CS: GO Host and analyst James Banks talks about the latest game update that brought some drastic changes in the form of droppable grenades and changes to the iconic map, Dust 2. He also talks about Valve’s approach to game updates and the casual-esports divide in CS:GO.
Valve made the decision to mix things up - albeit by surprise - and make some significant changes to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive as part of the Operation Riptide patch. From map alterations to allowing team-mates to drop grenades to each other, just over a month before the first CS:GO Major in 2 years. We decided to have a chat with CS:GO Host and analyst James Banks about the new patch, and what he believes is Valve's mindset when it comes to make changes to the game.
Malystryx: So first up I have to ask you what your thoughts are on the changes to a classic map, Dust 2, as part of the Operation Riptide update?
James Banks: For me Dust2 is still the golden map, even though a lot of people don't like it. They changed the mid so you can't spam down from T spawn that you can't see and get someone on the jump. It basically now benefits CTs, and they can even go into lower B quite easily now without being seen, you'd literally have to jump down from where you are on T-spawn to get vision.
It's good for the CTs they won't have to use smokes but I feel it went from giving the T-side an advantage by forcing the CTs to use utility, to instead giving the T-side nothing in return. I can't say I am for or against it until I see it in a competitive match, but in general it's such a drastic change that it felt they pushed too hard to make this kind of change. It felt like they were trying to find a fix for how many people got spammed down the door.
That said, Valve always say that they're not just looking at the pro games, they're looking at the casual player experience as well. If you're new to the game and keep getting killed every time you pass that door, it can be very frustrating. Perhaps they are trying to make the game a little more friendly.
"Valve always say that they're not just looking at the pro games, they're looking at the casual player experience as well. If you're new to the game and keep getting killed every time you pass that door, it can be very frustrating."
Malystryx: How do you feel about adding new maps vs changes to old maps? Ancient still seems like it's finding its place in the competitive scene.
Banks: I think a new map is always great. Like we had Vertigo, now we've got Ancient. But there are so many new maps that casual players play that never really come to the competitive esports side. You'll find a lot of casual players just download random maps to play, and that's what they do.
For us to get an esports style competitive map takes a lot more time and effort. When Vertigo came out, everyone didn't like it, and Valve made multiple changes. Now we have a map that I actually personally really like. Yes some teams still ban it out, but there is an increasing number of teams who are starting to adapt to it.
If you look at the WePlay Academy League, Vertigo was the most played map with the new young players who have come up with it. Sure they've played their Mirages and Dust2s, but they've seen this new map and been like cool, let's jump into this and learn all about it.
For Ancient I feel like Valve hit the nail on the head at making a good overall map, there are some kinks and we've already seen them making a slightly tweak to where the bomb can be planted. New maps keep things interesting and I'd rather a map is released and then we make small changes over time, than do something like we've seen on dust2 which seemed like a really drastic change.
Malystryx: Another change that arrived with the new patch is the changes to grenades, which now allow them to be droppable even before death. For a casual player who may not know the implications, how big of a change is this?
Banks: Grenades being droppable massively impacts the game and changes the fundamental of what we know as Counter-Strike, but I'm actually not against it because we don't know how it's going to play out.
For example a team can all be set to rush into B, but they may have dropped all their flashes for one player. That one player could end up with 10 flashes and sell the most epic fake ever. Before if you're selling a fake, you're throwing one or two smokes, you might throw a few flashes and you hope the enemy will get baited out. Now you can literally keep the enemy on the bomb site by throwing all these flashes, while the rest of your team just hits B.
"When I spoke to some of the pro players during BLAST a day after the update came out, it was a general consensus that the grenade dropping is so crazy, especially with just over 30 days until the Major."
The grenades being droppable change is going to add more of a mental game, risk versus reward, and it will make a lot of people second guess things and cause a bit of confusion early on. I feel it might have been better to limit the amount of grenades or pick up. The example I gave where someone is literally just chucking flashes for days is just insane. You could be on the bomb site and be flashed for the majority of the round while something else is going on. (laughs) It's definitely a game changer.
