Beginner’s Guide to CS:GO

by Kalena
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So you’re interested in playing CS:GO? From its humble beginnings as a Half Life mod, the Counter Strike series has grown into a worldwide phenomenon with a wide playerbase and thriving professional scene. However, getting into a game that’s this well-known and well-loved can seem like a daunting task. Here is a basic beginner’s guide to the game, broken down into 10 simple questions and answers. Hope to see you playing soon!

1: What is CS:GO?

CS:GO, or Counter Strike: Global Offensive, is the newest iteration of the famous Counter Strike series. It’s a first person shooter (FPS) game that requires quick reflexes, mechanical skills, teamwork, and map knowledge. The main game mode consists of two teams, Terrorists (or T-side) and Counter-Terrorists (or CT-side), of five players each (you can read about other game modes in question 4). Games are played on a map from a set pool. Each map has two bomb sites, A and B. Each competitive match is 30 rounds, and the highest score out of the 30 rounds wins (a 15-15 tie is possible). 15 rounds into a match, each team will switch sides (Terrorists become Counter-Terrorists and vice versa). 

The Terrorists can win a round in 2 ways:

  1. Kill all the Counter Terrorists.
  2. Plant the bomb on site A or B, and have the bomb successfully detonate. 

The Counter-Terrorists can win a round 3 ways:

  1. Kill all the Terrorists.
  2. Successfully defuse a planted bomb before it detonates.
  3. Keep the Terrorists from planting the bomb before the initial time runs out (1 minute 55 seconds). 

Once a bomb has been planted on a site, CTs have 40 seconds to defuse the bomb. It takes a CT 10 seconds to defuse a bomb. However, a defusal kit can be purchased at the start of a round for $400 which lowers this time to 5 seconds. 

CS:GO boasts very positive reviews on the Steam store

2: How do I get started?

While technically it is playable on consoles, it’s generally accepted that CS:GO is a PC game. It is available for free on Steam. As with most FPSs, you’ll want to use a mouse and keyboard. While having a gaming PC is ideal, CS can run on most laptops. 

If you’re running CS:GO on a laptop or older device, you’ll want to go into settings and lower the graphics so you can run the game at a decent FPS (frames per second) rate. 40 is the ideal minimum you’ll want for competitive play, but if you’re getting less than that, you can still make it work. Since Counter Strike is a game of split-second reactions, a high FPS rate will do a lot for you. 

Skins in CS:GO are only cosmetic, and don’t affect game play

3: What do I need to buy?

The game itself is free to play, but there is also the option to buy “Prime Status”. Prime Status costs $14.99 USD and allows you to be paired with other players who have Prime Status in games. This also allows players to receive exclusive item drops. If you’re only planning on playing casually then Prime Status may not be worth it for you. However, if you are planning on playing more competitively, getting Prime Status is a key step

Why? With Prime Status, you’ll encounter fewer cheaters and smurfs. Most cheaters and smurfs won’t pay for Prime on their cheat/smurf accounts, so you lower the risk of encountering them. 

That’s all you need to get started with CS:GO. Of course, if you like a nice aesthetic, you can buy weapon and character skins, but those are purely cosmetic and don’t affect gameplay at all. 

If you want some extra missions/objectives to do, Operation Shattered Web just released and offers rewards for completing weekly missions. The Operation Shattered Web pass costs $14.99 USD. 

The Danger Zone mode offers a different experience from classic competitive

4: What game mode should I start with?

If you’ve never touched CS:GO before, the best thing to start with is the Training Course. This will give you a basic understanding of the game’s controls. After this, jumping on a Casual server will help you familiarize yourself with maps, gameplay, and mechanics. When you feel okay about gameplay, try a competitive match and see how you like it. There are quite a few CS game modes; here is a brief description of each one and what it offers. 

