One of the most unique features of Counter-Strike, or CS, as an esport is its in-game economy. Teams need to carefully strategize how and when they invest their money in each round, leading to decisions and tactics that aren’t available in other competitive first-person shooters. To fully appreciate the game as a spectator, you’ll need to understand how its economy works.
Everything in CS revolves around money. You use money to buy better guns, armor, and equipment like a bomb defusal kit or grenades. Players earn money in-game by scoring frags, completing objectives, and winning or losing rounds. Each player can hold a maximum of $16,000.
Before we get into specific scenarios, let’s go over some basic terminology:
Save - You lose all your items when you die. A player is saving when they try to stay alive in a round they are losing, so they can keep their guns and equipment without having to buy again in the next round.
Save Round/Eco Round - A round where your team decides not to invest in guns and equipment, so you’ll have more money in a future round.
Full Buy - A round where your team decides to invest heavily in guns and equipment. This usually refers to spending on rifles, armor, and several grenades.
Force Buy - A round where your team should save for a future round, but instead decides to buy what you can, in hopes of surprising the enemy team.
Kill (Frag) Reward - The amount of money you earn for scoring a kill with a specific gun.
The most basic way to earn money in CS is by scoring a frag, or a kill, on the other team. Most guns give you $300 per frag. There are a few exceptions, notably Shotguns and SMGs, that grant higher kill rewards. This is to incentivize players to think strategically about their situation. If you’re playing in a close quarters location, like drop down on Cobble, a shotgun might be a good investment because it’s better at close range and has an added bonus of granting $900 a kill. Is the other team on a save round? If so, they’re probably not buying armor, so investing in a SMG makes more sense than spending an extra $1000 on a rifle, since the rifle’s armor penetration is useless.
The other way to earn money is by winning or losing rounds. Obviously, winning rounds gets you more money, as will completing objectives like planting or defusing the bomb. However, as a way to help balance the game, Counter-Strike has what are called “round loss bonuses,” and this is where things get a little tricky. If you lose multiple rounds in a row, up to 5, you’ll receive more and more money with each loss. This makes it so that the losing team has some comeback potential.
This is key to understanding a lot of the strategy behind the game. Losing successive rounds will eventually net you enough money to full buy and hopefully start winning. However, once you win a round, your round loss bonus is reset back to the original $1400. This creates situations where it might actually be better to let your opponent win a round if they’ve lost a few in a row. This “resets” their economy, and if you win the subsequent round, you’ll force them onto multiple save rounds, essentially trading 1 round for 2.
Let’s take a look at a real example. Here we have Cloud 9 vs. Immortals on Cache from ECS Season 3. Immortals wins the pistol round and buys 2 AKs, 2 Galils, and a UMP in the 2nd round. Cloud9 calls for a save, with Stewie2K and Autimatic making a low-cost investment in upgraded pistols. As expected, Immortals easily wins the round without losing anyone, due to having better equipment. They continue onto the next round without having to invest a dime, while Cloud9 is forced to save yet again. In the 4th round, Cloud9 finally has enough money to call for a full buy. Immortals, on the other hand, have 4 guns saved from the previous round, so only Hen1 needs to spend money. It’s an extremely close round, but thanks to a clutch from Shroud , Cloud9 finally gets on the board. This is where things really get interesting. Let’s take a look at each team’s money in the 5th round. You can see that Immortals are able to full buy even though they lost a round, since they won the first 3 rounds with minimal investment. Cloud9, on the other hand, is on a considerably weaker buy despite winning the previous round. This is because they fully invested in Round 4, spending almost every dollar. They wouldn’t be in such a bad situation if more players were able to stay alive, but because Shroud was the lone survivor, he’s the only player that saved a gun. Immortals uses their advantage in firepower to easily take Round 5, resetting Cloud9’s economy and making them save again in Rounds 6 and 7. Immortals ultimately ends up going 6-1.
This is just one example of the strategic opportunities that the in-game economy in CS offers. Now that you have a firm grasp on how it works, and the terminology you’ll hear on broadcasts, you’ll be able to glean deeper insights into each team’s decisions in games.