Just a few weapons dominate Counter-Strike. It’s such an accepted truism that it might as well be written in stone. Ever since its release 20 years ago, the story of Counter-Strike has been told with a vocabulary of a handful of rifles.
Any CS:GO player could intuitively tell you that three weapons rule the roost. The AK-47, the AWP, and the M4A4 (plus its silenced version). That’s backed up by the data — HLTV reports that 76.5% of all kills are from just these weapons. In fact, the AK-47 makes up almost 40% of all gun kills in the game:
There’s a good reason for that. The AK is cheap, and its first shot will fly to the centre of your crosshair, no matter the range. An AK headshot always kills — which has prevented many from “upgrading” to the SG.
On the CT side, there’s no equivalent guarantee from the M4A4. But to say buying the M4 was a “trend” is an understatement. The M4 was the CT rifle. There was an old saying in IT, “Nobody ever got fired for buying an IBM.” The mentality in Counter-Strike was the same — who wants to risk ridicule experimenting with new weapons in competitive play?
After almost two decades of this, mapmakers had gotten used to designing their corners, angles, and lines of sight around this status quo. So towards the end of 2018, when Valve decided to tinker with weapon pricing, the stage was already set for Counter-Terrorists to upheave their style of play. It’s just that none of us knew it yet.
On October 9th of last year, Valve reduced the price of the Steyr Aug by $150. That put it at just $50 more than the M4. The invitation was clear — if you’ve got enough money for an M4, why not use the more expensive weapon? Why not at least give it a try? On paper, it certainly seems fine.
The Aug does more damage, has more armour penetration, and can zoom. Unlike the M4, it does have the potential to one-shot an enemy with a headshot, although that’s only at very close range. Pro players started picking it up, and before long, their success was swelling CT win rates in major competitions.
Ropz of Mouseports told us with the Aug, “long range duels are three times easier” than with the M4, and he prioritises it on long range maps like Mirage or Train.
There’s the inconvenience of learning a new recoil pattern of course, compounded by the years of practice put into holding that M4 barrel down. But most top players actually told us they found the Aug recoil pattern easier to keep in check.
“The Aug recoil is easy,” said Aaron ‘AZR’ Ward of the Renegades. “It’s like shooting a laser beam. Whereas with the SG, it’s harder to control the recoil.”
It didn’t take Valve long to raise the price back to normal, but the genie was out of the bottle. Aug use didn’t slow down. Players had already dubbed this the “Aug meta.”
Below you can see pro players’ gradual shift to the Aug, even after the price was brought back to its lofty starting point.
It usually takes a bit of time for a new meta to filter down from the pro scene to casual play. Your everyday Counter-Striker isn’t practicing recoil patterns every day, and will learn the “feel” of the Aug slower.
But in a landscape where changes are few and far between, pro players have been incredibly quick to learn what the Aug is capable of. And even your average weekend warrior will wonder how easily they can hold angles when they see pro plays like this:
The Larger Effect on the Game
A meta shift is fun and interesting, and these days there’s no shortage of highlights of a CT downing three attackers while holding an angle. But statistically, the Aug is bad news for CS:GO. With seemingly no learning curve, as soon as pro players picked up the Aug, we saw a drastic rise in CT win rates.
We averaged the CT win rates from the major tournaments before and after the prices changes, and the results are stark:
So why is the Aug having such a drastic effect?
This goes far beyond killing quicker, and changes how angles and lines of sight are thought of.
“The Aug is definitely overpowered right now,” AZR told us. “It’s actually ridiculous to be honest. It’s so strong that it’s made most of the maps more CT side now.”
“It kind of messed with the importance of the AWP,” according to ChrisJ of Mousesports. “Because there are certain positions where you’ll use an aug now where before you’d only play effectively with an AWP. It’s not that I think it’s super unplayable or unfair, it’s just almost an autosniper for half the price.”
“Now I think the game is more strat based,” said Frozen from Mousesports. “You can’t just go and peek. If he’s sitting, and holding, you’re going to die definitely. It’s not that easy to peek doors now. And in the new economic system you can’t die that much, so it’s more strat based now.”
With such a change in how CTs are defending maps, that means Terrorists have to think differently about how they attack. At IEM Sydney, we saw teams buying Augs in the 2nd round. Patrik ‘Forest’ Lindberg of NiP believes in the right hands, there’s not much you can do against it.