  • Competitive: This is the classic CS game mode, 5v5, 30 rounds. This is what most people play and offers a lot of strategic play. Each game lasts around 40 minutes. 
  • Wingman: This is a scaled-down version of the competitive format. It is a 2v2 15-round game played with only one bombsite and on much smaller versions of the classic maps. This mode is great if you don’t want to commit to a 40 minute game or only have one friend to play with. 
  • Casual: This is where you go when you’re figuring out how to play the game. This mode is 10v10, 15 rounds, and can be played on defusal or hostage maps (in hostage mode, instead of defusing a bomb, CTs must rescue a hostage that the Ts are defending). This mode is also great if competitive seems too stressful or difficult for you. 
  • Deathmatch: This is where you go to practice. A match of this mode lasts 10 minutes and is all about getting kills. Each time you die, you respawn a few seconds later in a random place on the map with armor. You can pick any weapon when you respawn or just keep the one you died with. Unlike other CS modes, there is virtually no teamwork; everyone is just running around getting kills. This is a great way to practice with different weapons
  • War Games: This is another casual mode where you can practice with new weapons. This mode has 3 sub-modes: Arms Race, Demolition, and Flying Scoutsman. Each mode has a different setup, but all are rather casual in nature and allow players to see different maps and different ways of playing
  • Danger Zone: This is CS:GO’s battle royale mode. Danger Zone features maps and special items only available in this mode. It can be played in solos or duos. Like any battle royale, it’s the last player (or duo) standing that wins. 
  • Practice with Bots: This option is for those who want to practice against AI instead of real players. This can be used to play offline, to get to know a map better, improve general skills, or to practice utility use. 
Workshop maps can help train you in each weapon’s spray pattern

5: What are spray patterns?

CS:GO is rather unique for its use of spray patterns. Most shooting games have some mechanic for the spray of an automatic weapon (when you hold down the fire button). Some have the gun recoil upwards (so the player must counteract this by pulling down on the cross-hair), and some have a random pattern. In CS:GO, each weapon has a unique pattern that it will follow as it is fired rapidly. 

In order to counteract this spray and improve accuracy, players have 2 options:

  1. Learn the spray patterns for weapons. This is done with practice, practice, practice. There are great workshop maps for this, like Recoil Master – Spray Training. If you don’t want to learn the exact pattern for each gun, pulling down as you spray is a good rule of thumb to help maintain accuracy. 
  2. Tap instead of spraying. Firing one to two bullets at a time helps to maintain accuracy without having to bother with spray patterns. This is usually the method preferred by beginners
The buy menu, accessed by pressing “B”

6: What weapons are available in CS:GO?

Players always spawn with a basic pistol and knife, but weapons beyond this are available for purchase at the beginning of each round. The amount of money each player gets at the beginning of the round can be increased based on whether they planted the bomb, got kills, or have lost a few rounds in a row. You can also pick up weapons from dead players in a round. Different weapons have different pros and cons. Here is a quick breakdown of each weapon type.

  • Pistols: these lightweight and cheap weapons have good accuracy and can be fired while running without losing too much accuracy. Most will take many shots to kill a player. However, the Desert Eagle, a player favorite, can kill any player in one headshot
  • Heavy: these weapons are much less used on the competitive scene. Several shotguns, which do a lot of damage close range but have a very slow fire rate, appear in this section. Heavy machine guns also appear here, having a very quick fire rate and large magazine but doing relatively low damage while greatly reducing movement speed. 
  • SMGs: SMGs, or sub-machine guns, are a good compromise between automatic rifles and pistols. These automatic weapons are especially useful for close-range combat and can be fired while moving without losing too much accuracy. 
  • Rifles: these are the bread and butter of any competitive player. Mastering the AK-47 (only available on T-side) and the M4A4 (only available on CT-side) is a key skill in CS. These rifles do a lot of damage at long or short distances but cost more than SMGs. Sniper rifles such as the famous AWP are also included in this category. This weapon features a scope with 2 zooms, and will kill a player in one shot to anywhere on the body. It’s a beast at long range but is not practical at short range. 
  • Gear: in this section you’ll find body armor, helmets, and defuse kits (for CTs). Buying body armor and a helmet is a must in any round where you’re buying weapons. Additionally, buying at least one defuse kit is key for a CT team, as it cuts the bomb defuse time in half.
  • Grenades: there are 5 types of grenades available in the game: molotovs/incendiary grenades, smoke grenades, flash grenades, HE grenades, and decoy grenades. To get to know how each works, it’s best to test it out in a casual or Bot match. Each player can carry a maximum of 4 grenades and only one of each kind except for flash grenades (which you can carry 2 of). 
Knowing how and when to use utility is key in Competitive CS

7: How can I improve?