When I spoke to some of the pro players during BLAST a day after the update came out, it was a general consensus that the grenade dropping is so crazy, especially with just over 30 days until the Major, and the RMR restarting as well. With the Major on the new patch, it may throw some of the competitive integrity out of the window as certain teams might be faster or smarter to adapt.
Malystryx: Far from being an expert, but could one motivation perhaps be to encourage and further develop a utility player role in CS:GO? Perhaps adding a bit of VALORANT flavor?
Banks: You have roles in VALORANT like flashes and smokes but they still can't have things dropped. Everyone has support players in Counter-Strike, your star players, your AWPers, your IGLs. But if this is a knee-jerk reaction to what VALORANT is doing, this is almost too much in one go.
I'm really happy Valve still update CS:GO and they care about our game and they're pushing for it, but how many people did they check this with? Did they let pro players test it out beforehand? The pro players I spoke to hadn't.
From being on Alliance for on development for the VALORANT side of things, I know the players get access to updates before they come out. I wish Valve would involve us a little bit more in CS:GO updates, especially if they are going to be this impactful.
Malystryx: Assume Valve are set on this dropping mechanic, and you have to live with it. What tweak would you make to balance it?
Banks: The million dollar question. Maybe just a limit on the number you can pick up. If you kill an enemy or your team-mate dies you should be able to loot the body, that's fine in my book. I think if you could pick up 2 other grenades dropped by your team-mates, that would be a solution.
Banks on the importance of the casual player base for Valve
Malystryx: Another Valve addition this patch was short matches format. Could you see the short matches being something more than just a new feature for casual players? What do you think the motivation is behind adding that format now?
Banks: Our player base is constantly over a million, but it doesn't always translate directly to streams or competitive. People can much more casually jump into Counter-Strike, whether it's 30 minutes of death match to shoot a bunch of people or chill and do an arms race.
People love arms race, and I know people that just sit and play that all the time. That's a bit of fun, but what I think we're looking at with these short matches, is a way of getting a feeling for competitive gaming. For people who don't have the time for an hour long MR15 game, it's great.
There are so many casual players out there, who in the past might still queue for MR15 even if they didn't have the time for it. Then they would leave when their parents said they've got to finish playing, or perhaps they might be older and got a partner or family. That ruins the experience for everyone else, but for those scenarios where you want competition but not enough time for a full MR15, you have short matches. I'm all for more modes in games.
"For me Valve is very much focused on how do we make the game better overall for the people who play once or twice a week, to make them keep coming back to play more." Banks on how Valve approach making changes to the game
From conversations with players and other talent, we know Valve when they make decisions, they look at the whole player base, not just esports. Valve collect the data, have a bunch of really smart people crunch the numbers and say 'oh this map is really popular' or 'this one isn't being used at all, maybe we could change it or remove it'.
For me Valve is very much focused on how do we make the game better overall for the people who play once or twice a week, to make them keep coming back to play more. It's a business right, and they want players to enjoy it, see these cool skins, open some cases or spend money on new operations.
All the esports people, we might open a few cases but overall they are there to play, compete and win. I know players who have 10+ years in the game and they've never spent any money on skins. They just want to play competitive. The reality is the people that enjoy the competitive mode, is such a small fraction of the people who play the game. Valve's just playing it smart to cater to the people who are playing and coming back happy.
Malystryx: That seems a common challenge for some esports games, if we take Apex Legends or Fortnite for example. The casual player base is SO immense but the competitive scene just barely taps into that.
Banks: I would absolutely love if we could even convert 20% of the player base to always be seeing esports, and Valve have done an amazing job of that putting the ESL events, the Majors and the BLAST events on the front page. When you open Counter-Strike you can see the matches live, that was huge. Before they did it for the Majors, now they're doing it for other tournaments as well.
Think how many people play Counter-Strike, and might be the next simple or the next Zywoo, but we would never know because maybe they never get the chance to play on a competitive level, if they don't find their way into it.