A core staple of the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive experience, even after the game went free-to-play, was access to ranked matchmaking. Climbing your way out of ELO hell is a fundamental part of CSGO because it’s a competitive shooter at its heart, and people enjoy the thrill of competition. But in today’s latest update, if you want to have access to ranked matchmaking, you’ll have to pay.
Developers Valve announced the change via a blog post, saying CSGO would be introducing “unranked matchmaking” for non-Prime accounts from today. If you’ve not touched the game in an aeon, Prime status was introduced a couple of years ago to guard against an influx of cheaters. Those with Prime status — which was automatically granted to anyone who’d previously bought CSGO, or anyone who ground their way up to level 21 through playing casual games — would only matchmake against other Prime members.
Valve offered some other cosmetic exclusives to sweeten the deal, but the Prime membership was really a $US15/$19.50 barrier to stop cheats. Cheaters are always more likely when they can simply make a new Steam account for nothing, so tried to crackdown on cheating — and the perception of cheating, which is just as important — that way.
However, in the latest update, apparently even that isn’t enough.
“Along with all the gameplay that we made available for free, new players had access to drops, Ranks, Skill Groups, and a free path to Prime matchmaking. Unfortunately, over time, those benefits have become an incentive for bad actors to hurt the experience of both new and existing players,” Valve wrote.
From today, if you haven’t paid or don’t have Prime access, you will no longer get in-game drops, XP, access to ranked matchmaking or level ranks. All of those things are exclusively locked behind Prime now, and players will no longer be able to grind their free account into Prime status with enough playtime.
New players can still upgrade to Prime by purchasing the Prime Status Upgrade from the Steam store, however there is no longer a free path to Prime. And if you purchase the upgrade in the next two weeks, your current Skill Group and XP progress will carry over.
It’s an understandable move from Valve, but it’s also a tacit admission that their current anti-cheat solution for CSGO just isn’t good enough. Counter-Strike is the biggest game on Valve’s platform right now, hitting regular peak player counts of around 1 million users a day. And yet despite that popularity, the experience of playing CSGO matchmaking is still rife with the perception of cheats, not to mention the instances where you actually run into legitimate cheaters.
It makes you wonder how far away Valve is from taking more extreme measures, like Riot did with Valorant‘s ring-zero anti-cheat solution. The principle of that is far from popular, but on the other hand, matchmaking populations would certainly benefit from the groundswell of free-to-play users. Valve’s bottom line might benefit too: today’s change means that free-to-play CSGO accounts won’t receive any drops, which also reduces the incentive for those accounts to continually spend money on virtual keys to open new cases.
On the flip side, with the influx of cash between this and the in-game stats subscription, maybe Valve can finally release a new anti-cheat system that restores a bit more faith in the game. Or maybe we just skip ahead to CSGO 2 already? It’s been almost 10 years, after all.