Feature Article

Dust to Dust: The History of Counter-Strike

Boom, 15 years of headshots.

The Counter-Strike series may consistently hit the top end on Steam's chart of concurrent users today, but this competitive multiplayer phenomenon began with humble origins. To commemorate the 15 years that have passed since Counter-Strike was first released, I spoke to co-creator Minh "Gooseman" Le for an insight into the creation of the original mod, and its evolution into a standalone game.

At its core, Counter-Strike focuses on an ongoing multiplayer battle between two teams; the terrorists and the counter-terrorists. Both teams have objectives that need to be met in order to win a round and gain a point, which contributes to the larger goal of gaining enough points to secure overall victory.

Counter-Strike 1.6
Counter-Strike 1.6

For Le, the decision to create a game centered on the conflict between terrorist and counter-terrorist squads spawned from a personal interest in the subject. "There weren't a whole lot of games out there that dealt with that theme," Le said, although he did cite Rainbow Six as a sole example. "I thought it was kind of like a mysterious topic that hadn't been covered as well."

Half-Life possessed the realistic setting Le sought.
Half-Life possessed the realistic setting Le sought.

Such a theme required a more realistic setting for the game he envisioned, which was the main reason why Le chose to mod Half-Life. At the time, Unreal Tournament and Quake were also available, but lacked the inherent realism he sought to achieve and would have required more work. Despite the learning curve Half-Life's then-new engine presented, Le was passionate about making the game, working "about 30 or 40" hours per week on the project while studying at university.

"I was really just hoping we would find a small player base to grow from--nothing too substantial," he said. When the mod first launched, the reaction from the community shocked Le, who was taken aback by the amount of popularity it quickly gained.

Feedback from the community was facilitated by Jess Cliffe, who ran the website where player discussion was held. Communication with fans was paramount to the development of the subsequent versions of Counter-Strike, with Le making alterations to the game according to feedback he received.

Counter-Strike: Source.
Counter-Strike: Source.

Le described the process as an "open development" operation, due to the level of involvement the community had.

"We didn't actually make any of the levels for Counter-Strike, all of the levels were made by the community. They would make levels and submit them to us, and we would review them. We would choose which ones we liked and include those in the next version we released. So basically that is how the game was developed. It was me, my partner Cliffe, and the community. It was kind of like crowd development." Le said.

His goal to create a shooter steeped in realism paid off, with Valve taking interest and acquiring the rights to re-release the game for PC in 2000. In a time when first-person shooters such as Unreal Tournament and Quake were popular, Counter-Strike stood out for its slower-paced combat and emphasis on teamwork. The success of the game impacted how the genre evolved over the next few years.

Counter-Strike places an emphasis on teamwork.
Counter-Strike places an emphasis on teamwork.

"We started to see more games that emulated that style of gameplay," Le said. "They focused on realistic, slower paced fighting. After Counter-Strike became a hit, we saw games like Call of Duty and Medal of Honor. Games that were steeped in realism started to become more popular."

It was Counter-Strikes stronger emphasis on realism and straightforward mechanics which Le believes helped to make the game more attractive for competitive play.

"I think there will always be a place for CS, because people appreciate that skill-based gameplay. They really want the game to focus more on what their skills are."

"Counter-Strike is more something for the esports scene, and that's why it's distinctly different to Call of Duty and Battlefield 4. I think there will always be a place for CS, because people appreciate that skill-based gameplay. They really want the game to focus more on what their skills are."

Le went on to join Valve and worked on developing Counter-Strike: Source, a remake of the first game powered by Half-Life 2's Source engine. While the game retains a high number of concurrent players on Steam today, initial reactions from the community were divided. The backlash was surprising to Valve, whom Le described as having expected "everyone to jump over from the older version". To him, the differences between the games felt "very subtle".

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

For example, a number of Counter-Strike maps have remained fundamentally unchanged throughout the different versions of the game.

"But a lot of the hardcore players, they feel that it's a night and day difference." He said. Le described the issue as a point of frustration for Valve, who subsequently approached development of the follow-up game, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, in a different light.

"I think Valve got to the point where they were like, 'Yeah, it's impossible to please everybody'." Le said. "So they just focused on making CS: GO as good as a product as they can for whoever chooses to play it."

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive went on to be released in 2012, 13 years after the launch of the original mod. The suitability of the game for competitive play has contributed to its longevity in the esports scene, with it featured most recently in this year's Electronic Sports League (ESL) Intel Extreme Masters Grand Finals held in Katowice. The event saw the best Counter-Strike teams in the world compete for a $250,000 prize pool as a record number of viewers spectated.

Le did not foresee that the series would possess such a long life. "Even five years ago I thought it was going to die out," he admitted. "It's just amazing how much longevity it's shown. But I think all of it is attributed to Valve's involvement in the franchise."

Three iterations of Counter-Strike make it into the top 20 of Valve's current player chart.
Three iterations of Counter-Strike make it into the top 20 of Valve's current player chart.

