Since our last article, the CSGO ecosystem has had some seismic changes with a new shortened version of competitive mode, PGL Stockholm smashing viewership records, and PGL Antwerp showcasing that Stockholm's viewership wasn't a fluke! By evaluating how these events have affected the CSGO ecosystem and looking forward to what lies ahead of us, we seek to answer the question "what is the state of CSGO?"
Eleven months ago, we posted our first State of CSGO article. We used playerbase data, esports viewership metrics, and the geography of CSGO players to understand how far we have come as a community. As we travelled down the off-ramp of lockdown and the online era, we were unsure about how well CS:GO would recover. The last edition of the state of CSGO ended with a reflection on CSGO's long history of growth and resilience whilst highlighting the potential risks and exciting opportunities for the games ecosystem. We viewed CSGO as in a state of instability, and we did not know what was in store for the game heading into the end of 2021 with our first major in almost two years on the horizon! This article covers data from CSGO's launch in 2012 to June 2022, which sadly means we missed out on IEM Cologne's 1.25 million viewership peak. However, we will mention it during our discussion on esports viewership.
The newest numbers show that the era of instability is decidedly over. CSGO is back, and it's better than ever!
CSGO Playerbase Metrics
CSGO has changed significantly over the past year, so we decided to see how the playerbase has reacted to these changes.
During the pandemic, gaming saw a massive influx of players as people had plenty of time on their hands. As we transitioned into the post-pandemic world, people left behind video games for work, school, or outdoor activities. This situation proved to be a perfect science experiment to test how well video games could retain their newfound playerbases. Retention is important for CSGO as major tournaments and operations attract a massive amount of past, present, and potential CSGO players to the game. To capitalise on these growth opportunities, CSGO needs to keep players engaged long-term.
Whilst it is unrealistic to expect our playerbase to stay at the heights reached during the pandemic, CSGO is 250,000 players above our pre-pandemic levels. This is a brilliant sign for the health of the game, as a strong retention rate combined with an increasing viewership of CSGO esports events and engagement with operations bodes well for CSGO's continued popularity.
Since the first State of CSGO article, CSGO has failed to reach the pandemic player peak of over 1.3 million players. However, the peak has hovered around 950,000 players, with a peak of 1,013,237 players in March 2022! As you can see on the graph in July and August 2021, we had the lowest peak players in CSGO since the start of the pandemic. In September, Valve blessed us with the release of Operation Riptide, which increased the peak players from 802,544 in August to 942,519 in September. This exemplifies the importance of operations to CSGO's popularity, giving players a reason to come back to the game and take part in the weekly challenges, try new maps, and enjoy new skins.
Alongside Operation Riptide, Valve also added a new form of competitive to CSGO, a short mode which has 8 rounds each half instead of 15. This halves the time it takes to complete a match, making it more accessible to people who have less time to spend playing CSGO. Initially, this game mode was met with negative reactions from the community, with people claiming that the shorter rounds made the economy unbalanced, it was nothing like "real CSGO", and that very few people would bother playing it! Some community members argued that Operation Riptide was the reason that the short mode received so much attention, as multiple missions involved playing in a short match. However, after analysing over 7.6 million matches from October 2021 to June 2022 we found that short matches are on average 25% of the matches played by Leetify users, even after Operation Riptide ended!
Other community members loved short mode, saying that short mode allows them to enjoy CSGO whilst having other responsibilities in life such as work, family, and other hobbies. As CSGO heads into its 10th year, the community needs to realise that the amount of CSGO enthusiasts who aren't young adults is increasing. An 18-year-old who enjoyed CSGO on launch and was there to see Fnatic win Dreamhack 2013 is now 28 years old. If instead you were 18-year-old when you started playing Counterstrike back in 2000 that'd make you 40 now! Short mode allows these people to enjoy their favourite game whilst managing the responsibilities of adult life (Unfortunately, very few career paths allow for the 10 hours of CSGO a day lifestyle most of us have grown up on). Enabling these players to enjoy the game they love through a shorter mode will increase CSGOs retention, ultimately increasing our player count, raising viewership, and broadening our community! Short mode is here to stay and will probably play a large role in CSGO's growth in the future. What is your opinion on Short Mode? Let us know on the Twitter poll linked here or join the conversation on Reddit!