“I definitely believe the Aug changed a lot of maps and how they were played. It’s shifted the meta in how you approach the T side.”
“For example on Nuke, with the windows, people are playing cat or under heaven with augs. Before, people wouldn’t take duels there with M4. Long range duels against an AK. Because an AK would one-shot you, but with M4 you would need to double-dink, which is harder. But now people play aug and the AK is less favourable in that duel. There are a lot of new duels that you need to get used to.”
“It’s changed the way you play,” said AZR. “Terrorists can’t really do contact plays anymore. Like if you have teammates around Dust 2, faking things, and you have three people in the long hut, getting ready to run out. An Aug can sit on the corner on the other side and just spray people down. With an M4, they’d be too scared to take that line.”
It’s a situation which has caused the balance of actual maps to come into question.
Christopher ‘Get_Right’ Alesund of NiP explained to us how the aug changes a long range map like Train. “If you hold Ivy, before, you’re usually taking in information, smoking them off, molotoving them off, and making the time go, so they can’t attack from Ivy kinda fast. Now you can sit wide open with an aug and take the duel when the Ts come with a set strat and start throwing all the nades and whatnot because you know you have a gun where if you hit the head they’re on 1HP, and you just need one more bullet. Because you are zooming in and you can see the models closer.”
The B site on Train, with its long lines of sight, is another perfect example. You’d still rather have an AWP, but you can sit a lot farther back with the aug than with the M4.
Hiding in Plain Sights
Perhaps the most hard to believe part about the new Aug meta is that the weapon was always there. For almost 20 years(!) the Aug remained a niche, almost novelty weapon. A small price tweak almost gave players a “reason” to step outside the rifle paradigm. The change was reversed, but once players found it, CS:GO‘s meta was forever changed.
Valve has recently changed the Aug, but will no doubt be monitoring it closely for future tweaks. The recent change is technically a nerf, in that it slows the rate of fire. But this has had the added effect of allowing the recoil more time to reset.
While crouching and zoomed, the weapon is unaffected by the recent change. It’s a move that takes away some of its versatility, but doesn’t affect the issue of players shutting down angles with a zoomed Aug.
“I am expecting some balance changes, maybe just the rate of fire, or the amount of bullets in the gun, or they might raise the price again,” according to Tyler ‘Tucks’ Reilly of the Chiefs.
“I think even if you put it up to $3600, people would still be using it,” said AZR.
It’s quite possible we’ll see something more strongly resembling an Aug nerf in CS:GO. If CTs are taking sniper angles in the 2nd round and smashing buy rounds for half the price, that fundamentally changes map balance. It means every mid-to-long range corner is more CT-friendly than we reckoned in a pre-Aug world.
Despite all the fuss, many veteran players feel like change – any change – is good for the game.
“It’s really nice to see a meta change,” said Guardian from Faze. “I’m happy Valve are changing things.”
“I like it. It’s fun,” Frozen told us. “I’m up for changes, I’ve been playing the game for far too many years. So change is good.”
Valve’s Helping Hand
The most interesting part of the Aug meta is what it reveals about a huge community of players who failed to find it first. Analyses, tests, reviews, all of these were done by community leaders, Youtubers, and commentators. All of them missed the Aug. One wonders how much mob mentality and the “safe” option plays into decision making at all levels of the game. Even in casual play, your teammates might get cranky if they see you buying the “weak” weapon. But on the pro stage, the blowback can be fiercer. Imagine if the gamble didn’t work?
“It’s really interesting and weird that it happened that way,” according to Fredrik ‘REZ’ Sterner. “I think there’re a lot of hidden things in the game we don’t know about because we’re so tunnel-visioned.”
Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM, they say. And even if the M4A4 isn’t the best option, no one will fault you for buying it. How many top players were clued into the Aug but didn’t want to go against the grain?
We strongly suspect someone savvy with the analytics at Valve implemented the price change as a nudge, or a “hint,” to help the community realise they were missing something powerful. With the best players in the world accessible to us, what do they think the next OP weapon to be “discovered” will be?
Will we see a loadout of Novas, Negevs, and SGs at the next Major? Currently in ESL One Cologne, we’re seeing the Krieg used a lot more. After a two-decade status quo was proven wrong, we just might see more experimentation in the future. Valve, please don’t fix.