The only welcome you’ll find on the streets of Dust2 is likely to be fired from the barrel of an AWP sniper rifle. So if the excitement surrounding the launch of Counter-Strike 2 has lured you into giving Valve’s iconic tactical shooter a go for the first time, take note: A little preparation will save you suffering hours of one-sided stomps. That’s where our CS2 beginner’s guide comes in. We’ll run you through everything you need to know to go from awkward whiffs to your first ace in record time.
Your CS2 beginner's guide
A new game launch is always a great time to dive into a long-running series, but at this point, CS veterans have hundreds if not thousands of hours of experience with which to pummel you. If you ask us? That hardly seems fair. So below, consider this your CS2 crib sheet. We’ll walk you through the game structure, economy, shooting mechanics, and everything else you need to know about how to play and succeed in CS2.
The basics of CS2
CS2 is a tactical shooter. That means matches play out on a round-by-round basis, with teams aiming to win a total of 13 rounds for victory. Each player has just one life per round – lose it and you’ll need to wait for the next round before you’re back in the action. Deaths are costly in CS2, so don’t throw your life away lightly.
Ts vs CTs
Matches are split into two halves, with teams taking the roles of defenders and attackers in each. In the game’s core mode, defuse, the attacking Terrorist team – also known as Ts – aims to take control of one of two bombsites and plant C4 explosives there. Ts can win the round either by killing all opponents or planting and defending the bomb until it detonates.
The defending Counter-Terrorist side – usually called CTs – defend bombsites from the Ts. CTs can win by killing all Terrorists before they plant, by defusing the bomb after it has been planted, or by running the round clock to zero before the bomb is planted or all players on a team are killed.
CTs will attempt to set up on bombsites, delay the attacking team, and deny them the chance to plant the bomb. The onus is on the Ts to work together to plan an attack, often misdirecting the defenders as to where the player with the bomb is headed. Managing control of the bomb’s location is crucial to both sides.
Defuse is the core competitive game type in CS2, but other modes do exist: Hostage maps see CTs trying to rescue captives from the defending T side; Wingman offers 2v2 showdowns on scaled-back maps; and Arms Race is a gungame-style arcadey race to earn kills with a wide weapon selection.
The buy phase and the CS2 economy
The CS2 economy can be extremely confusing for newcomers, but don’t worry: You don’t need to master it just yet. Here’s the quick lowdown of what you need to know to stay afloat financially in your competitive matches.
The buy phase
Each round of CS2 starts with a buy phase. This is a short period in which teams use a buy menu (opened with B) to purchase the guns, armor, and equipment they want to take into that round. The amount of money you have is shown in the top left. In the first round of each half, players will only have $800 each – just enough money to afford a pistol or some armor and utility items. The amount of money you gain each round depends on whether you won or lost (winners earn more), how many times you’ve lost in a row, what kills you earned in the last round, and whether your team planted the bomb. It's also worth noting that any surviving Ts won't gain round loss money if they're alive when the round timer runs out.
Full buy vs eco
As a beginner, all you need to do at first is recognise when your team can afford what’s called a full buy. That’s the cost required to purchase one of the game’s primary rifles – the M4 or M4A1-S as CTs and the AK as Ts, though the pricer Aug and Krieg 552 also have their place – along with armor. For both sides, this is roughly around $4100. Ideally you’ll also want some spare money to spend on grenades and equipment like the CT defuse kit.
If you or your teammates don’t have enough money, you may want to consider taking an eco round. In an eco round, you actively avoid buying expensive equipment, saving your money instead for a full buy on the next round. It drastically reduces your chances of winning the current round, but it will help your side financially in the long run. Refuse to eco and you may find yourself fighting with inferior weaponry for multiple rounds in a row.
In the second round, the team which won the pistol will usually upgrade to SMGs. The losers often choose to eco, but they may also make a force or half buy, spending what they can to give the best chance of winning the round, even if their weapons are weaker than what their opponents are packing.
If you survive a round, you’ll get to carry everything remaining over into the next, recovering all your health (though not armor) as well. This makes surviving and retaining weapons extremely valuable – especially with a gun stolen from the enemy team. Left in a 1v4 fight? Sometimes it’s best to just escape and keep a gun for the next round. This is known as saving, and it may help your team afford a full buy in the next round.
CS2 shooting mechanics explained
The Counter-Strike series has long used an unconventional shooting and recoil system that separates it from most other FPS games. In the modern age, only Valorant utilizes similar mechanics.
Stand still while shooting
CS2 rewards precise, stationary gunplay. With most weapons, your shots are only accurate when fired while standing still. On a purely mechanical level, that means you want to stop pressing WASD any time you want to shoot. There are exceptions – shotguns and SMGs perform solidly while moving – but for the main rifles, follow the mantra of stop, aim, then shoot.
You should also try to tap and burst fire, not spray. Recoil in CS is a complicated beast to wrangle. Hold down the fire with an automatic weapon and your shots will begin to rise up above your crosshair before shifting to the left and right. Every weapon has a unique but replicable recoil pattern.
You can take a look at your current weapon’s pattern by unloading an entire magazine into a wall. You can also enable the Follow Recoil option in crosshair settings to have your crosshair follow the pattern. Want to keep your shots in one place? You’ll need to move your mouse in the reverse of the pattern that the bulletholes carve out. This is called recoil control.
The best players will learn the recoil patterns for each gun, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, yeah? Instead, practice tap firing one or two shots at a time. Then move on to shooting a burst of 3-5 while pulling your mouse down. Recoil starts off mostly vertical, so you can perform well with most guns in quick bursts just by shifting your mouse down as you fire off each salvo. If you really want to practice proper recoil control, focus on the M4 and AK first.
