Valve has taken another dip into the lucrative Chinese market with the launch of dedicated Counter-Strike: Global Offensive servers in the region. Working alongside native publisher Perfect World - which also managed the Chinese release of Dota 2 - the seemingly ubiquitous FPS has landed in China under a free-to-play model.
Perfect World has been charged with the introduction of CS:GO, which is free when players sign up through the publisher. However, this does come at a price, with players having to link their Personal Identification number, phone number, and bank account in order to play, according to the The Esports Observer. This also leaves players who get caught cheating facing a potential hit to their credit rating, which Perfect World vice president Li Haiyi, described as "the worst punishment in history."
Thanks to strict censorship laws, it's notoriously difficult for Western developers to publish their games in China, leaving many popular titles pirated millions of times. Strictly speaking it's been possible to play CS:GO in China using Hong Kong servers but poor latency and lack of support has kept it from developing into a competitive esport scene.
The launch is big news for CS:GO as it seeks to slice off a piece of the Crossfire pie, the 2007 free-to-play multiplayer FPS which has dominated the market for years but has seen its grasp slipping as it begins to show its age. As of 2014 Crossfire was the highest grossing game in the world at $1.3 billion revenue, 90% of which was generated in China. However, according to SuperData, last year saw it fall to the third place slot with a gross of $1.1 billion.
On top of the innate appeal of CS:GO to the competitive multiplayer market, the marketing push for its arrival in China has been huge, with skyscrapers in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chongqing and Nanjing lit up with adverts, and computers in thousands of internet cafes loaded with the new client.