What is CSGO?
Counterstrike: Global Offensive – more commonly referred to as CSGO – is a first person shooter (FPS) video game found on the Steam marketplace that has one of the longest competitive lifespans of any game in the esports world.
Objective of CSGO
The game is simple: Two teams of five players compete on a round-by-round basis, with one team on the “Counterterrorist” side and one team on the “Terrorist” side. The objective of the Terrorists is to plant and detonate a C4 charge in one of the two Counterterrorist bases. It is a best of 30 game, with the potential for overtime in the instance of a 15-15 tie. CSGO is built on a unique in-game economy system that awards cash for various achievements in each round (getting kills, planting the bomb, etc) and each team must use that cash to buy weapons, armor, and utility grenades which help to hold an advantage over the enemy team.
CSGO is the fourth installment of the Counterstrike series, which was originally launched more than 20 years ago. Global Offensive was eventually developed by Valve and Hidden Path Entertainment, and launched in 2012 as a game built on a very basic ideal: The better player should win. This seems obvious in just about every multiplayer game but the key here is that randomness is at a minimum while skill shines through.
For instance, the spray pattern in most FPS games – the way that bullets act when you are holding down the trigger – is randomized. However, in CSGO the spray patterns are consistent and learnable, which allows dedicated players to control their aim even while spraying. Details like consistent spray patterns, a simple win condition, and a complex economy-based strategy are the main reasons the game has had such a strong and long-lasting seat atop of the esports pantheon.
As far as its relation to other esports titles like Overwatch, League of Legends, and DOTA 2, CSGO is wildly popular because of it’s fluid gameplay, easy-to-understand mechanics, and wide-reaching audience across the globe. Thanks to this popularity, there are tournaments happening all year long, which is fantastic news for bettors like you and me!
Betting on CSGO
Types of bets
Money line betting
Money line betting is the most popular form of betting on CSGO, as it involves the least amount of specific knowledge for the bettor. For those who aren’t familiar with sports wagering, the money line means betting which team will win the match. In CSGO, each match can consist of up to five maps.
The match formats are best-of-one, best-of-three, or best-of-five depending on the event or tournament, and there are some fringe formats of two-map matches where ties are possible. Money line betting is popular due to the ease of laying action, but being able to beat the vig on any given line in esports is a more difficult proposition.
In regular sports, a money line might have 10-15 cents of vig because the models used by the bookmakers are more consistent and can more accurately predict outcomes. In esports, the books are much less confident and it’s not uncommon to see massive lines offered at a wide range of prices.
For instance, in the NBA it’s uncommon to see any given team as a -1000 favorite over an opponent, but in CSGO it’s a semi-regular occurrence. As an example, there was recently a game during the BLAST Premier: Spring tournament that had Astralis – the best team in the world – as a -2000 favorite against Complexity Gaming. If there were no vig on this line, Complexity would have been a +2000 underdog, but they were listed at +805. This speaks to some uncertainty as over 5% of the implied probability is unaccounted for. All this being said, Betting the money line is the easiest way to get some action on a match but, with the amount of vig on the lines and the uncertainty of models in esports, they will yield a lower expected ROI.
Betting with spreads
Spreads in CSGO are typically found in terms of either a rounds spread, or the spread for the rounds that separate two teams on any given map. You aren’t going to be able to find spreads on most sportsbooks but there are a few that offer them, and it can be pretty lucrative to focus on if you find one that does. As mentioned earlier, CSGO is a game that has a fixed amount of rounds and, in most cases, an overtime period if there is a tie. So since it’s a best of 30 contest, if there is no overtime, the smallest difference in rounds will be two in a 16-14 map. This of course means the largest difference would be a 16-0 demolition of a team, though a perfect map is exceptionally rare in the professional scene, and something that only happens in very lopsided matches. Typically, you will see a final score of 16-10, with the most common spread offered around 5.5 maps.
I’ll go into some exploitations of this a little later, but paying attention to how the in-game economy is going during the early portion of a game can help you make some informed decisions about the possible spread of a map far before the books will adjust a line one way or another. The ROI that can be had in betting spreads is one of the more consistent ways to build your bankroll.
Within the CSGO betting universe, betting map winners is one of the more lucrative paths you can take. This is due to the vast amount of data available on HLTV.org, showing everything a savvy bettor could need to make informed decisions against the more macro-based algorithm the books use. Although the difference in skill and teamwork between squads can be massive, there are still inefficiencies to be found and advantages to exploit on the map level, as even the best teams in the world struggle on certain maps within the rotation.
You will usually find the map winner line offered around the same as the money line but, because the maps are independent instances, the odds of a team winning on that map compared to winning in an overall match can differ wildly. Consider a team that has a 60% chance of winning a match (-150 favorite) with a line for them to win just the first map also around -150. If they have to play a map they aren’t familiar with, or they haven’t done well on over the last three months, that line is wildly exploitable since they should be underdogs and not favorites on this particular map pick. A team listed as a -150 favorite that only wins 35% of their games on the map Dust2 should be around +200, so it’s easy to see how large the edge can be if you are paying attention to the details of a team’s win rates on each map.
