When it first came out, Global Offensive wasnt very successful. I believe that
competitive matchmaking helped the game to reunite Counter-Strikes playerbase, and to propel the
game to the massive player numbers it enjoys today. But I think that matchmaking has been
a double-edged sword and has come with downsides, including burnout and toxicity, which might even
contribute to the games eventual downfall. In short: matchmaking is more than just a gamemode
in CS:GO- it has influenced every aspect of the game and has shaped it into what it is today.
Just so were all on the same page, when I say matchmaking, what I mean is when the game puts
you in a match with and against players of a similar skill to yourself. In theory, this
should lead to fun, balanced games where youre useful to your team, but you arent good enough
to destroy the other side on your own. But in practice, we all know this isnt always the case!
Ill get the obvious out of the way now: you DONT have to play matchmaking! You can stick to casual
modes, which dont consider your skill level when finding a server for you. Apparently. You
can still join custom gamemodes and servers. But theres no escape from it- matchmakings influence
is everywhere, changing the mindset of its playerbase and the trajectory this game has taken.
Let me explain what Counter-Strike was like WITHOUT matchmaking of any kind. Because its easy
to forget that a lot of the games playerbase has only been around for a matter of months, or a year
or so. Back in MY day, before CS:GO was released in 2012, playing Counter-Strike -the definition
of playing Counter-Strike- was to jump on a random server and playing with and against randoms, most
of whom had an incredibly low level of ability. Partly because nobody was that good at the game,
and also partly because they were all gaming on laptops with trackpads, at about 10 fps.
When you first started playing the game, youd expect to get stomped by the better players, and
there would always be one or two players who sat top of the score-board. Getting a single kill on
them in a game was a huge achievement! But, within dozens of hours of practice, you too could become
that person. And you were rewarded for your effort by becoming a GOD on public servers. All would bow
down to you. Your team would be happy to have you. When you were team-swapped to balance the match,
the balance of the whole match changed. And youd regularly save the day in epic situations where
you had to hold your own against 4 or so enemies. You knew your teammates were spectating you,
and you knew you were going to do them proud. Once in a while, you might bump into somebody else
whos good at the game, and youd have a fierce rivalry to determine which of you was the best.
But matchmaking isnt like that. It rates how good you are, and then puts you on a server
with lots of people of the same ability. I remember when a matchmaking feature in
a game was rare- but these days, its hard to find a multiplayer game that doesnt have it.
The JUMP to matchmaking is fun. After years of thinking I was a God at the game, it was
refreshing to find players who were something of a challenge! And indeed, if I wanted to get better
at the game, matchmaking is the perfect system for finding balanced -potentially winnable- games.
Before matchmaking, it was SUCH a time-consuming hassle to get a competitive game. You had to hop
on irc and shout your skill level until somebody replied, and if you were lucky youd all connect
to a server and have a good game. But lets just say, the skill of a team that deemed itself to
be low skilled varied greatly! For something more official, you could sign up to a league,
but games would often have to be planned days or weeks in advance. Looking back at it,
its a miracle we got any matches at all! So I have a lot to thank matchmaking for. If
I want a challenge, its great to simply press a button and to have the game do all the hard
work for me. Without a doubt, matchmaking has helped the game more than it has hindered.
Its impossible to imagine the game being as popular as it is today without the feature.
And the average skill level in Counter-Strike has gone up immensely, thanks to matchmaking.
You only have to hop on a casual server to find that even the least skilled players have
aim and skill that would have put them near the top of the game back in 2013! Matchmaking
has been a key reason for people to play the game- and to return to it, again and again,
getting them invested in the challenge of reaching the top. Its the ideal system for nurturing and
fuelling the competitive scene the game is known for today. And it has helped idolise
the pro players and to give the playerbase respect for the talent that they display.
BUT there are downsides to matchmaking. Namely: if matchmaking is the reason
for you to play the game, then once you tire of it, it becomes a reason to stop.
Every players gone through a stage where they want to climb to the top of the ranks in CS:GO.
