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CSGO’s missing pieces of history

Counter Strike has been considered for a long time one of the best esports in the world. The game has been evolving since 1.6 for more than two decades and, with Starcraft being a much smaller title nowadays, is the biggest “classic” esports title we have. Just like the aforementioned RTS, CS is famous for being a game which rarely is patched, an approach which is the direct opposite of what Riot does with Valorant and League of Legends, for example. Most people consider this a positive aspect of how Valve handles their biggest title, but there are some unfortunate downsides. The biggest one being the Active Duty Map Pool. 

MOBAs are games in which individual matches vary wildly. There are dozens of items, more than 100 champions, very different matchups, etc. In a FPS title like Counter Strike though, the “meta” is a lot more stable. Every game gives you access to the same guns, to the same economy and every player has the same tools to carry the game, if they have the money to pay for them. Metas do exist and change how important some roles and weapons are, but the one thing which changes CS:GO matches dramatically are the maps. 

Professional CS:GO teams have their “personal” map pools. Analysis segments always go over each teams perma-ban, favorite pick and secondary options. There is one thing that can make it change though, which is Valve’s Active Duty Pool. CS always has 7 maps, chosen by the developer, which are the ones allowed to be played in competitive games. This is what it looks like now: 

A lot of these maps are known to most Counter Strike fans, but there are two which are more unknown: Vertigo and Ancient. Valve rarely makes big updates to their game, but the biggest ones are precisely those which change the Active Map Duty. They changed the professional landscape considerably in 2019 and 2021 when they introduced these two newer maps into the pool, replacing Cache and Train respectively. If you’ve followed CS:GO for a while you might notice another map which is missing from the pool which is Cobblestone. Cobble was removed after the reworked Dust2 made its return to the pool. Before Vertigo, the only changes in the pool involved reworked maps which were in it previously (Nuke, Dust2, Inferno). All of these maps returned to Active Duty not long after, so things seemed to be heading in a good direction, but not anymore. 

Cobblestone and Cache have been missing from pro-play entirely since March 2019. Almost exactly three years ago, two iconic maps in this game’s history were removed. Cobblestone had been updated consistently over the years and had dropped in popularity, Cache was reworked shortly after its removal, but never came back into the pool. As a game which has been building its history for more than two decades, with most of these maps being historical through multiple iterations of it (1.6, Source, GO), how can Counter Strike lose these “battle arenas” for years in a row? Train has only been gone for one year, but who knows when or if it ever returns?

Valve has never been a communicative company, especially when it comes to Counter Strike, but this is exactly the sort of problem that demands communication. What is the company’s vision when it comes to the Active Duty Map Pool? Is there a sort of roadmap to when and why these changes happen?  Why isn’t there a stable rotation around important tournaments like the Majors? Companies like Riot Games go too far with patching, major changes and game-breaking meta switches, but they are more transparent and communicative with their approach. It might be the wrong one, but the fans know why it is happening. 

It is unrealistic to expect Valve to change their approach to the community 10 years after CS:GO released, but losing iconic maps hurts the game long-term, especially when their replacements are criticized by the community. It happened with Nuke, and it happens now with Ancient. Counter Strike is a game about adaptation. At its core, unlike a MOBA, it is a game which is not over until you reach the 16th round victory. The losing team always has the chance to adapt to the enemy and come back through superior versatility, so why isn’t this mirrored by the map pool? Why isn’t there a more frequent rotation which would reward teams who adapt faster and better to new maps? 

Even if you disagree with the map rotation approach, how can Valve just remove a map like Cobblestone from the pool and leave it to be forgotten? The first kings of CS:GO in NIP were incredible on the map. Legendary players like Get_Right made their legacy playing it. Historical moments happened in it. Cache had its bright moments like Niko’s deagle ace on highway. And now Train, a map where unforgettable matches happened. Astralis during their prime beating everyone on it. Virtus Pro and their unstoppable plow turning the tides of fate in it. CSGO has such a rich history as an esports that it feels wasteful to leave these maps behind as if they’d never existed. 

Valve will most likely not commit to a stable rotation or better communication, but these maps need to come back sooner or later. History was made in them already. Let it be made there again.

Images via Valve.