Betting on major CSGO events
Major events in CSGO, and the world of esports in general, are some of the most exciting and awe inspiring spectacles one can experience, and I mean it when I say I find them more exciting than any traditional sporting event by a longshot. Especially for CSGO, where there are breaks in the action and a level of suspense you won’t find in the vast majority of competitive titles, the atmosphere is just electric. Stadiums and event centers are regularly at capacity for these events, and the best of the best are in attendance, competing for extraordinary prize pools.
Typically, we have two major tournaments per year, with just one taking place in 2020 due to COVID-19.
In 2019, we had the StarLadder Berlin Major and the Intel Extreme Masters XIII – Katowice Major. Astralis was the winner of both 2019 majors with AVANGAR taking second at StarLadder and ENCE finishing second at Katowice. In fact, Astralis has taken first place in the last three major events, part of the reason they were considered the best team in the world for such a long time.
This year, we have the ESL One: Rio 2020 major that takes place in Rio de Janerio and holds a $2,000,000 dollar grand prize. Teams have been playing in qualifier tournaments all year to secure a spot in Rio for their chance at glory and life-changing prizes.
How to be successful at CSGO betting
Knowing the game
By far the most important thing to understand about CSGO when you are planning to start betting it regularly, is how the in-game economy works and the effect it has on streaking together rounds. In a regular FPS game – something like Call of Duty – your power levels across the game are based on your loadout, which is selected before the game begins. This is good for something fast paced and nonstop like COD, but CSGO is built on a system where you buy your weapons, armor, and utility before each round. A team that is doing well will have more money to spend before each round, whereas a team that is losing will have less. This directly translates to weapon, armor, and utility advantages that make it difficult for the losing team to control the game and stand up in gunfights. The kicker is that you don’t have to spend your economy before each round, which is where we get into the idea behind save rounds and stocking up cash to buy better weapons in an attempt to turn the tide of the game.
Typically, we see the biggest round streaks at the beginning of the game, when the economy has yet to be established. The first round – a pistol round – sets the baseline for either side, and the second round is where a team can play conservatively and save without buying anything at all, or “force” and buy cheap weapons to try to kill the opposing team and pick up weapons while tanking their economy. If the team that forces loses that round, however, they have set themselves up to have very little money for the next two rounds. This results in a situation where – if a team loses a pistol round, then forces and loses that round as well – it’s very common for them to start out the game at an 0-4 deficit.
It doesn’t take much to see that this level of understanding speaks well to betting the over/under on rounds played, the rounds spread, and straight up map winners if you know what to look for in round two. Once you understand the economy, there’s not a significant amount more about the game that you need to fully understand as it then boils down to a pretty typical first-person shooter. But knowing how it works will put you that much further ahead of the average bettor.
You will occasionally be able to find player props on over/unders for kill counts, but it’s not a frequent thing and knowing stats isn’t going to do much to elevate you as a bettor. It is a good idea when conducting your research to look through teams and get a baseline idea of kills per round and deaths per round, but that’s more so you have a better assumption of a team’s skill and their ability to win games, rather than information that will help you lay bets. Especially considering the level of performance can be so drastically different, it’s pretty hard to apply stats across leagues.
For instance, in one situation you may have two A-class teams up against each other – Astralis and G2 Esports, for example – where either team’s kills, deaths, and assists are applicable to their competition since they are of similar class. Both teams have two or more players with .70+ Kills per round and +.60 or less deaths per round, and we can trust those numbers because they frequently play against teams in the upper brackets. But if you have one A-class team – maybe G2 Esports – up against a B-class team like TyLoo, then the KDA (kills, deaths, and assists) per round won’t scale as well. A team like TyLoo might have a couple players with strong kill-per-round numbers but, when they play against notably better competition, those numbers are going to drop aggressively because the enemy team will understand a lot more about the game and their own team composition, which will enable them to punish the mistakes of a lesser team more harshly. This will result in a much worse KDA than they have historically posted.
Important players and organizations
The list of the best teams and players in the world is an ever-changing ladder of ascension and dives as teams, rosters, and playstyles go through updates every couple of months. Currently, the best team in the world is Natus Vincere – also known as NaVi – and they just so happen to have the best CSGO player in the world: S1mple. This kind of correlation doesn’t always appear, as the #1 team in the world for a long time was Astralis, while S1mple was still the best individual player. These rankings are built off of a rank points system over at HLTV.org, and they accumulate over time with an emphasis on recent form as well as the level of competition each team faces. Other notable teams and their best players are:
- G2 Esports – Hunter and KennyS
- Astralis – Device and Magisk
- Vitality – ZyWoO and Electronic
- Fnatic – Brollan and KRIMZ
The top 20 or so teams in the world will bounce back and forth, trading off on who is climbing and who is falling. Astralis was a mainstay at the #1 spot until they recently had multiple starting players step away to be replaced by fill-ins. These roster moves saw them quickly drop to the fourth best position. Of course, this was a calculated move allowing for their starting roster to be rested and fresh for the major tournaments toward the end of the year, but it’s still worth noting how quickly a team can drop when they aren’t playing at the absolute highest level.
