Source, d5 should have an advantage. 

But the real question for this match: could either of them beat Johnny 5?  I say no.  Johnny has a cutting laser, he’s solid metal, and he can make raisins dance.  How can you beat that?  Even if you managed to hurt  him, he’d just take over your computer with that little remote control and make you grenade yourself. 

distinct5 > united 5   18-12

EFG vs. rSports – rSports is not getting it done.  All those Source haters say that a 1.6 CAL-IM team could be CAL-I in Source, yet this CAL-I 1.6 team barely squeaked out a win against juked and lost 21-9 to Clan eX.  EFG is the one of my elite teams for this season, I can’t see them losing here.  

EFG > rS   22-8

Frantic vs. Hyper!  - Hyper! has two wins and currently sits at #1 in CEVO-P due to their CPI.  They won both CAL-I and CEVO-P last season.  And they just picked up Nightfall (which, character issues aside, doesn’t seem to be a problem in-game).  Hyper! should take this match against a weaker Frantic team. 

Hyper! > Frantic   20-10

Devastation vs. Eximius Sports – These two teams are ranked ninth and eighth respectively (by CEVO CPI), but I don’t think Devastation is the underdog here.  They finished third last season in CEVO-P and ahead of Eximius at DC-LAN (third and fourth).  They aren’t the biggest names, but with both teams at similar skill levels, this match should be well-played and exciting.  Eximius is a good team, but I think they’re going to lose a close one to Dev.

Dev > EXSports   17-13

1shot vs. verGe – Let’s see: a 28-2 loss to coL, roster turmoil, and not only is your opponent is one of the best Source teams, they also just picked up a couple of Pandemic guys.  It’s not gonna get any better for 1shot this match.

verGe > 1shot   21-9 

CEVO ROUND 4 (de_losttemple_pro)

Match of The Week

verGe vs. EG– This is the match I want to see, because it’s a good way to gauge how good 1.6 teams will make the transition.  EG has great 1.6 talent and about a month of Source practice. verGe has a few old 1.6 players too (Griff, Drew and Mason), but they also have two solid Source players in STRuK and paradox. And unlike an rSports/Frantic matchup, these teams were among the best in their respective games. 

If Source is easy and Source players are just 1.6 rejects, then EG should take this match pretty easily.  If Source players are just as talented as 1.6 players and 1.6 skills translate well to the Source engine, then the match should be a close one. 

verGe > EG   17-13

Hyper! vs. united5 – I love u5 as an organization, but I’m definitely not in love with their Source team.  u5’s roster problems are too much of a handicap against one of the top Source teams, and Hyper! has won their first two matches without a problem. 

Hyper! > u5   20-10

coL vs. distinct5 -  distinct5 is a middle-tier team, but coL is hot and should take the match.  After coL's match with 3D, there’s a chance this could be a letdown game ... then again, it's hard to relax too much with Jason Lake over your shoulder. d5 will put up more of a fight than coL’s first two opponents, but I see another win for Rambo and crew.   

coL > d5   18-12

Eximius vs. EFGaming – Not much to say here.  No 1.6 vs. Source team grudge match, no player rivalries to speak of … just a top team that’s going to put a hurting on Eximius. 

EFG > EXSports   19-11

3D vs. JMC – Another great matchup between two 1.6 teams.  JMC‘s good, but de_losttemple_pro is an unfamiliar map for most teams, and I think 3D will have more time to practice it because they’re not focusing on 1.6 as well.  On a standard map I’d give JMC the nod, but I think 3D’s extra focus on Source will mean a close win. 

3D > JMC   16-14

1shot vs. Devastation – Devastation will have a much easier time with 1shot than they did with Round 3 against Eximius.  It’s going to be a rough season for 1shot this year, their losing streak will continue in Round 4. 

Dev > 1shot   20-10

Rsports vs. Frantic – Neither team really impresses me, and I don’t think either are in contention for a title this season.  This is one of the reasons why we need farm teams.  There’s no good way for a team like Frantic or Rsports to rebuild, they just have to hope something clicks with their current lineup or somebody suddenly becomes available and chooses to join them over a team like 3D, or JMC, or Pandemic.  There are no prospects here, so you’d only watch this match if  you’re already a fan of the teams.  I’d rather see young talent struggling to get better than old talent struggling to stay relevant. 

rSports > Frantic   17-13

x6 vs. clan eX – Great matchup here.  x6 has a genuine all-star in Haqshot, and I think he’s going to be the difference for x6.  This match will help us get a handle on how these teams will fare the rest of the season.  I ranked them closely in my CEVO team recaps, and I expect this match to be close as well. 

x6 > Clan eX   17-13

Forbidden vs. juked – This is a classic matchup between an inactive, talented team and a less talented, but more active team.  I think that juked is going to pull this one out in an upset, Forbidden shouldn’t be comfortable with their new starter by the time this match happens. 

