Counter-Strike’s map pool set for another shakeup

One of the defining features of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is its pool of varied maps

One of the defining features of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is its pool of varied maps. Now, that pool seems in for another shakeup.

Each map in Counter-Strike offers a different take on the game. Some lean more towards offensive or defensive play, and each has its own individual flavor. Traditionally, when a map skews too far in one direction, it’s at risk of getting removed from competitive play.

This is something that dates back to the days of the original Counter-Strike, when maps like Prodigy and Aztec, dramatically imbalanced in favor of the defending counter-terrorist side, were phased out of league competition.

In Global Offensive, developer Valve has proven willing to rework maps deemed imbalanced, even if they have long been pillars of the competitive Counter-Strike scene. Train, a staple of competitive map pools dating back to the original version of Counter-Strike, was removed by Valve and given a complete overhaul.

Earlier in 2014, Valve introduced two new maps to the competitive rotation shortly before the staging of a major: Cobblestone, an updated version of the legacy Counter-Strike map Cbble, and Overpass, an entirely new map. Since their introduction, both have seen numerous changes, including some earlier this year meant to improve balance and provide more options for attacking terrorist teams.

Now, Valve looks to have another big change in store for a map pool that once went unchanged for years.

Many have long clamored for the map Nuke the same way these other imbalanced Counter-Strike maps have. While Nuke has always favored the defending side, the current state of competitive play has seen that one-sidedness taken to new heights on the biggest stages. ESL Katowice notably featured two matches in which teams came back from 13-2 halftime deficits after playing as the attacking terrorists with 14-1 defensive sides. What should have been dramatic comebacks instead felt like a waiting game for fans and spectators.

The quarterfinal series between domestic favorites Virtus Pro and upstart Brazilian side Keyd Stars was probably the most disappointing. After Keyd managed a second game upset to send the series to a third and decisive map, Virtus Pro drew the counter-terrorist side of Nuke and proceeded to roll over Keyd Stars 14-1. A quick pistol round win to start the second half sealed the match, which quickly ended 16-1.

It may not be a coincidence that, soon after the tournament, Valve announced it would remove Nuke from the “Active Duty” pool maps used in the game’s online matchmaking service, replacing it with the reworked version of Train. It seemed a prelude to a broader switch, should the new version of Train prove acceptable after thorough playtesting by players around the world.

And not everyone is waiting for Valve to make the move official. Swedish esports organization Fragbite soon announced that the next edition of its professional Counter-Strike league competition, Fragbite Masters, would feature the reworked Train in the map pool rather than Nuke.

As Counter-Strike: Global Offensive continues to grow in popularity, Valve has made a point of establishing a new standard for the game’s maps. Once seen as tried, true, and untouchable, they are now all fair game. Stalwarts such as Nuke and Train are just as liable to receive major overhauls as any casually played map, and entirely new additions are to be expected, whether the community is receptive to them or not.

Its a more fluid and dynamic system. There are still questions that need to be answered, like whether Valve is open to adding popular community maps Season or Tuscan to major tournament play. But knowing Valve, answers are likely to come whenever the developer feels like giving them, not when fans ask for them.

Screengrab via HattonGames/YouTube