The $2,000 Negev, economy, risk/reward and flow

‘Chiu on This’ is a short and regular opinion blast

Valve announced yesterday it would try out a $2,000 Negev in competitive CS:GO. It was marked as such so that it would be picked up and used more in play, giving Valve data about the gun. Many have been rightly critical of the move, but in a sense this was a long time coming. HenryG said that when he visited Valve ages ago that it had always planned to make all guns “viable.”

The Negev itself is just the latest symptom of this philosophy as Valve has already upgraded multiple other guns with the philosophy of making them viable. On the surface, it seems benign. The essential problem is that they ignore key rules of CS that make the game so compelling.

First we have to understand the economy of the game. The economy is a brilliant regulator of snowball and anti-snowball mechanics. The team who wins is generally rewarded for their skill because they get to save weapons into the next round. In addition, the winning team gets more money than the losing team after the round. At the same time, there is a limit to how much the game can snowball. No matter how many times one side loses, it can always get to a point where they will have a complete buy with everything they wanted. Fundamentally, this is why CS as a game is considered fair. The game cannot go completely out of control like other games when one side gets the advantage (StarCraft 2, Dota 2, League of Legends).

The economy is then also irrevocably tied to the flow of the game. A good Counter-Strike game has ebbs and flows like a story. In a theoretical world where risk/reward isn’t out of whack (I’ll get to that last), here is how it goes. One team wins the pistol, so now the other must find a way to do damage, possibly steal guns or in the T’s case, find a way to get the bomb down. We then hit the first marquee point where both teams have their first good buy, and that becomes the first important round. The game then goes one way or another with the majority of important rounds being the gun rounds between the two teams. Every once in a while, a team will make a ballsy call. They won’t take the chance to save, but will instead force based on a read they have. This move is classically considered bold as you are risking multiple rounds instead of the one round to try to completely turn the game.

In Modern CS:GO, such forcebuy rounds do not exist because the economy of the guns is out of sync and because that’s out of sync, the risk/reward factor of guns is completely out of wack. Let’s go with the easiest example. In SC2, the bl/infestor is reviled as the worst and most imbalanced era of the game’s history. It’s still used to this day as an example of what not to do in other games. The infestor was the ultimate spellcaster that could kill everything, and if not kill it, immobilize it. It only costs them energy, which was a renewable resource. The problem with that meta was that once you got to early-mid game, making an infestor was no longer a bad choice ever. If you wanted to play an economic game and expand, make an infestor. If you wanted to all-in, make an infestor. If you were ahead and needed to close out the game, make an infestor. If you were down in the game and needed to make a comeback, make an infestor.

Strategically and tactically speaking, that iteration of SC2 had been solved for Zerg players and Z-v-X matchups. The question did not matter because the infestor was the answer.

In CS:GO, the economy is always the question as it tells you what tactics are possible. In CS:GO right now, the answer is the same: forcebuy. The risk/reward of the guns is too heavily skewed toward the reward. The Czed, tec-9, 5-7, p250 and deagle are all viable in every economic situation where you cannot by rifles. The deagle is generally considered an exception and given a pass because of its difficulty of use. The rest are much easier to use, they have better mobility and have equal or better headshot potential than m4s. They also cost 10 times less. Similarly, the UMP is a SMG that costs three times less than the m4s (about two times less than AKs). In addition to that, the UMP has better mobility and gives a better bounty bonus.

The risk/reward ratio of buying out to saving is tied to the economy and flow of the game. Everyone knows that when both teams are of equal skill, when a full rifle round happens, both teams get a 50/50 chance of winning the round. In a theoretical world then, you want the full eco vs rifle rounds to be close to a zero percent chance of victory as one side invested $4-5K per player whereas the full eco invested nothing. In a partial buy (where you just use extra money that won’t affect the fullbuy in the following round), it should still be a low percentage. A forcebuy where you all-in with lesser guns and utility should be a risk (You can put whatever number you want here from 10-30 percent chance of working). Either way, the team with the rifles should be the heavy underdogs. But the essential thing is that because these buys are inherently so risky, they get a massive reward in return. They steal a round and steal the guns of the other team and could possibly ruin the other team’s economic game. But in return, your own economy is in ruins.

In Modern CS:GO, that is not how it works. The full eco is dead and rarely ever used. Partial buys and forcebuys have a much higher chance of success. If I had to guess, I think the chances are closer to 50 percent chance of viability. I don’t mean 50 percent chance of winning the round, but 50 percent chance the amount you invested pays off. So that includes winning the round or hurting the other team’s economy or getting the bomb down. The reasoning is that every top team and multiple Tier 2 teams have completely thrown away the old way of using economy and now run the partial buy/forcebuy because that way of running the economy gives you a consistently higher chance of victory.

It makes sense as if you do the old economy you might have to run three rounds with percentages like:

0 percent eco, 0 percent eco, 50 percent chance to win rifle.

Whereas with the forcebuy meta it could be something like:

Forcebuy 45 percent, partial buy 30 percent, eco 0 percent, 50 percent chance to win rifle.

You risk perhaps one more round or two (I haven’t done the exact math), but the difference between the classical economic setup and the forcebuy setup is the forcebuy setup gives you much higher chances of both swinging the game and winning. I think it’s likely the case that doing full ecos is the worse decision in the current meta.

In closing, the reason you want the economy to work closer to the old form is that it creates a natural ebb and flow to the game. It creates multiple peak rounds throughout the game where the tension runs extraordinarily high as both teams are aware that it is important to the economic situation. In the current meta, you get way more action all the time, but they end up being diluted because you know that the losing team will still have a strong chance to win the following forcebuys because of the viability of the guns.

I understand that Valve wants to make all guns “viable,” but I think they need to do it while keeping the economic game intact.

Slingshot senior columnist. StarCraft and CS:GO expert who pushes narratives over numbers.

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