Lessons From 2021: What Did We Learn From Counter-Strike: Global Offensive This Year?

2021 might not have been the year most of us either had planned or wanted to have planned, but it was still undoubtedly marked another important chapter for those involved in the hyper-competitive world of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Valve Corporation’s fourth major entry in the series might have been released back in 2012, but the game has continued to flourish as one of the game’s biggest Esports and saw its stock bloom over the course of the year. 

CS:GO reached one million active concurrent players three times over the course of the year, breaking its player count record with each and every instance, smashed apart its viewership records for non-Major events and was even treated to a huge meta-changing update from Valve themselves at the start of December. 

Here are some of the most interesting stories that we learned in CS:GO over the course of the year. 

Six Man Rosters Are Here To Stay

Burnout and the mental strain of CS:GO’s stacked competitive calendar was one of the biggest learning curves for the game and its community this year, with several pro players taking extended breaks and even leaving the game for good. The post-Coivd online era has led to CS:GO developing one of the most tightly packed series of events the game has ever seen, with there being just a week between Dreamhack Masters, the BLAST Fall Finals and the IEM Global Finals during the opening of December, for example. 

It’s obviously great for the fans having so much Counter-Strike to sink their teeth into, however there’s no denying the impact playing at such a high level can have on a pro player. 

In response to this, one of the things the CS:GO world has seen develop is the emergence of six man rosters, as opposed to the traditional five, for certain orgs to call upon. Six man rosters allow sides to substitute their players in and out inbetween maps and the world’s three best teams, Vitality, NatusVincere and Astralis have all brought in a sixth player over the course of the year. 

Team Vitality have been the biggest advocates of the six man roster in the second half of the year, bringing in Nivera to play on Nuke, Inferno and Dust 2 and subbing in for Shox and Misutaaa. Not only does this lessen the burden on each player in the active roster, but allows for more intricate and player-specific tactics to be developed in greater detail, and the results have already seen Vitality climb from being the game’s resident bottlejobs, to absolutely dominant in the CS:GO betting markets and victors at the BLAST Fall Finals and Intel Extreme Masters: Beijing Online. 

Where Have All The Maps Gone? 

CS:GO has always had seven maps active in the competitive pool for the pros to play on, though the discussion of how active Valve and tournament organisers are in rotating these maps in and out of the meta has always been a hotly debated one. Too many map rotations lowers the skill ceiling of the game with fewer strategies on show, however not enough changes in the map pool can make the game feel stale for pros and viewers alike. 

March 2019 was the last time CS:GO’s map pool had a refresh, with Vertigo replacing Cache. Whilst Vertigo has pretty much been at the absolute bottom of the barrel in terms of popularity with the pros since it came in, the likes of Overpass, Dust II and Train have all come into the pool over the past few years and had periods where they’ve changed things up with certain teams such as Fnatic, Ninjas in Pyjamas and Mousesports all having sustained periods of specialising on them. 

However, 2021’s online era has really teams revert back to the bog standard forms of Counter-Strike, which is reflective in the original three maps of Mirage, Inferno and Nuke all nailing themselves down as the go-to choices for the year. Inferno is still CS:GO’s most popular map pick in competitive play with 2,538 plays, Mirage is second with 2,261 and Nuke is in third with 2,182 picks over the course of the year. 

Dust II, another one of CS:GO’s most famous maps having been present in the series in some form since the very beginning with Counter-Strike 1.6, is in third place with 2,096 plays in the year’s competitive matches.