The competitive element of Counter-Strike is a big part of why players keep returning to the games year after year and decade after decade. Matchmaking in CS has become the most popular and important way for people to play the game, and your ranks in the game mean more than mere bragging rights when it comes to your gameplay experience.
Here’s everything you need to know about CSGO ranks and their CS2 equivalents, Premier mode, and other ways to play competitively.
What are the ranks in Counter-Strike?
Back in the old days, CS matches were played on community servers in various game modes, and any competitive play was organized by third-party clans with their own leaderboards. Yes, that’s right, there hasn’t been any official matchmaking or such until CSGO ranks came along in 2012. In fact, Valve developers revealed in a recent interview with PC Gamer that it was merely meant to be an experiment, and it turned out to be an incredible success, much more so than even they have expected.
For certain game modes, the same ranks carried over into CS2 as well, so if you haven’t yet familiarized yourself with the chart, now is a great time to do so. Here is the complete list of ranks in Counter-Strike, from lowest to highest:
Silver Elite Master
Gold Nova I
Gold Nova II
Gold Nova III
Gold Nova Master
Master Guardian I
Master Guardian II
Master Guardian Elite
Distinguished Master Guardian
Legendary Eagle Master
Supreme Master First Class
The Global Elite
Under normal circumstances, the distribution among these ranks, also known as Skill Group should form a bell curve, meaning the middle ranks (so the high Gold Novas) are the most common and they hold the most players. There have been exceptions to this, and sometimes these ranks were rebalanced to ensure an appropriate population of players at all ranks. Even still, by the end of CS:GO’s lifespan, the graph skewed quite significantly towards Master Guardian and above, as you can see below.
As you climb higher, you will encounter more skilled opponents, therefore you need to improve your performances and your understanding of the game to keep climbing.
When it comes to Counter-Strike esports, the pros have long ago transcended these traditional ranks. Even the lowliest of salaried players would make a mockery of a random Global Elite five-stack, such is the depth of skill in the game. It’s kind of like how Djokovic would butcher a tennis club player – figuratively speaking, of course.
Valve has never revealed the specifics about this system, and all we know about the underlying math is that it is a modified version of the Glicko-2 formula, a commonly used system to assess player’s strengths in zero-sum two-player games. Your specific numerical ranking (and the thresholds required to rank up or down, if those even exist) have also remained a mystery to players.
In gaming parlance, your ranking is often referred to as your Elo, but that is often not quite accurate. The Elo rating system is an old and relatively simplistic formula named after its inventor, Árpád Elő, whose surname is anglicized as Elo. It is still used in prestigious sports like chess, but it does have certain limitations, which is why more sophisticated systems have emerged over the years (especially as the computation power required to calculate has become less of an issue).
The Glicko-2 system, in particular, introduces the idea of a dynamic ratings deviation, accounting for larger adjustments based on the frequency of play so that it is easier to “recalculate” the true performance score of someone who, for instance, has a poor rating but grinded a lot of training and has now returned to the servers as a monster.
Alternative game modes, such as Wingman or Danger Zone, also had their own separate skill groups. For Wingman, they had the same names as the traditional ones; for Danger Zone, it went from Lab Rat 1 to The Howling Alpha. It was weird.
All in all, the structure of CSGO ranks was quite complicated to begin with, and things got simultaneously easier to understand and yet a whole lot more messy with the launch of Counter-Strike 2.
CS2 ranking system and Premier Mode, explained
While Counter-Strike 2 launched without many of the modes and features of Global Offensive, it did bring along a complete revamp of the competitive gameplay experience. The main skill-testing mode is now called Premier, and it features the same sort of map pick-ban system you see in high-level competitive play, meaning you can’t just queue for your favorite map and become a “VertiGlobal” under this system.
Premier Mode was initially rolled out during the twilight of the CS:GO matchmaking era, but it was just one of the queue options there with the same universal rank applying no matter whether you played that or kept going back to Dust 2 over and over and over (and over… and over…) again. Now, as the name suggests, it is the premiere competitive mode of the new Counter-Strike game.