Important elements of a CSGO betting process
There are a couple of things I believe are important to every process. My usual practice involves going to HLTV to take a look at the map pick and ban rates, and aiming to get an idea of how often a team wins against lesser competition.
Map win rates
Map-based win rates are so incredibly important when it comes to punishing the CSGO betting sites, that I have even built an algorithm that will whittle things down to give me a clear view of the map possibilities in both best-of-three and best-of-five formats. If I have a feeling the maps played are going to give a 20% win rate edge to one team over the other where the money line is close, it’s going to give me a big leg up on the books.
Efficiency as favorite
The method of looking into a team’s efficiency against lesser competition is something I not only do in my models for CSGO odds, but also for traditional sports. An interesting phenomenon takes place when a far superior team faces a bottom feeder during the regular season and we see the favorite’s performance is a bit lacking while the underdog puts together a strong enough showing to make it close or win outright. The Steelers are a great example of an NFL team that plays way down to less talented opponents, and it’s not uncommon in CSGO to see this kind of thing happen. The top teams in the world that are invited to every dreamhack and ESL pro league tournament don’t necessarily have to worry about winning games against the lower brackets, because it won’t hurt their chances to be invited to the major tournaments.
Because of this, if something is going wrong in a game against a far worse opponent, top teams will sometimes use it as a sort of practice, taking the opportunity to do unorthodox stuff and what we call “limit testing” to see what situations they can get themselves out of. With this in mind, knowing which teams take these games seriously and which teams will be limit testing against weaker competition, is important to be sure you aren’t throwing money at a huge favorite that doesn’t want to give it their all.
Creating and maintaining a process
One of the most difficult skills bettors have to learn is how to properly allocate bets and be mindful of their bankroll. A lot of people will just lay 5 or 10 bucks here and there, make bets for the fun of it, which is a fine thing to do if you don’t actually plan to earn extra income from betting. Having skin in the game and getting a little action down while you watch some esports is a fantastic way to spend a Saturday. However, if you want to actually maintain an ROI, there’s some important pieces of bankroll management you should know.
First off, be aware of the actual dollar amount in your bankroll! Set a specific amount you can reasomably allocate toward betting CSGO each month so you have a baseline to assign percentages against. Whether it’s $100 or $100,000, just make sure you know how much you are playing with each month.
Next, understand your risk tolerance and create a system that allows you to place specific and static percentages for specific types of bets. You’ll hear a lot of companies refer to bets in “units”, which is fine, but you need to know what your specific unit is. If you really want to put yourself in a position to build your bankroll, you should be playing based on a Kelly criterion betting percentage calculator. This is a formula that guides you to bet a dynamic amount based on remaining bankroll for each bet. Regardless of which system you maintain, having a system in place is imperative.
The last piece I’ll note here is understanding the consequences and circumstances around your bets, and what needs to happen for them to payout. Often times you won’t just have one bet on the day and, with multiple bets, some of them may be reliant on one another. Tracking your bets and how each one finds success allows you to avoid the pitfalls that come with correlated betting, where you end up incidentally hedging your own action and slashing at your ROI. As an example of this, you don’t want to take the over on rounds for a specific map while also hitting the over on the spread of rounds, since the over on the spread of rounds is often negatively correlated with the over of the total rounds played.
In every instance, bankroll management is about understanding your own tolerance as well as your ability to track and maximize your ROI, so stay composed and don’t tilt yourself into breaking your bankroll on a bet you shouldn’t make.
History of skin betting
A quick history on betting skins
One thing we should talk about since it has kind of given a black mark to the industry and esports betting as a whole, is skins betting. Skins betting was an extremely popular way to gamble on CSGO for a long time, and involved putting up the skins to guns in the game that are acquired on the steam marketplace instead of money. If you won the gamble, you would get the skins that others put into the pot. Now, betting skins in and of itself wasn’t necessarily the problem. The problem came from minors being involved in the process and being able to lay skins, and from the skins costing money, which would mean minors were indirectly betting real money on games in an unregulated manner.
Obviously this is illegal and not okay, but the practice was disguised because no one was technically betting “real money” when wagering using an item purchased with credits on the steam marketplace. If this process were regulated and took place in a way that ensured only users old enough to gamble were allowed to partake, it would have been a different story but, considering the average age of gamers and this being an entirely unregulated sequence, it was a serious issue that caused a whole lot of problems.
These days, there are significant restrictions in our ability to trade or send skins to friends that are implemented directly from the skin betting that took place. Most trades and gifting of skins now take place over the course of days rather than minutes, in an effort to ward off those who wanted to flip their skins quickly for profit.