Aim for the head
The reason accuracy is so important is that CS2 rewards headshots above all else. A single AK shot to the head is enough to kill a fully armored opponent at all but the longest ranges. With the M4 you’ll need one headshot and one body shot. Aim for the body and you’ll likely need four hits or more. You’ll miss a lot at first and it may be frustrating, but the sooner you start practicing headshots, the sooner you’ll start winning most gunfights.
Using utility: Smokes, flashes, and more
Utility is every bit as important as good aim in Counter-Strike. If you don’t know how to use smokes and flashes, you’ll almost always be fighting at a disadvantage. Each round, you can hold up to four grenade types. That selection can comprise any combination of one smoke, one incendiary, one HE, one decoy, and up to two flashbangs. With every nade you can left click to full throw or right click to underhand throw a much shorter distance.
Smoke grenades are the most powerful tool in your arsenal. For the CTs, smoke grenades can be used to block entrances to bombsites, slowing the Ts down or forcing them to enter blind. For Ts, smoke grenades can be used to block off common defender positions. The big catch? You need to know where to throw them.
Unfortunately there’s no shortcut to success here. There are loads of videos available online teaching you how to throw a couple of attacking smokes for each map. The best way to learn is in offline practice. Enable the Grenade Camera, Infinite Ammo, and Infinite Warmup options while setting up a practice game. You’ll then see a boxout viewpoint that tracks where your smokes will land whenever you prepare to throw them – a nifty new feature in the sequel to help new players like you learn.
Smokes are also the best counter to powerful sniper rifles like the AWP. Position them well and they’ll force distant defenders out from their well-entrenched positions. Finally, smoke grenades will also extinguish molotovs and incendiaries. If you’re running short of time and are blocked by fire, drop a smoke to open the path forward.
When throwing flashbangs, your aim is to have them detonate just as they enter an enemy’s field of view. Unfortunately, there’s usually a fine line between that and blinding yourself and allies. Ideally, flashbangs are best thrown from a distance to help a closer ally attack a position. Accept that you will blind yourself and your team at least a few times, and do your best to ignore any outrage from disgruntled teammates.
If you’re in an area with open sky, don’t be afraid to look up and throw them over walls or corners before you push around. You can also use the underhand throw to drop one around a close corner or behind you as you step out into the open.
Explosive grenades deal a chunk of damage, though never enough to kill a full-health opponent outright. HE grenades excel at finishing off injured enemies that are hiding. They can also be thrown in tandem with a teammate for a double detonation. In CS2, HE ‘nades can also be used to clear smokes temporarily. Drop one in the center of a smoke cloud and the explosion will briefly clear it, letting you or an ally catch out anyone behind it.
Finally, molotovs and incendiaries deal heavy damage over time to anyone stood in them. For CTs, incendiaries are best used on choke points, halting attacks right as they start. For Ts, molotovs can clear out common hiding spots, forcing any CTs lurking in them to run from the blaze. They’re also a great way to defend a planted bomb. Even if you die, the flames can stop a defuse from happening before the timer expires.
CS2 Audio: Footsteps and sound clues
Audio is a phenomenally powerful tool in CS2. Listen carefully and you’ll often be able to locate enemies through walls, preparing you in advance for gunfights. The same goes for your opponents, however, so knowing what sounds can be heard (and therefore how to stay quiet) is just as vital.
What sounds can be heard by your opponents?
Running is audible, but walking with Shift or crouch-walking with CTRL is silent. Jumping or dropping down from a ledge makes noise, but crouch-jumping up onto a ledge (holding Ctrl after jumping) is silent.
Reloading makes noise, and so too does scoping in on a sniper rifle or sighted weapon. You’ll also make a sound when beginning to plant or defuse the bomb. Some players will use these last two to bait opponents into peeking them, swapping back to their gun right after starting the plant/defuse.
Unless rushing,the T side will often stay as quiet as possible until they’re about to burst onto a bombsite. This gives the CTs as little time as possible to react and rotate to fight them. Because of how valuable audio is, you’ll want to keep in communication with your teammates at all times to figure out where your opponents are.
Get an audio advantage with a HyperX gaming headset
We cannot overstate the advantages of using a high-quality headset to play CS2. A premium headset like the HyperX Cloud Alpha Wireless will let you precisely determine how far away those footsteps are and identify the surface they’re being made on. And thanks to the headset’s noise-canceling mic, you can relay that information in perfect clarity to the rest of your team. When communication is so crucial, don’t let a poor headset hold you back in CS2.
CS2 quick tips
Finally, here are some quick tips to keep in mind as you’re playing.
- Check your aiming height: Every few minutes, check to make sure you’re aiming at head height. It’s natural for new players to aim at the floor, but all you’re doing is giving yourself more work to get your shots on target.
- Check your money: At the start of the round, check how much money you and your teammates have. If more than one player is short of a full buy (~$4100), consider calling for an eco.
- Mid-Tier weapons reward more money: SMGs and shotguns will grant more money per kill than rifles. A knife kill earns the most of all.
- Communication is key: The more information you and your teammates share about what you’re seeing and hearing, the more rounds you’ll win. We have a list of common map callouts here to help you communicate clearly.
- Be patient: Sprinting around the map will give your position away and put your team at a numbers disadvantage when you die. Especially as a defender, it pays to play patiently and adapt to your enemy’s moves.
And with that, our CS2 beginner's guide is complete. Teady your rifle, and prepare to conquer Dust2, Nuke, Mirage, and more!