Although many of the fundamentals of the Counter-Strike games throughout the years, the landscape of the genre has evolved significantly since the game was first released. In comparison to the Call of Duty and Battlefield games, Le dubs Counter-Strike "a simple game".

Speaking about the future of the genre, Le expressed a desire for change in player movement. To him, introducing dynamic movement seemed the most appropriate way for shooters to evolve.

Titanfall exhibits dynamic movement which Le believes will feature in future FPS games.
Titanfall exhibits dynamic movement which Le believes will feature in future FPS games.

"Titanfall for example, it pushes the boundaries in how the player can move and by doing that it allows more diversity in gameplay. I think that's something we'll see more in future games." Le said. Such mechanics have already been explored in the likes of other games such as Warface and Brink.

Fifteen years after the first version of the mod was released, the Counter-Strike series has sold over 25 million copies, spawned several different successful iterations, and established itself as a core title in competitive gaming. While the first-person shooter genre has shifted dramatically away from what it was 15 years ago, Counter-Strike still retains a strong user base--a testament to the timeless relevance of the game.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com


Zorine Te

Zorine “harli” Te is an editor based in GameSpot's Australian office. She wants to save the world.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Back To Top
129 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

Avatar image for bmnnnn

a good old game....

Avatar image for oldbluekid

Nobody will understand, not even the developers, nobody except those of us who have played at least 2000 plus hours of Counter-Strike version 1.6 or below, but we are legion, so there is still hope for the building of a new paradise.

Avatar image for gundamalt

comes with your own holodeck

Avatar image for gundamalt

price 20,000,000 credits

Avatar image for gundamalt

Half life 3 2025 put your pre order in now

Avatar image for deactivated-5a78c2afc0b10

Half life 3 confirmed. I'm not even joking just Google it.

Avatar image for Maverick6585

I have CS:GO but never got into it. I can appreciate the skill needed to do well in these games, but I prefer Battlefield for a multiplayer FPS.

Avatar image for snakebite6x6x6

<< LINK REMOVED >> I started playing CS in 1999, but I put the most hours into CS 1.5.

I stopped playing CS:GO when they added "drops".. meh

I still play 1.6 and Source from time to time, and I like the way GO feels... but it has evolved into something that I no longer really enjoy.

Avatar image for grenadehh

16* the first beta came out in 1999.

Avatar image for snakebite6x6x6

It has only been 15 years since 1999.

Avatar image for zorine


It hasn't been 16 years since 1999.

Avatar image for AR4ER

1.6 Forever!!!

Avatar image for grenadehh

<< LINK REMOVED >> 1.6 is terrible.Beta 8 or gtfo.

Avatar image for milkyway2k

I just wish the CS-installments would emphacise more on pure skill-based gameplay. GO is a fun game, but its no 1.6.

Avatar image for tinmann840

I bought it on Steam recently for nostalgia sake. I had it retail back in the day. I installed it a couple of weeks ago but I'm so used to using iron sights now that I can't get back into it.

Avatar image for nazgoroth

What i remember from the original CS is people telling you to get cancer...

So i installed CS:GO today, and in only every second match i've been told to get cancer. So the scumbaggery in this game has gone down 50% of the last what is it 15 years?

My god i hate people sometimes, a voice + anonymity + no risk of punishment = instant asshole

Avatar image for Deamon59

<< LINK REMOVED >> you should have been like: "joke's on you, i already have cancer"

Avatar image for ACMC85

<< LINK REMOVED >> All true. Impunity makes morons talk louder. But, they could be just trolls and I know it could be sensitive to you, but it's kind of a light insult. The fact that it's said often dulls the blade.

Avatar image for naryanrobinson

I *still* can't get the hang of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. It's really frustrating, because it has numerous improvements over Source, but I just can't get half the score I can get in Source, even with it becoming more elitist now as people move to GO.

Avatar image for ACMC85

<< LINK REMOVED >> I really wish I got into CS. I remember buying it though. Got sniped in less than a second, really oft putting and just didn't pick it up again.

Avatar image for Rakou

I LOVE Counter Strike GO. Was the first ever CS title I got to play. It took me a lot of hours to get used to the bullet climb and difficulty and such, but when I got used to it, I had a blast. I still remember sneaking behind the enemy lines and killing the 4 remaining enemies with 1 clip of my AUG. That exhilarating feeling of popping 4 head shots in the space of 2 seconds left me stunned for a few seconds. I felt like "what...the....****"... being utterly surprised in my luck/skill.

I've played almost every single AAA FPS game's multiplayer section, but I've never had the same experience with any of them. I still enjoy the more chilled gameplay of BF4 for a change of pace, though. Just flying an anti-ground and making strafing runs at various vehicles, or just taking a sniper and sneaking at the edges of the map to get behind enemy lines.

That's what I love about the online FPS market these days. Titanfall, COD, BF4 and CS:GO all market for different tastes. You cant compare them, because each of them focus on different aspects.

