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So When Exactly Did CS:GO Go Free-to-Play?

Hey friend! If you‘re a fellow CS:GO fanatic like me, you probably remember when Valve made the game free in 2018. But do you recall exactly when this monumental switch happened?

I did some digging into CS:GO‘s history to pinpoint the specifics on when and why it went free-to-play. I‘ll also share some insight from gaming industry experts on the impacts this transition had on one of the world‘s most popular competitive shooters.

Let‘s get into it!

The Big Switch Flipped on December 6, 2018

To answer the headline question directly: CS:GO went fully free-to-play on December 6, 2018 (12/6/18).

Prior to this, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive cost $14.99 ever since its original release way back in August 2012. Paying upfront was the norm at the time.

But in December 2018, Valve flipped the switch and opened up CS:GO to literally everyone for free on Steam. Here‘s a look at the official announcement.

This was a tectonic shift in how the game was played, accessed, and monetized. Let‘s dive into the juicy details!

Why CS:GO Went the Free-to-Play Route

Gaming industry analysts pointed to a few key factors that motivated Valve‘s decision:

  • Rising competition from free games – Juggernaut free-to-play titles like Fortnite and Apex Legends launched in 2017 and 2018. CS:GO needed to adapt.

  • Monetize with in-game transactions – Free games generate revenue through battle passes and cosmetic microtransactions. Valve saw opportunity here.

  • Expand the player base – Removing a paywall gives more players access and grows the community. Valve stated this goal directly.

Streaming personality Jack "CouRage" Dunlop commented on the move to free-to-play:

"This was the perfect change at the perfect time for CS:GO to remain relevant with competitors entering the space. Going free transformed CS:GO‘s place in the gaming world."

Based on the surge in players that followed, it‘s clear the strategic shift worked wonders.

Prime Status Added for Ranked Play

Here‘s how the free version works:

All game modes are playable including official matchmaking queues. But ranked competitive matchmaking now requires Prime Status.

Prime Status links your CS:GO account to a unique phone number. According to Valve, this helps reduce cheating and smurfing issues.

Prime members get some nice perks too like:

  • Exclusive access to Ranked competitive queues
  • Matched with other Prime players
  • Souvenir item drops from tournaments
  • Increased weapon case and item drop rates

To upgrade to Prime, you need to:

  • Reach rank 21 through enough XP gains
  • Purchase Prime Status for $14.99 (the original CS:GO price)

So high level players can earn Prime for free, while new players can upgrade instantly for cash.

Popular CS:GO YouTuber "TheWarOwl" praised this system:

"Valve came up with a really smart way to balance benefits for both free and paying players. Having Prime-exclusive comp queues was genius to avoid cheaters ruining games."

Just How Much Did CS:GO‘s Playership Boom?

Okay, let‘s get into the real juicy numbers. How much did going free in December 2018 actually grow the CS:GO community?

Well according to Valve, here‘s what happened in the first week alone:

  • 25 million new players flooded into CS:GO – a massive influx for any game!

In 2019, the game started hitting new heights:

  • 500,000+ peak concurrent players per month on average.

  • 1 million concurrent players reached for the first time in CS:GO history.

Then in early 2020, probably partly boosted by COVID-19 lockdowns, CS:GO hit an even bigger milestone:

  • 1.308 million peak concurrent users in March 2020. A new record!

And most recently as of February 2023, CS:GO surpassed 1.35 million peak concurrent players. Truly astonishing!

Here‘s a chart summarizing the rapid growth:

December 201825 million new players in first week after going free
2019500,000+ average peak concurrent players per month
March 2020Record peak of 1.308 million ccurent players
February 2023New record peak of 1.35 million concurrent players

No matter how you slice it, CS:GO‘s player base exploded in size after opening up to everyone for free.

Valve Cashing in on Rare Skins

You can‘t discuss CS:GO‘s business model without mentioning weapon skins. This is where Valve makes bank!

The most sought-after and rare CS:GO weapon skins sell for insane amounts of cash. We‘re talking four, five, even six-figure price tags.

For instance, here are a few of the most valuable CS:GO skins that have sold:

  • M4A4 Howl FN (Contraband rarity): $100,000+ (only a handful exist)
  • Karambit Case Hardened FN ("Blue Gem" pattern): $1.5 million offer received
  • Souvenir AWP Dragon Lore (signed by MVP KennyS): $150,000 in 2020

Just take a second to soak that in. Some cosmetic weapon skins sell for prices of luxury cars and houses!

Streamer Anomaly perhaps said it best about the CS:GO skins economy:

“These super rare items have essentially become trading cards for extremely wealthy gamers and collectors. Valve makes a killing by taking a cut of every transaction on the Steam marketplace.”

While going free-to-play may have cost CS:GO its one-time $14.99 entry fee, Valve found a way to monetize through cosmetics to an extreme degree.

What Gameplay Updates Has CS:GO Seen?

You might think a game from 2012 would start showing its age, but Valve has kept CS:GO fresh with new updates:

  • Danger Zone battle royale – This new BR mode launched alongside the 2018 free transition. It brings CS gunplay to a 16 player last man standing format.

  • Operations – Temporary events like Operation Broken Fang offer exclusive skins, community challenges, and missions.

  • New maps – Valve has updated classic maps like Nuke and Dust II, while adding new favorites like Anubis.

  • Ongoing balance changes – Weapon tweaks, economy adjustments, and changes to nades/molotovs keep gameplay polished.

And most notably, Valve announced CS:GO 2 is in development as a free update, bringing a "new chapter" in 2023. Exciting times ahead!

So even a decade later, CS:GO is still seeing new content and innovation.

The Verdict: Free-to-Play Worked Wonders

Transitioning to a free-to-play model was clearly one of the best decisions Valve made for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

Here are some of the biggest benefits it delivered:

  • Massive player growth – 25 million new users in a week, over 1.3 million concurrent players now.

  • Continued popularity – Still one of the top played games on Steam in 2023.

  • Huge skin profits – Billions in community market transactions and expensive rare skins.

  • Competitive viability – Staying relevant against rising battle royale competitors.

While I have fond memories of buying CS:GO for $14.99 back in the day, going free in 2018 gave the game new life. It opened CS:GO up to a wider audience and secured its future.

Valve nailed the transition by balancing free accounts with paid Prime Status. Current player counts prove it worked wonders.

So in summary, December 6, 2018 marked the pivotal day that CS:GO went completely free-to-play. It just took the game‘s success to all new heights!

Hope this breakdown helped explain the full story behind CS:GO‘s big free switch. Let me know if you have any other CS:GO topics you want covered! I‘m always happy to provide insights for a fellow fan.



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