Juked > Forbidden   16-14

As always, any feedback is much appreciated.  I also ranked all the CEVO teams on Friday, so take a look if you missed that.  Next week we’ll continue with eSports issues, starting with this question: why are we still playing the same five basic maps after five years?  Have a good weekend!

January 26, 2007

When the prominent 1.6 teams switched over to CEVO-P Source it put the league under more scrutiny than ever.  There are 18 teams right now, six of which played 1.6 last season (3D, coL, u5, JMC, rSports and EG). The other twelve are regulars in the Source community, but only a few actually contenders for the championship.  It’s time to make sense of the first week of play and separate the teams that are already looking to next year from the teams that already have their eyes on the post season.  Let’s break it down.

Better Luck Next Season (cuz this season doesn’t look good)

18.  1shot – They got pasted by compLexity 28-2, and by 3D 24-6.  It’s just an awful start to the year, but at least they got these matches out of the way.  You could blame some of the score on a non-standard map, but adjusting on the fly and learning new maps are skills that should be rewarded too.  I don’t see much hope for this team in CEVO-P, and they had some recent roster issues to boot. 

Current Record: 0-2   LD’s Prediction: 2-14

17.  juked – They finished 11-5 in CAL-M Season Six, but that’s just not gonna get it done in CEVO-P.  They won a Gamers Asylum LAN last May, but three of the members have since left and they’re not off to a good start either.  They did have a close loss against rSports, but there aren’t any “easy” matchup in CEVO-P. 

Current Record: 0-2   LD’s Prediction: 2-14

16.  Frantic – They had a big loss to EG in their first match, and their second hasn’t been reported yet.  If you haven’t heard of Frantic before, they used to be known as eGe and had some impressive LAN and online accomplishments under that name.  Sadly, like many of the “professional” teams, I’ve heard that they’re pretty inactive, and they’ll pay dearly if they don’t pick up the pace. 

Current Record: 0-1   LD’s Prediction: 4-12

15.  Eximius Sports – Despite his tragic name, Brad Dick is a great manager.  He supports his teams with LAN costs and is always on the lookout for character, top talent, and new eSports opportunities.  Although I don’t think this team can challenge for a title, they have bigwie, Bitem and ChefWear on the roster.  They’ll turn a few heads, but Brad and company still have a long way to go. 

Current Record: 0-2   LD’s Prediction: 5-11

The Chicago Cubs Division (popular and hopeful, not competitive)

14.  Forbidden – If you haven’t read Messiah’s last words on his work in the eSports community and sporstmanship, do it now.  It’s OK, I’ll wait.

See, don’t you feel a little better now?  Unfortunately, his team just got dumped by their fifth starter, Will "Seclusion" Gillette. It’s hard enough to bring in a new player and still compete in CEVO-P; it’s virtually impossible when it’s a fill-in. 

Current Record: 0-2   LD’s Prediction: 5-11

13.  Revolution Sports –Like all the former 1.6 teams, they’re off to a slow start, but unlike most of the others they’re still playing 1.6.  I don’t know how focused they are on Source, but they don’t have enough pure talent on their roster to overcome a lack of commitment.    They’re probably playing in CEVO-P Source to prepare for the CGS, in case the team or players decide to compete in it.  They’d probably better served just sticking to one game instead of splitting their scrim time going between the two.

Current Record: 1-1   LD’s Prediction: 5-11

12.  United 5 – Another 1.6 team sticking to their guns (literally) and staying in CEVO-P 1.6 as well.  Their lineup, while very good, isn’t excellent, and losing Kevin “aZn” Wang makes it seem even less impressive.  Everybody’s solid, but there aren’t any superstars that can carry the team, and with the split attention they’re probably just getting used to CS:S in case the LAN scene changes. 