Ancient joined the competitive map pool in May 2021, to replace Train which had fallen out of popularity in both the esports and matchmaking communities. In April, the month before Train's removal, it was the second least played map in MM with only 4.17% of the maps played, only higher than Vertigo at 3.57%! It has been over a year since Ancient joined the map pool and it has still failed to become a fan favourite in matchmaking. Even with it featuring prominently in the Stockholm major (the 2nd most played map at the event) the map has failed to win over users, with Train only 0.5% behind it. There is a chance that we will see the removal of another map from the map pool before the Rio Major in November, and heated discussions over which map should be next have begun.
The "remove Mirage" club is the most prominent as community figures, pro players, and fans have made arguments for its removal. These arguments revolve around mirage being boring, outdated, and stale from both players and esports fans. However, it is by far the most popular map in MM with a 10% lead over Dust 2 and Inferno, two other maps that are being called for the chopping block. With these maps being so popular for esports teams and in matchmaking it seems unlikely any of these three maps would be removed. Nuke, Inferno, Vertigo, and Ancient are relatively new to the map pool which makes them unlikely candidates for removal, leaving Overpass as the next map on the chopping block. Overpass has created epic moments throughout its time in the game, from the Olof boost to his unforgettable Phoenix-esque defuse! It is unfortunately the second oldest map in the pool and a change-up akin to the Nuke, Inferno, and Dust 2 updates made within CSGO's lifespan could grant it a new lease on life! There is an obvious new addition to the map pool in the form of Cache, which is the 6th most popular map, however, there is always a chance another one is selected. Cache has created some epic moments such as Hiko's unbelievable clutch on A site, S1mple's insane jumping no-scope, and JDM's ace clutch. So it would be exciting to see this map return for the Rio major!
Country Distribution among the CSGO Playerbase
CSGO brings together gamers from across the world, so we decided to take a closer look at the different countries CSGO is played in. We have looked at over 14 million unique accounts, which is double the sample size of our last edition, allowing us to get more accurate data!
There's two ways we could go about identifying which country a player is from, 1) The country listed on their profile or 2) The MM server they play on. We've decided to use the country from user's Steam profiles even if there's valid criticism for this method (primarily that it's a user selection and sometimes people select other countries than the one they actually live in). However, we still think this is a better method for this content than using MM servers.
MM servers have a few issues. For example, players can get placed on all kinds of MM servers, such as in Europe where players are regularly alternated between 2-3 different server regions depending on where in Europe they live which makes it hard to decide what is their "home region". Further, MM servers offer a lot less granularity since most servers (e.g. EU North) covers multiple countries.
In the end, we’ve therefore used the Steam API to find the country data of over 14 million unique CS:GO matchmaking players, whilst excluding obvious troll picks and outliers.
In figure 1, the countries that account for 90% of the total CSGO MM playerbase are coloured according to their percentage contribution. In figure 2, the top 20 countries which account for approximately 70% of the total CSGO MM playerbase are listed in descending order from top to bottom from left to right
Overall, it is no surprise that Russia, the USA, and Brazil are topping the list, as all three nations have massive populations and love Counterstrike. Since our last edition there has been a few surprising changes, such as Brazil moving up to 3rd place over Poland, Argentina increasing from 20th to 13th, and India falling off of the top 20!
Whilst the country distribution of the CSGO playerbase gives us a great understanding of where CSGO players come from, it doesn't tell us the whole story. To understand how popular CSGO is in each region, we calculated the per capita for the countries!
As you can see in Fig 4 the Nordic and Baltic countries dominate in terms of how many CSGO players they have in relation to their populations. It is unsurprising to see the Baltic countries so high with their low populations combined with young star players like Broky, Ropz, and Bymas to inspire the masses! Even less surprising than the Baltic countries' high placement are the Nordic countries, who all have a long history with the Counterstrike franchise!
Rank Distribution Among A Country's Players
We compiled several countries playerbases in the table below alongside the rank distribution of each. It is not a fully comprehensive list so if your country is missing let us know and we'll get it added.
CSGO Viewership Metrics
Causal players contribute more to the scene than just play time. They also provide an audience for the biggest events of the year!
This first chart looks at the average number of viewers on all CSGO twitch streams combined per month. CSGO's average Twitch viewership is twice as large as its pre-pandemic levels! PGL Antwerp 2022, PGL Stockholm 2021, and IEM Katowice 2020 have pushed the average Twitch viewers higher than they have ever been before. However, one of the important changes for CSGO viewership is its lows, not its highs. Viewership in CSGO has risen significantly with some of the lowest months in 2020 to 2022 rivalling months from 2016 to 2019 when we had majors! For example, the average number of Twitch viewers from February to May 2021 was higher than any period of time before 2020. These months didn't have any majors, just large tournaments like IEM Katowice 2021, showcasing that the influx of players from the pandemic era has increased viewership across the space in the long term.