So you’ve played CS a bit, know your way around, and now want to start upping your game. Here are a few key points to focus on when improving your Counter Strike skills. 

  • Utility usage: Knowing strategic smokes and molotovs is key in competitive play. There are plenty of YouTube tutorials on utility tips for each map, and these can be very helpful. Many beginner players struggle with utility use, especially flash grenades, so nailing this skill can help your game improve a lot. 
  • Headshots: CS:GO is a game where headshots really matter. Most beginning players aim to the chest of players, since its a bigger target zone that’s easier to hit. However, headshots do a lot more damage than body shots, and learning to aim for the head is key. Practicing on aim workshop maps (like Aim Botz – Training) or in Deathmatch can help hone this skill. 
  • Spray Patterns: Figuring out the spray patterns, at least for the most-used weapons like the SG553, AK-47, M4A4 and AUG is a stumbling block for a lot of players. Aim workshop maps that specifically show you the patterns of each weapon are extremely helpful. With sprays, it really just takes a lot of practice to get this mechanical skill to be a habit. 
  • Map Knowledge: Knowing map callouts, hiding places, and angles is key to competitive play. This really just comes with experience and practice. Focusing on only playing a couple maps instead of the whole map pool can help you to avoid feeling overwhelmed. 
  • Team Tactics: Counter Strike is a game where teamwork is extremely important. Learning how to communicate with your team, make callouts, and support where you’re needed is essential. If you can, play with a consistent squad or group of friends, but even if you’re stuck solo-queuing for games, practice using voice comms and being a helpful teammate. 
  • Economy Knowledge: Surprising to many beginners, you shouldn’t buy weapons every round. Some “eco” rounds are necessary to save money for a full buy in subsequent rounds. Understanding loss bonuses and buying strats can be very helpful and can help avoid embarrassing mis-buys. 
Buying Prime can help you avoid cheaters

8: How can I deal with cheaters?

If you’ve heard much about CS, you’ve likely heard people complain about cheaters. Unfortunately, cheating does exist in CS, (such as aim or wall hacking) but there are some ways to reduce the chances of playing against cheaters. As mentioned before, buying Prime Status is a key step in avoiding cheaters. If you encounter cheaters or griefers, you have the ability to report them by right clicking on their name on the in-game stats board. 

There is another mechanic you should know about in CS:GO called “trust factor”. If you abandon games consistently, get reported often, or have a new Steam account, you’re likely to have a lower trust factor. Players with low trust factor will be matched with other low trust factor players. The exact parameters of trust factor are unknown, but if you avoid cheating or being a toxic player yourself, you should remain in the high trust factor arena.

Bottom line: cheating happens sometimes. Valve takes steps to avoid it, but it can still happen. Don’t, however, be someone who is constantly looking for cheaters or calling out cheaters one round into a match. Some players are just good. 

The ranking system for Competitive and Wingman

9: What are ranks?

If you’ve played a bit, you may notice a rank appear under your name. In CS:GO, there are 3 different ranks based on the game mode. Ranks are mutually exclusive; playing Wingman won’t affect your Competitive rank. 

  • Competitive rank (from Silver I to The Global Elite)
  • Wingman rank (from Silver I to The Global Elite)
  • Danger Zone rank (from Lab Rat 1 to The Howling Alpha)

Ranks are based on how many wins vs losses you have, how many kills you get per game, and other factors. A player can up-rank as well as de-rank. About 50% of the competitive player base resides in the Silver ranks (Silver 1 to Silver Elite Master). When you’re starting out, you shouldn’t be concerned with ranks. Try your best to improve your aim, gameplay, and teamwork, and the ranks will come naturally. 

Astralis wins the last CS:GO Major in Berlin

10: What is professional CS:GO?

CS:GO has a thriving professional scene that showcases a high level of talent around the world. Players earn full salaries, and the prize pools for events are enviable. The two biggest events of the year are the Majors, which Valve sponsors with a $1,000,000 USD prize pool each. Needless to say, these and other events throughout the year are exciting and much-anticipated. Beyond the fun, watching professional matches can also give you great ideas for your own strats and gameplay. Pick a professional team to follow, and tune into some events. You may learn more than you’d expect. 

If you have any more basic questions about CS:GO you’d like answered, post them in the comments below, and stay tuned for more CS news. Good luck, and hope to see you on the servers!

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