This means CS2 ranks work quite differently from their CS:GO counterparts since your Premier Mode rating is represented by a number. This lets you directly compare yourself to anyone in the world, and there are now regional leaderboards available in the client for the best and the brightest (and, well, the rest of us) to compare our positions, much like how the best Dota 2 players could already do so under a similar system for many years. Unlike in Global Offensive, seasonal rank resets will also feature in Counter-Strike 2’s matchmaking experience, putting the franchise on par with almost all other live service games in the industry.
Here is a Valve explainer of Premier Mode to quickly get you up to speed if you’re more inclined to get your summaries in video form:
Apart from the aforementioned Premier Mode, you still have the option to queue for individual maps, and you will have a separate CS2 rank for each of them – so even if you made it to Global Elite on Inferno, you still need to do the climb all over again for Ancient. These ranks are the same as the old CSGO ranks and they don’t carry over to Premier in any way.
Also, if you’re only just getting started, keep in mind that CSGO ranks did not carry over to CS2 either, meaning you will have to play a whole new set of placement matches for the system to calibrate where you belong.
While Valve didn’t provide any data on how the ratings approximately translate between CS:GO and CS2, third-party platforms have collated their own stats and gave us a fairly good idea of how the system currently works. An early sampling of CS2 stats by Leetify (whose stats we’ve previously cited about the CSGO ranks’ bell curve), shows a much more even distribution, and it also seems to confirm the existence of a floor at 1,000 points.
With this preliminary data, it seems like the CSGO ranks correspond to these approximate Premier Mode ratings in CS2:
Silver I-Silver Elite Master: 1,000-2,000 (cca. 6% of players)
Gold Nova I-Gold Nova Master: 2,000-5,999 (cca. 22% of players)
Master Guardian I-Master Guardian Elite: 6,000-8,999 (cca. 28% of players)
Distinguished Master Guardian-Legendary Eagle Master: 9,000-12,999 (cca. 29% of players)
Supreme Master First Class: 13,000-14,999 (cca. 9% of players)
Global Elite and beyond: 15,000 and up (cca. 6% of players)
It seems like the ceiling of the system is 40,000 rating points, and the best players in the world tend to hover around 36,000.
There are many criticisms of Premier Mode, and Valve continues to tweak the system along the way as they keep rolling out patches and features for CS2. Penalties for losses and abandonment are punishingly high, for instance, without any mitigation for those stuck in a 4v5 competitive game. There is also no option for solo-only queues or any other options that would save you from going up alone against a full team on the other side of the server. Nevertheless, it is a definite improvement over the CSGO rank system, and it shows that the developers of Counter-Strike 2 want to make the in-game matchmaking more relevant at the highest levels than it has been for Global Offensive.
Should you play competitive CS2 on third-party platforms like ESEA or FACEIT?
Because of the many issues with CS:GO matchmaking, pro players and the higher-ranked pug stars almost exclusively played on separate, third-party websites like ESL’s ESEA or FACEIT. This was also because they offered 128-tick servers instead of the default 64-tick in MM: this is an entirely separate can of worms we won’t open here, but ticks basically mean how often the server checks for the game state every second, and it made a significant difference for grenade lineups, jumpthrows, and other such gameplay elements. CS2 operates on a controversial subtick system, and Valve disabled the ability of third-party server hosts to go above 64 ticks, so that portion of the experience doesn’t make a difference at this time.
Unless you are truly a high-level player, climbing the CS2 ranks should be a perfectly serviceable option in the game’s current form. If you’ve got an established group of players you like to play with and you’re more interested in proper team-versus-team matchups, FACEIT and its ilk may very well still make sense for you. As for how relevant these platforms will remain as the breeding ground for new Counter-Strike esports players and high-level practice, that remains to be seen.
That’s everything you need to know about ranks in CS2 and its predecessors, CS:GO. The journey from Silver I to Premier Mode’s 40,000 ranking is going to be long and arduous, but we have every confidence in you. If you do need further tips, why not check out a full list of Counter-Strike 2’s new features and the best CS2 crosshairs?
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