The turn of the century can be considered one of the best times for gamers. We had Half-Life and System Shock II taking care of our single-player needs, and Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament where we could immerse ourselves into massive deathmatches and other multiplayer game modes. Counter-Strike, the Half-Life mod built by Minh “Gooseman” Le and Jess Cliffe, blasted into this scene – that one might say was saturated – in 1999, bringing something extra into the mix: realism. Who would’ve thought that the game that so many have considered “too hard” would grow into a global phenomenon, invading everything from stadiums to betting outlets listing the live odds today in eSports.

Humble beginnings

Gooseman (Minh Le) started working on Counter-Strike as a side project while studying computer science at Simon Fraser University in Canada. His goal was to earn some experience so his job prospects would be better. The project soon became his passion – he worked on it up to 20 hours a week, while neglecting his schoolwork, together with Jess Cliffe and Marcelo Dilay with whom they formed the “Counter-Strike Team”. His work paid off: Counter-Strike quickly became one of the most popular Half-Life mods out there.

Starting with the fourth beta version of the mod, Valve also offered its assistance in its development – and in 2000, it bought the rights to the IP altogether, hiring Le and Cliffe to continue working on the mod.

The mod was released in 2000, quickly becoming one of the most highly appreciated pieces of gaming software ever released. It also built its own modding community that added countless useful features ranging from bots and play modes to the mix.

Counter-Strike has shown up at competitive gaming events since 2000, with the 2001 Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL) Winter Championship being the first truly prestigious international event where it was played.


The first sequel to Counter-Strike was developed by Ritual Entertainment, Turtle Rock Studios, and Valve, and released in 2004. Note that the work on the game took almost four years, with Gearbox Software (the company behind the Half-Life expansions Opposing Force and Blue Shift) also playing a part in its creation.

Unlike the original, Counter-Strike: Condition Zero had two single-player campaigns. While the game was praised for its AI, it was bashed by critics for its dated look and feel. At the same time, Valve and Turtle Rock created a remake of the original game called Counter-Strike: Source. This one was much better received than CS: CZ, especially for its detailed visuals that its predecessor couldn’t offer. The game quickly entered the competitive gaming scene – but it received a lot of criticism because its skill ceiling was significantly lower than that of CS 1.6. As a result, the CS community was divided. Valve insisted on CS: S to be played at tournaments, while most professional CS players refused to play it. This has led to a gradual decrease in Counter-Strike’s popularity in eSports across the 2000s and the early 2010s.

There was, in turn, another factor that contributed to Counter-Strike’s decrease in popularity: the emergence of MOBAs. Being the “next big thing”, MOBAs dominated the team-based eSports market.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

CS: GO was born out of developer Hidden Path Entertainment’s efforts to port Counter-Strike: Source to gaming consoles. Valve saw these efforts as an opportunity to expand on the previous CS games’ content while turning it into a standalone game for all platforms. Thus, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive was born. Development of the game began in 2010, and the first closed beta started one year later.

CS:GO was tested extensively before its release. Valve even organized a play-test involving professional Counter-Strike players ahead of its public beta and their feedback was taken into account when preparing for the final release.

Valve finally announced Counter-Strike: Global Offensive at E3 2012, with many innovative – and highly anticipated – features. Valve even planned crossplay between Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, and gaming consoles, but this feature was ultimately dropped to allow Windows and Mac versions to be actively updated. CS:GO was released in August 2012 on all platforms except Linux – penguin fans had to wait for two more years before they could dig into their own native version of the game.

One of the most successful features of the game was the addition of skins, introduced with the “Arms Deal” update released in 2013. These skins jumpstarted the game’s virtual economy – this led to controversy by triggering the development of skin trading and even skin gambling. At the same time, though, it also boosted the game’s player count to levels never seen in the previous entries to the series.

CS:GO and eSports

The release of CS: GO finally ended the divide that led to the decline of the game in the eSports community. While initially, the game received its share of critics because of its imbalanced gameplay, poor mechanics, and frequent bags, the subsequent updates released by Valve continued to patch up every issue, improving the game in every aspect.

The release of CS: GO coincided with the explosive growth of video game streaming services like Justin TV or Twitch, which helped the game become even more popular. Soon, the first edition of the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Major Championships was organized, with a $250,000 community-funder prize pool split among the 16 participating teams. The tournament is ongoing to this day – it was expanded to 18 teams in 2018, and the prize pool has grown significantly over the years.

Today, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive remains the eSports game with the largest prize pools. In 2020, CS: GO tournaments paid out over $15 million in prizes – only that much because the pandemic made it impossible for some of the biggest in-person tournaments to be held. Today, there are more than 14,000 professional CS: GO players according to, who have played in over 5,800 tournaments so far. When it comes to prize money paid out, it is second only to League of Legends: to date, CS: GO tournaments paid out a total of $117.5 million – and counting.