Let’s start this off by saying one thing: Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is still huge. Valve’s premier shooter still averages over half a million players at any one time — in terms of Steam games, slightly ahead of another Valve product, Dota 2 — but that number has been shrinking in recent weeks — and Valve is probably OK with that.
As you’ll recall, it was about a month ago that Valve changed how Prime access would work in CS:GO. Free accounts could no longer play in the official ranked mode, instead being shunted to an “unranked” mode if they wanted to play competitively, with no XP, Ranks, drops, or Skill Groups awarded. The intent was, as Valve put it, to prevent “bad actors” who “hurt the experience of both new and existing players.”
Those changes were implemented on June 3, or just over a month ago, and, as PC Gamer noted, it’s led to a marked decrease in the game’s player base. Steam Charts pegs the loss at -16.75% for the month of June, with the last 30 days — representing June 8 to July 7 — at -3.68%. That might lead one to believe that the decrease is due to those “bad actors” or even Prime players on “smurf” accounts leaving the game, which is the conclusion that PC Gamer draws.
While that probably accounts for some of the decline, I don’t think it tells the entire story. Looking over the past few months, CS:GO has been bleeding players pretty steadily throughout. In fact, if you just count the first week of June, the number declined from 909,399 on June 1 to 818,181 on June 6 — a drop of 10% in just a week.
That’s the cutoff for the one-month results, though, and since then, the game has only lost 3.68% of its players. It could be that CS:GO was going through a down period, possibly due to the issues that prompted the change to Prime status, but has since “recovered” to a degree. It might still be experiencing a slight decline, but the downturn isn’t as sharp as it was. While it’s true that some of the missing players might be the kind of free players who weren’t contributing to the game and that Valve wanted to remove with the changes, it’s also possible that some players have come back to the game because of the changes and are helping to slow its descent.