In the last State of CSGO article, we stressed how important the next major would be for indicating how many esports fans we have managed to retain from the pandemic era. We honestly did not expect anything close to the viewership peak we hit at PGL Stockholm, with a peak twitch viewership of just over 1.9 million! The Major final attracted fans from across the gaming space such as influencers, pro players in different esports, and org owners. This is an amazing sign for the game, as the growth of the esports scene will lead to more exposure for CSGO, and therefore more players. The way we view CSGO esports has changed over the years with YouTube getting increasingly popular as a way to watch the majors, alongside the in-game GOTV. This means to understand the viewership at majors we need to look at more platforms than just Twitch.
CSGO has certainly come a long way since Dreamhack 2013! Who would've thought that nine years after the first CSGO major we would be reaching over 2 million viewers! To be able to replicate and accurately predict the viewership of future majors we need to understand why these majors hit such lofty peaks. The pandemic brought in an unprecedented amount of players which will account for most of the seismic increase. However, there are a few other factors which could have played a significant role.
There is one thing that the top four majors for peak viewership have in common, an overtime map in the final. MLG Major Columbus 2015, Eleague Major Boston 2018, PGL Major Stockholm 2021, and PGL Major Antwerp 2022 all had one map in the final which went to overtime. These matches can attract viewers from across the space easily, as viewers hop in to watch an intense overtime game of CSGO. This is contrasted with Astralis' three major wins in 2018/2019, which fans argued were boring as ENCE, Natus Vincere, and AVANGAR failed to put up any sort of fight against Astralis. Astralis won each final 2-0, with the opponents averaging less than 7 rounds per map, and only ENCE managing to go above double digits in a map.
Another angle is the popularity of the organisations in the final. G2 Esports, Natus Vincere and FaZe Clan are some of the biggest organisations in the whole of esports, with die-hard fans who religiously follow their teams. Superstars like Niko, S1mple, and Ropz who have massive followings can attract esports fans across the space due to their flashy play styles filled with highlight-reel moments.
Overall, these major viewership peaks are a great sign for CSGO's health, and with the next major being in Rio de Janeiro we would not be surprised if we smashed this viewership record again! Let's keep our fingers crossed that Imperial or Furia can make their way to playoffs! How high do you think a Brazilian team will place at the Rio Major this year? Let us know in our Twitter poll or join the conversation on Reddit!
The growth of CSGO has positively affected not only major viewership but also non-major tournaments. This chart shows the top 15 CSGO Tournaments with the highest peak viewership from 2017 onward, and the amount of non-major tournaments here is impressive. The reason this data is from 2017 onwards is that we used Escharts.com, which has CSGO tournament data from all platforms, such as in-game GOTV, YouTube and Twitch, giving us more accurate data!
Blast and ESL have been able to create year-long circuits which include massive tournaments like IEM Cologne, Blast Spring and Fall Finals, and IEM Katowice. These tournaments attract massive viewership, which is great for the space as it gives gaming and esports fans more opportunities to be exposed to our amazing game. IEM Cologne 2022 was an amazing example of this, an outstanding Bo5 match between FaZe and Navi that went the distance and hit a peak of 1.25 million viewers - that's less than 80,000 viewers away from both Eleague majors! CSGO esports is on the rise, with non-major and major tournaments increasing in viewership, a positive sign for the future of Counter Strike.
What are the remaining metrics we can look at to see how the CSGO community has changed? If you get a little creative, there are plenty more numbers to analyse.
The CSGO subreddit r/globaloffensive continues to grow, reaching over 1.5 million subscribers in January 2022! Our subreddit's growth is a great sign for the community as it indicates that CSGO players are looking to take that next step to become a part of our online community. This subreddit remains one of the most prominent places for CSGO discourse and that will probably continue in the future.
During 2020 there was a significant decrease in the amount of prize money due to tournament prize pools being slashed once they were moved online. This has been corrected with 2021 and 2022 showing positive signs of growth, as we estimate that the 2022 prize pool will be just shy of $25 million! The scene has lost a significant amount of prize pool due to the pandemic, so it's great to see that the future is looking promising for team organisations and players.
