Skip to content

Is Counter-Strike free or paid?

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) is now completely free to download and play. However, this hugely popular multiplayer first-person shooter from Valve actually started life as a paid-for game when it launched on Steam back in 2012.

So when and why did CS:GO go free? And what do you get with the free version compared to paying for upgrades? This in-depth guide will explain all you need to know.

The Evolution of CS:GO‘s Pricing

Let‘s start at the beginning. Here‘s a quick history of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive‘s pricing on Steam:

  • August 21, 2012 – CS:GO releases on Steam for $14.99.
  • Late 2016 – Price is reduced to $9.99.
  • December 6, 2018 – CS:GO goes completely free to play.

So for over 6 years, CS:GO was a premium paid title on Steam. But in December 2018, Valve made the pivotal decision to transition it to a free-to-play (F2P) model.

This ushered in a new era for the game and opened it up to a much broader audience. Let‘s discuss why Valve might have made this change.

Why Did CS:GO Go Free-to-Play?

There were likely a few key reasons behind Valve‘s decision to make CS:GO a F2P title:

  • Compete with Fortnite – At the end of 2018, Fortnite was dominating the gaming world. Its free battle royale mode was insanely popular. Making CS:GO free helped it compete for players‘ time.
  • Draw in new players – A $15 paywall on Steam limited CS:GO‘s player base potential. Going F2P opened the floodgates to millions of new users.
  • Promote Danger Zone – Valve launched Danger Zone, a battle royale mode, alongside the F2P shift. This attracted droves of BR fans.

CS:GO Danger Zone

The timing of these strategic factors made December 2018 the perfect opportunity to flip CS:GO‘s business model. The results speak for themselves – CS:GO climbed to over 20 million monthly players in 2019.

What‘s Free in CS:GO?

The entire core CS:GO experience is now completely free, including:

  • Online multiplayer
  • Competitive matchmaking
  • Game modes like classic defuse and Danger Zone
  • Accumulating XP and ranking up
  • Earning random skin drops

You can install and play CS:GO endlessly without ever paying a dime. This allows you to enjoy everything from casual matches to ranked competitive queues.

However, free accounts do have some restrictions:

  • Limited inventory space (50 item slots)
  • No access to rare special cosmetic items
  • No ability to trade or sell skins on the Steam Marketplace
  • Need to upgrade for Prime Matchmaking

As you can see, you miss out on some features, but nothing that impacts core gameplay. Let‘s look at Prime status.

Upgrading to Prime

Players can upgrade to CS:GO Prime Status for $14.99. This gives you:

  • Prime Matchmaking system
  • Unlimited storage space
  • Access to rare cosmetic items
  • Ability to participate on the Steam Market

Prime matches you with other Prime members for supposedly better games. The unlimited inventory is also a huge perk.

However, you can still enjoy all of CS:GO‘s core gameplay free of charge. Prime mainly enhances the experience for hardcore players.

Has CS:GO Always Been Free?

No, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive was not originally a free game. As mentioned earlier, it launched as a paid title costing $15 on Steam back in August 2012.

For over 6 years, CS:GO remained a premium game. During this period it cultivated a loyal player base of tens of millions.

It wasn‘t until December 2018 that Valve transitioned CS:GO to its current free-to-play model. So while CS:GO is free in 2022, that has only been the case for the past 4 years.

Monthly Active Users Before and After Going F2P

Let‘s take a look at how going free-to-play impacted CS:GO‘s player count and popularity:

YearMonthly Active UsersNotes
201611 millionGame peaked at 850,000 concurrent players
2018 (November)14 millionLast month before going F2P
201922 millionPeak of 1.2 million concurrent players
202215-20 millionCurrently still very popular

As you can see, going free-to-play allowed CS:GO to surge in popularity, going from 14 million to 22 million monthly players. The game is still thriving today.

Will CS:GO Ever Go Back to Paid?

Now that CS:GO has gone free-to-play, it seems unlikely that Valve would ever revert it back to being a paid game.

Making CS:GO free has vastly expanded its player base. It has made matchmaking easier with more concurrent players. And it has allowed the game to remain highly relevant despite competition from Fortnite and Valorant.

Based on CS:GO‘s continued success and dominance as a top F2P shooter, Valve will almost certainly keep it free for the foreseeable future.

However, they may consider charging players for access to certain new modes or features added down the road. But the core CS:GO experience will most likely remain 100% free.

How Does CS:GO Make Money as a Free Game?

You may be wondering – if Counter-Strike is free, how does Valve make money from it? CS:GO has monetized successfully as a F2P title in a few key ways:

  • Prime Upgrades – Players can purchase Prime Status for $15.
  • Skin Economy – Users buy and sell cosmetic skins, with Valve taking a 15% cut of each transaction.
  • In-Game Store – Valve sells new cosmetic items directly through in-client microtransactions.

The Prime membership and huge cosmetic skin economy have been highly lucrative for Valve. CS:GO reportedly generates hundreds of millions in revenue annually.

So even as a F2P game, Valve has crafted several healthy money-making systems that provide value to players.

Should You Play CS:GO in 2022?

If you‘ve never tried CS:GO, now is a great time to give it a shot since the core game is completely free. It‘s remained one of the most popular competitive FPS games on PC 8 years after release.

The mechanics are finely tuned and skill-based, with most weapons requiring pinpoint aim. Matches are fast-paced and adrenaline-pumping. And landing clutch plays or crazy shots feels incredibly rewarding.

On top of that, Valve frequently updates CS:GO with new maps, skins, and balance changes. The game feels remarkably fresh year after year.

So if you‘re looking for a top-tier competitive shooter to dive into in 2022, CS:GO is a stellar choice, especially considering there‘s no barrier to entry anymore now that it‘s free.

Just know that you may want to eventually upgrade to Prime status if you get deep into CS:GO. But you can sink hundreds of hours into the free version alone.

The Bottom Line

Is Counter-Strike: Global Offensive free? In 2022, yes it is completely free to download and play. You can enjoy endless online matches without spending a dime.

However, CS:GO was originally released as a paid game in 2012. It only went free-to-play in late 2018 to boost popularity.

Going free caused a massive surge in CS:GO‘s player count. It remains one of the most played shooters today with 15-20 million monthly active users.

While completely free, CS:GO does offer a Prime upgrade that unlocks additional features and perks for $15. But Prime is optional, and you can enjoy the full core gameplay for free.

So if you‘ve yet to try this legendary competitive FPS, now is the perfect time to download CS:GO since the barrier to entry has been removed. It offers endless hours of free entertainment for shooter fans.



Michael Reddy is a tech enthusiast, entertainment buff, and avid traveler who loves exploring Linux and sharing unique insights with readers.