On June 19, 1999, Minh Le and Jess Cliffe released a humble little mod for the original Half-Life called “Counter-Strike”. In 2020, 21 years later, it is still one of the most popular video games on the planet.
I remember playing the mod at the time — not right at launch, but sometime early in 2000 — and finding it a fun if limited little variation on Half-Life, with some interesting maps and a very cool sniper rifle.
Later that year the full, retail version of the game would be released, and to say it blew up would be to make an incredibly corny joke about Counter-Strike’s use of bombs, while also still not managing to convey just how important this game has been to Valve, esports, the PC and video gaming as a whole. Over the decades to come, through various major iterations like 1.6, Source and the recent (relatively, it’s eight years old itself!) Global Offensive, across the PC, Mac, Xbox and PlayStation, it has remained one of the most-played video games of all time, with an appeal spanning the globe, from bedrooms in Texas to gaming cafes in Thailand.
As I type this, for example, it’s the #1 game on Steam, with just under 600,000 current players (at 7pm ET) and a max peak today of 928,180. The game in second place, DOTA 2, has “just” 360,000.
So happy birthday, Counter-Strike! I honestly can’t think of another single game that’s been played for this long and in these numbers, so may your next 21 years lead you gently on the road towards video gaming’s first mid-life crisis.
For a visual representation of just how far it’s come in those 21 years, here’s a video from Group M Pro, which if nothing else has made me think about CSX for the first time in over 15 years.