Why 2014 is the year of ‘Counter-Strike’

Earlier today, Polish Counter-Strike team Virtus Pro earned $100,000 and the gold medal in the EMS Major Series One

Earlier today, Polish Counter-Strike team Virtus Pro earned $100,000 and the gold medal in the EMS Major Series One. The match, against Swedish side Ninjas in Pyjamas, was played in front of a raucous home crowd in the city of Katowice, Poland.

The players, the capacity crowd of 11,500, and the thousands playing the game around the world know it: 2014 is the year of Counter-Strike.

The last round of the championship match between the Polish squad Virtus Pro and the Swedish club Ninjas in Pyjamas.

Coming up on its 15th birthday, the iconic first person shooter franchise has emphatically re-entered the top tier of global esports alongside competitive gaming’s most formidible heavyweights: League of Legends and Dota 2Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, released in 2012, has been ascendant since late last year, when 145,000 concurrent viewers watched the finals to the DreamHack Winter tournament in December.

But the ESL Major Series One championships in Katowice, Poland has topped DreamHack in almost every quantifiable way. The streams topped out at over 250,000 concurrent viewers while the game itself had over 160,000 players at once, both records emblematic of the power of a great tournament to bring a game to a new plateau.

 Screengrab via SteamCharts.com

What might be even more impressive than the latest record-breaking numbers is the steady and sure rise in Counter-Strike player numbers seen pretty much month after month. Players are also delighted that Valve, the game’s publisher, has been constantly responding to feedback and improving the game, turning what was once merely a good game into something great.

For a franchise that was once split nearly fatally between various titles, the reunification seen under Global Offensive has triggered a Counter-Strike renaissance and a new golden age for the best tactical shooter of all time.

It was only fitting that a brilliant championship weekend for the game ended with the hometown heroes taking the game’s biggest prize. Virtus Pro actually follows in the footsteps of Sweden’s Fnatic, who took home gold at last year’s DreamHack in front of a Swedish crowd. Both teams entered the finals as underdogs and then defeated Ninjas in Pyjamas, the game’s all-time most successful squad.

Michal “Carmac” Blicharz, the manager of the Intel Extreme Masters, has dedicated himself to bringing more great esports events to his home country of Poland. This weekend’s events represent a new crowning achievement in that regard. Outside of Counter-Strike, his event reached its highest ever concurrent viewership with 481,000 watching League of Legends, which remains far and away the most popular esport on the planet.

Photo via ESLGaming