But what happens when you reach the top? Or more specifically:
when you stop getting better? Because it will inevitably happen, sooner or later,
depending on how much time and effort you can invest into the game. This burnout would have
happened without matchmaking, but the feature accelerates the process. Once youve figured out
the system, and have discovered its limitations (and yours!) the novelty can wear off. And it
may leave you enjoying the game less than you did before you started climbing the ranks.
Over the years Ive seen suggestions being made about adding more ranks or resetting
everything so that we can all start again and so on. But those people just need to accept that
theyve been there, done that, and need to move on if its no longer doing it for them.
Im known for Counter-Strike, but Im not a big competitive gamer.
I think I grew up in an era when players were used to winning more than they lost.
You know- single player games, coop games, stuff like that. Its probably why I dont like a system
that makes me lose 2/3 of all the games I play. I only have to talk to younger people to realise
how much things have changed. A lot of younger gamers have never played a single player game!
For some people, gaming IS about playing against other players. Which is crazy to me,
having grown up where multiplayer was just a fraction of the experience.
I like a challenge. But I prefer a fixed challenge that I can benchmark my progress against.
Playing against AI is great for this! In Left 4 Dead, I can feel how much better I am now than I
used to be. I play a lot of Age of Empires 2 at the moment- but again, WITH friends,
against AI. It can still be a challenge! But its less toxic, because other humans are there
to help me, and I can only really get angry at the computer or my own lack of skill for losing.
But matchmaking is NOT a fixed challenge that I can benchmark myself against.
The skill required for each rank is continually changing. Plus, if I get better in matchmaking,
then it simply pits me against better players again. How am I supposed to feel like Im
improving if the goalposts are always moving? Of course, matchmaking isnt there to reward
you for getting better- its there to ensure youre always challenged to games that youre
just as likely to lose as you are to win. The only people who are permitted to win
more than theyre losing are- literally- THE best players in the world! And cheaters. And smurfs.
Oh yes. Theres always been cheaters, but when you add value to being the best, it makes the
problem so much worse! Although its a big issue, I think the problem of cheaters speaks for itself.
Smurfing is more of a grey area. There are some people who are downright doing it to crush the
other team, but then there are others who just want to mess about with friends, or
players who play at varying abilities, depending on how competitive theyre feeling at the time.
But again, its another problem that matchmaking struggles to deal with.
But it makes me wonder how much of my terrible 33% winrate is because there are 5 slots on the
enemy team for potential cheaters or smurfs, compared with just 4 on mine.
I jumped on a casual mode earlier, and it wasnt long before the cheating and smurfing accusations
started. And not even about me! The game has always had a toxicity and cheating problem.
But again, matchmaking exacerbates it. And even when players are behaving themselves,
theres still the toxicity. Because its competitive, and stuff is at stake! When ranks and
wins are on the line, and when people value these things more than having fun from the game, then of
course people are going to be become toxic. Angry. Frustrated. And anybody who isnt taking it as
seriously, or who isnt having an incredible game, is quickly seen as being the problem.
So those are the problems with matchmaking. And I dont think theyre things that can be remedied-
its simply the route that the game has gone down! Its what it is now, and theres no going back.
And as much as I can complain about it, I do think it was the right choice. Valve has chosen to make
Counter-Strike a hyper-competitive game with a heavy focus around the esports scene. Theyve
devised anti-cheat and anti-toxicity measures to counter the problems which come along with it.
But these can only go so far. And people who are fed up with the systems shortcomings are
eventually going to leave and go elsewhere. And Ive accepted this. The game is not
what it used to be for me, back when I first played it between 2004 and 2007.
But rather than to complain, Ive learned to accept what it has become. And to appreciate
aspects about the current experience! I do still enjoy what the game is! In moderation. And rather
than to complain that it isnt what it used to be, Ive found other experiences to fill that hole.
And the sooner you do the same, the sooner you can make peace with Counter-Strikes shortcomings.
And boy, did that rant I made about the game from 2008 age well.