Current Record: 0-2 (1 FF)   LD’s Prediction: 7-9

The Herd (move along, nothing to see here)

11.  distinct 5 – I was surprised to see them beat Devastation, even by a slim margin.  I know some of the players here but haven’t heard of the team before, yet here they sit at 2-0.  That gets them to the herd, but I don’t think they have enough to compete with the big dogs in the next category.  The next four or five teams should be pretty comparable at the end of the season though, they might have a chance to slip by some of them. 

Current Record: 2-0   LD’s Prediction: 7-9

10.  Clan eX – Another great manager here, Trayton “Jaali” Kirby.  I like to give these guys a little text space because I don’t think managers get enough credit for building good teams, especially ones based on both skill and character.  I’m not a fan of Remix and his antics, but Trayton has taken on some other social pariahs and managed to address the community’s concerns very well.  I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt here, and no matter his attitude, remix is still a good player.  If this team sticks together they could go places … but they aren’t quite there yet, as indicated by a big loss to Hyper! in Round 1. 

Current Record: 1-1   LD’s Prediction: 8-8

9.  Devastation – I’d love to put them higher based on their third place finish last season and their 11-4 record in CAL-I, but I just can’t; they’ve lost two (close) games to JMC (#7) and distinct5 (#11). 

(Despite the two losses they’re ranked #9 on CEVO’s standings page, which goes by CPI instead of W-L record. Sorry Herm Edwards, apparently we don’t need to play to win the game.) 

The thing I love the most about the 1.6 teams joining CEVO-P is the depth that it adds to the talent pool.  Devastation is a good team, and they’ll score some upsets along with beating their low-tier opponents.  It’s nice to be able to look at the ninth ranked team and think that if they get a couple breaks, they could be serious contenders for a title. 

Current Record: 0-2   LD’s Prediction: 8-8

8.  x6 – They started the season off right by beating 3D.  I was impressed with their in-game intelligence as a team; x6 clutched a couple key rounds by being decisive and, instead of trying to juke 3D into making a mistake, pressing the action and forcing them into bad situations.  They should beat Frantic pretty easily to move to 2-0; after that, they’ll hang with the best, beat the worst and try to make a run in the postseason. 

Current Record: 1-0   LD’s Prediction: 9-7

7.  JMC – Before I get into the preds, I want to know what a Money Crew is and how I can get one, because it sounds pretty cool.  Do I have to pay them money, or are they paying me money?  Are they just a rich crew, or are they always on the look-out for bills and bling?  These are the kinds of eSports questions we really need answers to.  Forget CGS, if we had more Money Crews, everything would be OK.

Jax and his “Money Crew” stayed in 1.6 just like United 5 and rSports, but unlike those teams, this one is loaded with talent.  I’m not sure how the addition of aZn will change their team; he’s already notorious for hating Source despite dominating his first matches.  They’re going to beat some teams on pure talent, and their core has been together for a few seasons too.  Throw another All-Star talent like aZn into the mix, and if they get hot during the playoffs … yikes.  They would be higher, but the teams in front of them have talent and aren’t splitting time between two professional leagues.

Current Record: 2-0   LD’s Prediction: 9-7

The Contenders

6.  3D – I’d love to put them higher, but there are too many questions.  KSharp is back, but will he be the KSharp of old?  Who’s their fifth, long-term -- is it Rector, or will they cut him for somebody else by midseason?  How long will it take for Rector, liN and Ksharp to get used to each other?  Now that Bullseye and Steel are back, how will they fit in?  (Alright I made that last one up, but admit it, you were pretty geeked out for a second)

KSharp had a vintage game against 1shot but looked ordinary against x6 (along with the rest of the team).   I expect them to be inconsistent early, but as the season progresses and they make adjustments, they should turn into the 3D of old.   3D also faces the hardest teams first, so look for a good run when they face Forbidden, Frantic, rSports, Juked, eX and d5 towards the end of the year (but after they’ve dropped a few matches). 

Current Record: 1-1   LD’s Prediction: 11-5

5.  EG – These guys definitely improved the most from the early-season player chaos, picking up shaGuar, tr1p and grt to go with Blackpanther and Stevenson.  Those two returning members have as much talent as anybody in Counter-Strike, and the three new guys certainly don’t suck.  One reason they could mesh quickly: Tr1p comes from coL, a team with the same basic player layout, four rifles and one dominant awper. 