For the first time in CSGO history, the prize pool of a major was increased to $2 million, for PGL Stockholm. However, this proved to be only temporary due to the previous majors we missed out on, and PGL Antwerp was back to $1 million. Whilst this is an amazing amount of money, it is confusingly low when compared to Valve's other esports title Dota 2. The prize pool of the International, Dota 2's biggest annual tournament, was over $40 million in 2021! This is due to Dota 2's prize pool system, where you can buy in-game items for the tournament, where 25% of the profit goes towards the prize pool. If CSGO had a similar model, where buying special skins, agents, or stickers added to the major prize pool, this would exponentially increase the prize pool! However, this isn't necessarily a good thing, as there are valid arguments that the large prize pool of the International devalues other tournaments in the scene.
CSGO's current sitcker system provides teams that qualify to the major with lots of money, with the NAVI CEO claiming that the RMR CSGO stickers made over $1 million! This system groups together contender, challenger, and legend teams together which makes sure that any team participating at the major gets lots of economic upside. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg, as CSGO could expand its support for teams by introducing more in-game items for teams. Halo Infinite, for example, has an in-game skin pack for each of the teams in the HCS. CSGO players could unbox cases containing G2 agent skins, a Team Liquid karambit knife, or a S1mple AWP skin. These items would significantly increase the revenue gained from major qualifying teams, rewarding team organisations and their players that have invested in growing CSGO such as Fnatic, Natus Vincere, and G2 esports, whilst incentivising them to invest more into the game. This could help entice esports organisations from across the space to invest in CSGO!
The great advantage that Esports had over regular sports during the pandemic was the ability to shift everything online. Tournament organisers like Blast and ESL created entertaining online tournaments which replaced their LAN counterparts. Whilst debate over the legitimacy of these tournaments in comparison to LAN tournaments became heated, especially when we entered the LAN lite era of studio tournaments without crowds, we should be thankful that we were still able to enjoy watching our favourite teams battle during the pandemic. 2022 is showing a slight decrease in the number of tournaments, however, this isn't a cause for panic as it is still significantly higher than the pre-pandemic levels of 2019. To truly understand the state of the CSGO tournament circuit we need to look at the separate tiers of tournaments.
In 2020 the pandemic forced a lot of tournaments online, which lowered the tier of each tournament and caused a shift down the tournament tiers. We are using the Liquipedia system of tournament tiers, which defines S-tier as tournaments that offer an outstanding prize pool, almost exclusively played offline, and feature the best teams from all over the world. A-tier tournaments have a large prize pool and a good number of top tier teams. B-tier teams are smaller LAN events and larger online events with top tier 2 teams in attendance. Finally, C-tier tournaments are online tournaments with no top teams participating.
In 2020 and 2021 we see an enormous increase in the amount of B tier and C tier tournaments, and a sharp decline in the S and A tier tournaments. In 2022, the scene started to correct itself with decreases in B tier tournaments followed by increases in S tier and A tier tournaments, returning to the pre-pandemic level. However, the C tier tournaments have remained stable from 2021 to 2022, showcasing the growth of grassroots CSGO tournaments. These tournaments are the life and blood of our scene and enable players to showcase their skills and work their way into the big tournaments.
In the last state of CSGO article, we were in the midst of the death of NA CSGO, as organisations, tournament organisers, and players moved over to Valorant. Things were looking dire for a long time and it was looking increasingly unlikely we would ever see NA CSGO as a relevant region again. Now the NA CSGO scene is looking a lot healthier. Grassroots tournaments in North America such as the Mythic Cup, the Counter-Strike Confederation, and EGL Premier are providing tournaments that the next great North American CSGO players require to grow and develop! Team Organisations have also stepped up to help support the scene, such as Evil Geniuses who have expanded their CSGO roster to 15 players to help reinvigorate North American CSGO by developing talent! The NA CSGO scene is on the way back, but it will need a lot of support over a long period of time from teams, players, and tournament organisers to reach its former glory. A great idea which could help develop NA talent would be an Academy League, similar to the WePlay Academy League, which has given opportunities to rising stars like m0NESY, Torzsi, and Krimbo to showcase their skills!
Valve has continued to bring new gamemodes and maps into CSGO, enabling players on all sorts of schedules to enjoy their favourite game. CSGO Esports has flourished with IEM Cologne 2022, PGL Antwerp, and PGL Stockholm reaching massive viewership peaks. CS:GO will soon be reaching the 10 year milestone, a massive achievement for a game which still continues to grow. CSGO's growing viewership and playerbase are proof that CSGO is back, and it's better than ever! What do you think? Use #StateOfCSGO and tag @Leetify