At one point, Counter-Strike 1.6 was the most popular game on the Internet. Released in 1999, it was one of the most popular games of its day, surpassing even the Battlefield series, Unreal Tournament 2003 and Quake 3. It was the most popular Half-Life mod. As game developers released the next generation of games, Counter-Strike began to lose popularity despite the massive gaming culture surrounding it. The game had less and less casual players and more and more league players (CAL, CPL, CEVO, CEGL, WCG, OGL, etc.). In 2004, Valve released Counter-Strike: Source, which introduced more casual players to the game, while the seasoned veterans still stayed with Counter-Strike 1.6 and they saw it as the better game. Over time, new players of Counter-Strike: Source improved their game, while some CS1.6 veterans migrated over. Many stopped playing simply due to the fact that they played this game for a long time and just lost interest. A lot of professional teams such as Team3D, compLexity, SK Gaming, and others migrated over to source. As more and more teams migrated over, the popularity of CS1.6 waned. Do people still play Counter-Strike 1.6?
I felt a little bit of nostalgia toward the game, so I opened it up to play a little bit. I played this game for about 8 years on and off (2001 to 2008 inclusive) and participated in a couple leagues such as CAL, CEVO, and CEGL. The last time I played, the community was still pretty strong – I could find a game pretty quickly and play. Not anymore.
Public servers are almost extinct. Most public servers that remain are Romanian. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but there is no point in joining any of these games. They are filled with bots. I looked at the detailed game information and it shows 19 players that all “magically” joined the server at the same time and have been playing for some ridiculous amount of time. Playing 306 hours of Counter-Strike and earning a score of 10000+ is not possible for a human.
Out of curiosity, I joined one of these Romanian servers. It turns out that these servers just redirect me to an actual server where people play. The downside is that these servers are actually in Romania, which means I that pinged > 200 to the server. A minute later I am kicked for going over their ping limit. I still can’t play. At least there still is a community for CS1.6.
Playing pubs seemed out of the option. The next thing I looked at were pugs. I looked at #findscrim and #findringer. I remember people posting in these channels constantly to organize matches. Not anymore. The frequency of posts has definitely decreased dramatically. It was hard enough for me to find a match on the west coast. People living on the east coast and west coast both post in these channels and of course there would be more east coast games happening simply because more people lived there. Now, with less people playing, it is even harder to find a match on the west coast.
Of course, it is normal for a game to reach a peak in popularity and then lose it over time, but I expected Counter-Strike to have a strong player base. In comparison to other games similarly old, such as Day of Defeat (released in 2000) and Team Fortress Classic (released in 1999), they seemed to suffer a similar fate. These games have been reduced to just servers that redirect people to different countries. Why run these servers at all if people will lag on them anyway? If a game is unpopular anymore, it would just have no servers at all. Despite all of that, Counter-Strike was one of the most popular games ever made and it definitely left a mark for many gamers of this generation.