EG is my sleeper team for 2007; I don’t think they’ll drop a match until Round 10 vs EFG.  They still have enough talent to upset them, too.  While coL was bringing a Swedish player to the U.S. and getting Rambo from 3D, and 3D was orchestrating the return of KSharp, EG quietly picked up two of the top twenty-five players in North America.  I just hope Tr1p doesn’t feel left out while the other four members all sing “O Canada, we stand on guard for thee” while defending a bombsite.  Join the bandwagon now, before it gets full. 

Current Record: 1-0   LD’s Prediction: 11-5

4.  Hyper! – If I could pick two sleeper teams, this would be the second.  Remember who won CAL-I and CEVO-P Source last season? They also just brought in Nightfall, who’s talented (and arrogant) enough to put this team over the top.  Hyper!  started off right by beating two solid teams 21-9 and 23-7; they should hold their own against anyone. 

The only thing this team lacks is recognizable players, and that scares me.  I’m going with my gut by putting them at #4, but by the end of the season I could be wondering what kind of crack I was smoking when I originally wrote this. 

Current Record: 2-0   LD’s Prediction: 12-4

The Elite

3.  EFG – EFG has been the first line of defense for Source fans against Source haters, and they’ll be excellent again this season.  Unfortunately they just came off a close loss to the #2 team, and I think that sounds just about right.  They’re going to play the best teams very close in every match, and they’ll beat almost everybody else.  Like most teams, they’re working in a new player, Justin “sunman” Summy.  He’s looked good in their scrims (and I can’t wait to see him face-off against coL in Round 9). 

They had an impressive win in their first match, but the most interesting part of their schedule is Rounds 7, 9 and 10, when they play 3D, coL and EG.  The 1.6 teams will have plenty of time to adjust to Source by then, so if those three matches suck I’m going to print out these predictions so I can eat my words. 

Current Record: 1-1   LD’s Prediction: 12-4

2.  verGe – They lost two founding members, but the new talent is already paying dividends; they just came off a solid win over EFG 17-13, and there are no teams that should scare them.  Their top-level 1.6 experience should help them beat even the elite teams.

The only question: will they implode?  When Jon “Juan” Mumm retired, some of the current members were openly contemptuous about his decision in the forums.  Winning at all costs and brutal honesty aren’t necessarily bad things, but they don’t make for the greatest team chemistry; if things go south, they could self-destruct faster than the radioactive guy from Heroes.  They’re talented enough that losing might not be an immediate problem, but I’m not sure they have staying power as a team.  For 2007, however, things are looking bright.

Current Record: 2-0   LD’s Prediction: 13-3

1.  coL – Show me a team with more dedication and a harder scrim schedule.  They’re going to adjust to Source in another week -- if they haven’t already -- and the whole team is accustomed to winning. If fRoD can be as dominant in Source as he was in 1.6, compLexity doesn’t have a weak spot.  They’ve already destroyed two teams and it’s not going to stop.

Round 16 of CEVO isn’t scheduled yet, and if CEVO schedules them against rSports instead of EG it’s a huge mistake.  Tr1p changed teams in the offseason and EG is going to be one of the surprise teams of CEVO-P -- there’s no way they shouldn’t play each other.  It’d be like the Colts having a choice to play the Ravens or the Texans in Week 17, and the NFL choosing the Texans.  Good for the Colts, but not for the fans.

Their only obstacle is Marcus “zet” Sundstrom’s transition to Source and, more importantly, to American life.  It’s going to be a big change, but even without him coL has put up two impressive victories.  I wouldn’t be worried if I were a coL fan, you’ll be seeing them deep in the playoffs.

Current Record: 2-0   LD’s Prediction: 14-2

Despite the full CEVO recap, I know there are never enough predictions so tomorrow we'll be starting CEVO preds for the upcoming week. This week we'll cover Rounds 3 and 4, and there are some exciting matchups as an old rivalry is put on the new engine (coL vs 3D) and the 1.6 vs Source teams debate continues (EFG vs rSports, Hyper! vs u5, verGe vs EG).

January 24, 2007

When DirecTV announced their new Championship Gaming Series, the Counter-Strike community cheered the news, especially the increased player salaries and the chance for wider exposure. At least, they cheered until DirecTV announced the CGS would use CS:Source, not 1.6, as the game of choice. Soon after, all the top U.S. teams – CompLexity, 3D, Pandemic, JMC, u5 and zEx – picked up Source or switched outright.

