Counter-Strike: Global Offensive officially became a free-to-play title at the end of 2018. The game joined other Valve titles like Team Fortress 2 and Dota 2 in the free-to-play arena. Before the update, Counter-Strike only cost around $15, however the removal of the price tag still had a massive effect on the game’s multiplayer matchmaking services.
In essence, free to play has absolutely ruined the general matchmaking for new players.
To make matters worse, veteran players also get screwed by matchmaking, because Matchmaking Rating (MMR) decay forces returning players to play at the bottom of the competitive ladder simply because they took a little time off the game.
Counter-Strike’s current matchmaking system hurts new and veteran players alike and it’s time for Valve to take action. These matchmaking flaws are frustrating to CSGO players, which is bad for the game, bad for player retention, and ultimately bad for the CS esports community.
CSGO’s on-prime matchmaking is actual hell
When the free-to-play update dropped in 2018, Valve offered “prime status” to players who had already paid for the game. Basically, prime status gives players access to lobbies against other prime members which means there will be less cheaters and jerks, since those things can lead to expulsion from prime-matchmaking.
Many people who played the game before the update saw little change to their experience, because they were already trusted prime members. The status can be purchased for any account for $14.99 and is automatically earned at CS:GO profile level 21. Prime matchmaking can be maintained by not cheating and not being a toxic asshat.
Luckily my main account was made in 2014 and I am a little angel who never does anything wrong… So I never had to experience the mythical hell that Counter-Strike’s non-prime matchmaking has become.
If you are looking to start playing Counter-Strike, I would highly recommend purchasing the prime matchmaking, because it will save you from the horror that awaits you on the free-to-play ladder.
To put it lightly, the free to play ladder is bullshit.
When there are no consequences for being a bad person, there is no way to keep bad actors out of your game. There are a ton of videos demonstrating the problems of non-prime matchmaking.
“On paper, all of my friends who have never touched Counter-Strike are more likely to download and play it, because It’s free and won’t cost them anything,” explained Youtuber JERICHO. “But what they fail to mention is that this is the dumbest shit in the world because prime matchmaking is the only way anyone is going to ever play this game and have a reasonable time playing it.”
To contrast, if you get banned from Overwatch, you have to spend $40 for the privilege of playing the game again. If you get banned from Counter-Strike:Global Offensive, all you have to do is make a new Steam account and you can keep hacking and ruining everyone’s day indefinitely. For new players, it really only takes one or two matches of a random dude spin botting to turn them off the game entirely.
If you aren’t in the prime matchmaking service, you will be forced to play with the new accounts who are likely hackers and smurfs.
New, non-prime accounts are subjected to a trust system that Valve created in 2017. The trust system was designed with the best of intentions, to ensure that well behaved players don’t have to play with the cheaters. Practically speaking though, new players enter the game with no trust– so they get to hop right into non-prime matchmaking with cheaters, trolls, and assholes.
A few months ago I created a new steam account to test this out. I played a dozen competitive games on this account, and every single game had at least one cheater in it. That doesn’t even cover the obscene slurs and general toxicity of the other people in the lobby. If that was my first and only experience with Counter-Strike, I would have uninstalled the game and never returned.
The purpose of making Counter-Strike free to play was to increase the player base by offering new players a taste of how great the game can be and encourage players to invest in the game. Valve wants players to invest their time into building skills, invest their money into skins, and invest their energy into the Counter-Strike community. It’s hard to find a reason to invest in Counter-Strike’s community when your initial experience is a garbage fire.
Counter-Strike needs ranked seasons
So let us say that you do overcome the barrier to entry as a new Counter-Strike player. You are finally on your way up the competitive ranks. As you improve, your skills take you to higher skill rankings.
Everything is great, right?
Sure, everything is great – If you keep playing.
If you stop playing for any significant amount of time though, all those ranking points you earned over the past 100+ hours of grinding will decay. It doesn’t matter if you were a Gold Nova lll or a Legendary Eagle rank, your skill points will decay indefinitely until your return.
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If you take a couple months off of CS:GO to play Dota 2 or focus on your school finals, you will come back to a Silver ranking. And once you are in Silver, it is really hard to get out, even if you are a great player. Your team will throw, they will yell toxic things at you, they will play in a disorganized and unskillful fashion. It’s very difficult to persevere when you are forced to play with the very worst in the game, simply because you had the audacity to not play Counter-Strike for a couple a months.
In my opinion, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Players shouldn’t be considered unskillful simply because they took a break from the game. Players who may love Counter-Strike and might even be really good at it quit the game permanently because of this morale-breaking matchmaking system.
Many developers have already implemented a solution to this problem. Overwatch, Rocket League, and League of Legends all have a seasoned rank system.
In these games, rather than having a single permanent rank that decays upon inactivity, players play placement matches every season and are ranked for that season’s time interval. This system does a better job of balancing the need for active players at various ranks, while also not punishing players for taking some time off from the game. MMR decay discourages players from coming back and investing time in Counter-Strike.
Valve needs to step up and address these concerns with their matchmaking systems
Counter-Strike has been an increasingly frustrating game to play over the past few years, and there has been little to no effort on Valve’s part to fix these issues. I don’t know how they can fix the free-to-play issue; it seems like you can’t put that genie back in the lamp. However, Valve can at the very least introduce seasons to its competitive matchmaking to solve the MMR decay problem.
The longer they wait to address these issues, the more players will quit and never return, which is bad for the Counter-Strike player base, bad for interest in Counter-Strike esports, and ultimately, bad for Valve’s bottom line.