Kotaku Big Battles — Counter-Strike 1.6 vs Counter-Strike: Source

In celebration of the large battles in Rome II, this week we’re looking back at some of the biggest PC battles in history. First up is Counter Strike 1.6 vs Counter-Strike Source

In honour of the big battles of Total War: Rome 2, and the huge screenshots coming out, we’re starting a series of the biggest battles in PC history. We’ve got a few lined up, though there are many more than we could include — and to start off, we’re tackling one of the biggest: Counter-Strike 1.6 vs Counter-Strike Source.

We wanted to do a few more, such as Nvidia vs ATI, or Quake vs Unreal. But we just couldn’t fit everything in.

Counter-Strike was, for a time, the most popular game in the world. People bought Half-Life just to play Counter-Strike. Businesses – nay, an entire industry – started up just because of Counter-Strike. All those internet cafes and eSports organisations owed their existence to one humble mod, and the horde of people playing it.

Counter-Strike players didn’t necessarily identify themselves as gamers – the phenomenon was larger than that. They were Counter-Strikers. Even people who wouldn’t be caught dead playing a “videogame” would be happy to join their friends at the LAN cafe for a few rounds of T vs CT.

But when Valve released Half-Life 2, and the (for a time, hated) Steam platform with it, they also released Counter-Strike: Source, the new version based on their new engine.

Counter-Strike had tried a sequel before, with the ill-fated Condition Zero. But this was different. It was scaled back in terms of new stuff; there were no rocket launchers, or picked locks. The graphics were also significantly better. And it proved to still have one of the key strengths of Counter-Strike: moddability. Being highly modifiable, it could harness the power of the entire community for map creation, game balance, and the creation of competitive modes.

But the community didn’t take. Not entirely, anyway. With Steam’s troublesome launch, people had to wait long periods trying to load Half-Life 2, and had further difficulties getting into other games. The design of the game was also questioned. Vanilla Counter-Strike loyallists claimed Source was “random”, and didn’t take as much skill to play. Players who quickly became loyal to Source quoted the unrealistic nature of hearing footsteps half a map away in vanilla Counter-Strike, and being able to shoot through several feet of concrete to kill someone after hearing them.

Before long, there was a 50/50 community split. Counter-Strike 1.6 had no takeup, but it had a hardcore competitive community that wouldn’t let go of the game. Competitive organisations were caught between a rock and a hard place – the 1.6 fanbase was rabid and vocal, but Source was also a good game, and looked better – an attractive aspect for acquiring sponsor interest.

Many competitions settled on supporting both games. But the World Cyber Games, arguably the largest global gaming competition at the time, made the move to Counter-Strike: Source. But the 1.6 hive-mind backlash was so severe, and so abusive, it only lasted a year. WCG reverted back to 1.6, and has never changed again since.

Source gave gamers a taste of watching matches live directly through the Steam client, being able to tap into special spectator servers, long before services like Twitch. Other high-profile competitions, especially video-based ones such as the Championship Gaming Series, preferred Source for its graphics.

Plugins appeared for websites and IRC channels that allowed the quick organisation of PUG games, and let teams quickly organise practice scrims. The game itself was modded for the competitive format that had arisen in 1.6 – 5v5, with a specific time limit, map list, and bomb detonation time. Though 1.6 and Source would dispute many things, there was a consensus on this format, and it would go on to become the “proper” way to play competitive in future games like Call of Duty.

Players also began to take it upon themselves to make the game more how they believed it should be mechanically. Add-ons like Pro-Mod aimed to combine the best of both worlds, but ultimately would take too long to be developed and only serve to split the community further, as opposed to bringing everyone together.

For a long time, Counter-Strike was the most competitive game in the world. Starcraft came close, though there’s an argument for that phenomenon being based around one country in South Korea. Conventional wisdom was that the only thing that could topple Counter-Strike was Counter-Strike.

That way of thinking started its downward slope in 2007, when Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was released. Even after Modern Warfare came out, most people doubted its ability to take down the mighty Counter-Strike. But Modern Warfare was modifiable, had servers and LAN play, and looked much, much better than even Source. It also included persistent rewards, a nice little touch that kept people coming back. Later, the Call of Duty series would take over as the competitive powerhouse, as the Counter-Strike series would go on to split itself further with the underwhelming Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, which only added some map alterations and an incendiary grenade, as well as features like GunGame which were already mods in the older versions.

But even with the popularity of Call of Duty, there hasn’t been a shooter since with the recognised dominance over the FPS scene that Counter-Strike had. For almost a decade, if you were good at shooters, that was fine enough – but were you good at Counter-Strike? That’s what mattered. To this day, the 1.6 faithful won’t give credit to Source phenoms, clutching a sense of superiority long rendered pointless. It’s a rivalry that never ended – right up until the day both games lost their dominance in the FPS market.

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