Avatar image for Draken_Domingo

For me, I'm more than happy to see Counter-Strike still thriving, and I hope to see it stay alive for another decade, hell, forever if possible.

Avatar image for squall_83

I never was a CS fan. I played it a few times, but I dumped hundreds and hundreds of hours into TFC.

Avatar image for bredal187

The biggest problem with maintaining a big community is that FPS games aren't very fun to watch to the audience. The MOBA genre is much more audience friendly which makes the game more suited for professional gaming!

Avatar image for bredal187

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> Tell that to the 32 million viewers that were watching the LoL finals. Of course there's a connection between a large viewer base and popularity.

I'ts the same reason Football is popular in the US and scocer is popular in europe, which are also games you play with your friends!

You're confusing playing Lego with gaming I think!

Avatar image for computerheat

I played CS from the first beta release up through about 2004. I was never particularly good, but had a ton of fun playing it at LANs. Here are the things from CS that make me misty-eyed:

  • Running out of ammo before knives were added. The one player who still had bullets after five minutes would then chase down and execute the remainder of the other team while they impotently waved their empty guns in the air.
  • The amazingly, gloriously bad attempt to add vehicles that the players could drive. Basically, the open-top jeep-thing was the tram from Half-Life, but re-skinned and with some rudimentary steering added. The jeep-things had atrocious collision detection and tended to kill any passenger (ie anyone crouching on top) whenever it turned or accelerated. If that didn't happen, it would typically clip through an object (such as the floor) and insta-gib the entire team.
Avatar image for Gravelord_Nito

CS - Camping Strike :D

Avatar image for kingcrimson24

I was 8 years old back in 2001 and my brother didn't let me play counter :( i just sat there and watched him playing .

Avatar image for Sl4cka

@kingcrimson24 You poor soul :(

Avatar image for nodnarbius

I miss the lan party days of Counter-Strike 1.5 and 1.6. as well as the lan party days of Halo 1 and Halo 2. Those were the days of fps to its immediate rewards. Online can make that happen as well. but, I think almost everyone remembers halo.bungie.org. LAN parties are and still will be the shit. What else can beat going into the next room to the guy that just one fucking pistol shotted you from halfway across the map in bloodgultch!>!!! god damn.... Then in cs 3 or 4 of you would be in the same server and whoever is dead would give out the enemy position and you would be called on being a hacker... cause you just got killed through a wall and grenade from around the corner. days yo, good fucking days.

Avatar image for steaminpotatoes

<< LINK REMOVED >> Dam ghosters :P

Avatar image for anakvunky

I remembered when we can still Bunny-Hopping through the corridor of de_dust..... oh classic....

Avatar image for Pennebaker

I can't believe it's been 15 years. Holy cow. I was pretty much the best player you ever saw back in 2001.

Avatar image for Sl4cka

<< LINK REMOVED >> Maybe in your village.

Avatar image for pez2k_

Shame the article skips the interesting and rather failed Condition Zero and Xbox spinoffs. You could probably write a whole article on the troubled development of CZ (and I think I'm about the only person who enjoys the 'deleted' singleplayer campaign!).

Avatar image for deactivated-597794cd74015


I like "Deleted Scenes" as well. Its surprising people dissed it off so much. Considering it did EXACTLY what Modern Warfare's campaign tried to do.

Avatar image for Apofis_SG-1

Loved CS 1.6 when I was a 15 or so. Always played it with friends, but right now... meh... Theres only screaming kids and even more screaming russians in there anyways. And I dont feel that joy I used to feel when I was younger. I dont even know why I bought CS: GO when it came out. Played it like 5h or so. But I never seen anything so special and so on about CS as others always did and seemed like they will kill you if you say something bad about CS.

Avatar image for jupsto

I love CS but I would like to see a much more realistic version in future, instead of copy pasting game-play each iteration. it is starting to age imo

it was realistic at its creation compared to arcadey quake/unreal. but now CS is the arcadey game compared to PR, arma etc.

Avatar image for Sl4cka

@jupsto Might as well make a completely different game if you are going to change CS, and flip the bird to all the fans. It remains the same because it does NOT age, and it's as good now as it was 15 years ago. If you're bored with it, it's just not your kind of game. Many people have sunken thousands of hours into it, and still find it far more entertaining than a new iteration of cod every year.

Avatar image for t3ero2zero

<< LINK REMOVED >> A super realstic shooter would be you get hit once, your computer dies and then you have to go get a new one.

Avatar image for SpLiTMaN

Gotta love me So CS!!!!!!! and wtf with that last comment....titanfail never invented or created or brouhgt any addition to the manuvaribility everything thats in TF is a mix of crappy hawkens(witch sucks in itself) some crap mirror's edge jumping vanquishe's hight octane movment and then tryed to stuff some weird ass story elements to a game that is MP only....so for the love of god stop saying that titanfail is creative and "New" cuz its as new as the next gen its been made for...witch means outdated out of the box....Live Long And keep at it Valve !!!!!! CS will never die...BOOM HEADSHOT!!!!!