About a week ago, Valve unleashed one of the greatest changes to Counter-Strike to date: they removed Inferno from the active matchmaking pool. In its place is the revamped Nuke, a map yet to properly find its feet in CSGO.
It's understandable why Valve would want to change the status quo. But all Valve has done is make a terrible mistake.
A little bit of background: according to the HLTV.org database, Inferno is one of the three most popular maps in competitive history. It's just about as popular as Dust 2 in top-tier play, and gets played twice as much as Cobblestone and Train combined. It's become less popular in 2016, although that's understandable given that teams are more apt to ban the other newer maps (Overpass and Train in particular).
Note that these stats don't include what's played in matchmaking or other third-party services, like ESEA, FACEIT and so on. And if you consider matchmaking, the popular maps get even more popular. You can find a match on Dust 2 in a heartbeat. Games on Mirage are just as common. Something on Overpass? You could end up waiting a few minutes, depending on your level and time of day.
But the thing is: Overpass is one of Valve's newest maps. So is Cobblestone; Valve substantially reworked the map before introducing it to active service. So given that the new Nuke has only been out in the wild for a few months, Valve obviously wasn't going to let that sit in the wilderness.
Counter-Strike's competitive rotation only supports seven maps. Mirage is one of the most popular maps across all levels of play and one of the most vibrant for spectators and players. Cache has settled into the public consciousness well. And Dust 2? That's the face of Counter-Strike. So Inferno had to go.
That's the logic, anyway.
The problem with removing Inferno is that it still remains one of the most balanced, most dynamic maps in the Counter-Strike rotation. It's one of the very few maps where players of all levels feel comfortable attacking — and defending — both bombsites. That makes it one of the most fun to play — and one of the most enjoyable to watc.
How maps are played varies depending on the ability of the players, of course. But even top-tier teams on Cobblestone, for instance, will exclusively use all their smokes, flashes and grenades focusing on the B bombsite. It'll become the focal point of their attack. They might wander to A occasionally; largely it'll be used as a decoy for the real attack. Amongst the lower skill levels that lack of variety becomes even more frequent, with players simply attacking the sites and angles they're comfortable with.
It's a problem that Mirage and Dust 2 even have to some extent. If the attackers don't have a skilled sniper, taking middle can be incredibly daunting. If you don't have a good spawn for long on Dust 2 as Terrorists, it can be a massive pain to push through the doors once defenders grenade, smoke and flash the entrance. The B site on Inferno, and the banana particularly, can be rather cramped — but the ability to bomb flashes and molotovs over the walls makes it a more even fight.
There's a practical element too. Nuke is still in dire need of optimisation for users on low-end machines, although the Counter-Strike community blows that out of proportion somewhat with complaints about getting less than 200fps.
And that's not considering the fact that the map isn't quite ready. The recent remake of Nuke has ravaged the structure of the outside area, making it a defensive nightmare. The upper bomb site is now harder to defend, while it's easier to defend a bomb plant underneath thanks to the added doors, hiding and plant points.
If Valve wanted to refresh the competitive pool, Overpass would be a far better candidate for the chopping block. It's one of the slower maps in the pool and it's a popular target for teams to instantly ban in tournaments. It's also nightmare to play, because the mid-round experience often boils down to finding which one of several corners the defender is hiding behind. There's even more of an argument for temporarily removing Dust 2 from competitive play.
Valve's aim is admirable, though. They want to keep the competitive experience fresh, not just for casuals playing the odd game of matchmaking here and there, but for people earning hundreds of thousands a dollars and the hundreds of thousands of fans watching. But there's no point replacing one of the best maps in the game's history with one offering a vastly worse experience — although it's not the first time Valve has adversely patched the game without widespread consultation.