(This should surprise no one. Increased player salaries? Those teams snapped up Source like a Wii was attached. In professional sports, switching teams might be the difference between $2 million and $2.5 million dollars; when it comes to pro gaming, it's the difference between having a part-time job and being able to do what you love full-time.)

Moderators immediately began playing whack-a-mole on forum threads with 1.6, Source and CSPromod supporters arguing which platform would be the best – not only for new tournaments, but also for the future of Counter-Strike and eSports.

Let’s take a look at CSPromod first. CSP isn’t done, so obviously DirecTV won’t be using it. Personally, I don't see how it's possible to perfectly replicate the gameplay of a nine year-old game on a modern engine. But even if they can – for what? Recoil patterns and walk speeds? Is that really the biggest complaint with Source right now?

More than that, I can’t see CSP ever being anything more than a pipe-dream, because it doesn’t add anything we don’t already have. When it’s done, who’s going to play? Source players like the way Source plays. 1.6 players like 1.6 maps and the way the engine feels (not to mention spamming, which can’t be totally recreated on the Source engine). Instead of uniting the community by combining the “best” properties of 1.6 (gameplay) and Source (graphics), CSP will take a small group of dissatisfied players and create another variation of the same basic game. It's taken Source this long to gain traction in the community. By the time CSP is ready, Source will be firmly entrenched, thanks to the CGS (and other tournaments that follow). It's hard to imagine Promod being enough of a competitive upgrade to prompt the switch – and who knows, Valve may push updates that address the same concerns.

Writing off CSP, we’re left with 1.6 and Source. 1.6 supporters argue that Source isn’t ready for prime-time, and that 1.6 is the superior game. I think they’re wrong on both accounts, so let’s take a look at the arguments.

1.6 is more fun.

I’ve read quite a few posts trying to "prove" 1.6 is more fun because more people play it. Five years ago, not too many people played No Limit Texas Hold'em either. Then Rounders and the pocket cam came along, and now if you say, “Just like a young man, coming in for a quickie” in a Russian accent and someone gives you a funny look, you’re required to slap them. Has the game become more fun because more people are playing? If you’re a fan of PartyPoker fish, maybe, but the game itself hasn’t changed, it’s just more popular. If popularity and fun were proportional, everyone would get to make home movies with Paris Hilton.

Source is too buggy.

It’s a legitimate concern, even though 1.6 still has plenty of bugs: floating boxes and see-through poles, anyone? But most of the severe issues – example, example, and example – have been fixed for months now; bottom line, if you think Source is more buggy than 1.6, you probably haven't played it a while. The biggest bug in Source doesn’t even affect gameplay; it’s SRCTV. And sure, if it doesn’t get fixed, CS:S will never be as fun to watch as 1.6. It lags, it lags the game server, the sounds get mixed up (you spec one player but hear a different one) … you get the picture. Did DirecTV care? No, and they shouldn’t – when you’re trying to reach a large audience, that first visual impression is incredibly important. Source is also still coming out with updates, and sponsors, the new CGS tournament and high-profile teams making the switch should push Valve to fix SRCTV faster.

Source isn’t as good as 1.6 for competitive gaming.

First of all, there’s “competitive” gaming, and there’s “competitive gaming”; the first is about gameplay and balance, the second about popularity and sponsorships.

Now, I hear you flaming, “LANDodger, you nub! Everyone knows Source is worse than 1.6 – just look at all the LANs!" I agree: it's different. But what makes it “worse”? Does “worse” gameplay mean lesser teams win more often against better teams? That lesser players kill better players more often? If so, why do teams dominate just as often in Source as they do in 1.6? (More on this later.) Sure, the hitboxes are larger, but the noob you’re trying to headshot has a bigger head too. Being different doesn’t make the gameplay worse or “wrong”, it just makes it different, but only in the way that No Limit Hold’em is different than Limit Hold’em, or how the Arena League is different from the NFL. The rules of the game are modified, which changes all the nuances, but the same basic skills are largely rewarded. An accurate NFL passer won’t suddenly throw wounded ducks in the Arena League, and Ksharp won’t suddenly forget how to aim or counter-flash just because the maps and physics are a little different. Once you get used to the quirks of the game – being able to see over boxes, not having an AWP delay, etc. – it’s pretty apparent that Source still rewards aim, well-placed nades and teamwork, just like 1.6 does.

It’s even harder to argue the Source engine is bad for competitive gaming as a whole. After all, what makes a good game for eSports? Chess is as competitive as anything on the planet, but Geri's Game didn't exactly tear down the box office. Meanwhile, a hundred thousand people will tune in to see which dude can stuff more hotdogs down his throat in twelve minutes (presumably, the time limit being necessary to consume enough food to guarantee an epic trip to the bathroom later).When it comes to attracting an audience, simply being “competitive” doesn’t matter at all. Look at the difference in popularity between men's and women's sports. I assume women win or lose by roughly the same margin as men; it’s hard to be sure, since no one is watching. If the improved graphics make Counter-Strike even slightly more accessible to an audience or sponsors (like DirecTV), any smart team will learn to deal with minor variations in the gameplay.

Source has a lower skill-cap.
Source players are 1.6 rejects.

I'm going to tackle these two at once. If it takes less skill to play at the highest levels of Source, then CAL-I and CEVO-P (not to mention LANs) should be very competitive due to the large number of players and teams at the “skill cap”. That would be especially true if Source players are just 1.6 rejects, because there shouldn’t be any “All-Star” caliber players to give one team an advantage over the others. Now take a look at the short history of Source. Powersgaming dominated during their time. EFG and verGe are clearly a step ahead of the rest of the current competition, with Hyper! coming up fast (much like Pandemic in 1.6). A quick look at the 1.6 standings reveals the same disparity between mediocre and excellent teams. Last season in CEVO-P, the records were: 3D at 13-2, coL at 14-3, Pandemic at 13-5, JMC at 14-4, then RSports in fifth with a 9-9 record and all the other teams, including those that won the vaunted CEVO Placement Tournament, getting their ass kicked. In other words, the 1.6 standings looked a lot like the Source standings. Either the majority of Source players are worse than anybody thought – to the point that they should stick to playing Worms and WoW – or the Source “skill-cap” is a myth.

If you still need proof, look at the match scores from Source teams just making the switch from 1.6: 3D (with the toughest matchup) lost 18-12, but EG won 21-9 and coL won 28-2. Those numbers are consistent with how the top teams in 1.6 handle low tier CAL-I teams, and I think that’s about the level where most Source players stand (because until now, all the money has been in 1.6 – if you’re really good, why play Source?). So when coL and EG switch to Source and paste the bottom feeders in CEVO-P Source by the same margins they put up against similar 1.6 teams, it stands to reason that a) Source and 1.6 teams have similar talent, and b) there isn't much difference between Source and 1.6. At the very least, if there were a skill cap, wouldn’t the scores be closer than 28-2 or 21-9? Take heart, 1.6 fans: all hope is not lost. CompLexity and 3D won’t suddenly turn into SimpLicity and 2D just because they switched to Source, and you won’t see a bunch of untalented players dethroning your favorite CS royalty. Once they make some minor adjustments, the skill gap will be back in force.

Change is a part of all sports, and it isn’t something that should be feared, or even worse, hindered. Rules, styles of play, even the playing fields themselves change. The MLB went through a dead-ball era and lowered the pitching mound to help create offense. The NBA changed from fast-paced, high-scoring games to slow-paced, defensively-oriented matchups in the ‘90s ... and now, like mohawks and afros, fast-paced basketball is coming back to the league. Even the NFL has gone through changes: roughing the passer and holding are much stronger points of emphasis, and everyone remembers instant replay coming and going and coming again. The only thing that’s relatively constant is the growing attendance throughout sports.

eSports too is growing. Sponsors are increasing player salaries and bringing competitive gaming to television. It’s a relatively low-risk proposition: CS players are a lot cheaper than actors, there aren’t any high-priced announcers or producers to deal with, and competitive gaming comprises the most desirable target audience for advertisers. Not many people watched the World Series of Poker when it first came out, but eventually it caught on; eSports has the same potential.

And remember, there’s a difference between being a gamer and being a fan. If you enjoy playing 1.6 or Promod, play 1.6 or Promod. But if you’re a fan of competitive gaming who doesn’t like Source, don’t write off the sport. Ksharp is back, player salaries and prize pools are on the rise, and more and more people are starting to pay attention. Don't give up on eSports now, it's just starting to get interesting.