We had a chance to sit down and talk to James Banks at BLAST Premier Spring Finals 2023.
Armin Heidrich, BLIX: So, James, what are your first impressions of Counter-Strike 2?
James Banks: CS2? So I played a little bit, not on the new update that's just come out. I played a bit when it first came out. I got beta access as it just got launched. For me, I hate one-way smokes. I think that's a very skillless mechanic. So having them removed is great. Some of the weapon recoil changes. Just how it feels is obviously very different to get used to. But I like the single bullet accuracy. It feels a bit stronger in, like, hit registration.
I still want to test more out on the tick servers and how that's adjustable, but early signs are really good, and I feel like it's going to add a new element of fun for people who are casually coming into the game on a competitive level. We've only seen show matches so far, but I want to see the first real test of a couple of teams playing an online game or something like that.
BLIX: Do you think it will take the esport to newer heights?
James Banks: I hope so. If you look at what happened when CS2 first came out, it was what? Like the CS:GO Twitter account maybe gained 200,000-300,000 followers in a day, which is impressive. Then we saw the viewership of the people playing the game that went up higher as well. So if that continues and if we can have that growth, that'll only benefit our game in the esports scene as well. Obviously more people coming to the game to try a new game out will be more eyes on the games that they show in server, in the client itself, they show the games as well. So that's going to be awesome.
BLIX: How long do you think it will take the teams to adapt to the new engine?
James Banks: Well, we know when their first major is, right? That's supposed to be March in Copenhagen? So in December. But when it said they're going to do the first major, there's obviously going to be other events before, but it's when Valve decides they want to switch over. I think every TO is going to try and have their event be the first one [on CS2].
So maybe if we're thinking, probably August, September time, it's something like after Cologne, then we can see the first one. So it's not going to be much time, but that's going to make it more fun, more wild, and as long as they're prepared for the major, that's what Valve focuses on, right?
So they'll get a few tournaments, but I think it will send a lot of teams up and down. There'll be a lot of crazy changes. A lot of people have to get used to the new game, new mechanics, new style, because it's still Counter-Strike, but it feels different, so we’re not going to see the very best players in the same spot.
Expectations and Insights
BLIX: When CS2 was announced, the average player record skyrocketed. What are your expectations on the game?
James Banks: I hope it will go even bigger. I want to see more people come into it who see [Valve] have improved the game and think it’s more of a game I want to play. We see with just what it looks like because some people play games, and it's not for me personally, but some people play games for the graphics or for something that looks better.
When it comes to me, I don't mind. I want the best gameplay so if they find a balance between both, then they can capture both audiences that want to play the game, and that'll be perfect, and then we should see it rise up. But my main thing is that I want to see the new player base, learn more about esports, because there's still so many hundreds of thousands of people that play Counter-Strike every day, but they don't know what esports is like.
I've met people that play, and they're like, what's esports? What's competition? They're playing for fun, so if we can bring some of them across that's only going to benefit all of us.
BLIX: As a talent, what are the things you're looking forward to seeing in CS2?
James Banks: I want to see esports cases back. Remember in the old days, you had esports cases which were then people would buy the cases and it would take the money and put it into the prize for if we can have something like that again, that would be awesome. I want to see some team skins, jerseys on the skins, gloves, that can be for the team.
We've seen ideas of it before, but it never came to CS:GO. If we can have that in game, that would be awesome. Or even things like chickens; you could do chickens where it has a Blast logo or an ESL logo or something like that. That would be fun. Just little things that there's more of a kind of sport advertising within the game that could be dope and really helpful for us.
BLIX: Has the utility in CS2 Changed drastically?
James Banks: The smokes are not as crazy as you saw in the first video, so they still exist in the way that you can shoot for them, you can nade them out, but I don't think it's as crazy. The molotovs I really like. It's like a faster tick, but you hear the noise better. The audible cues that you get are more noticeable. So if you hear someone's burning, I feel more comfortable to swing for that kill or go for it, where sometimes you hear someone tick in CS:GO, but you lose that sound and everything else. I think they've made that a bit clearer.
I didn't feel like there is too much of a difference with flashbangs, and I would say that the smoke grenade is the main change.
With HE grenades, I think people can be more careful of not just throwing HEs for the sake of it. I think people will try to hold onto them and they're going to be a bit more careful of how they use utility.
BLIX: We take pride in CS:GO being the best esport ever. What are some of the changes in tournament rules you'd like to see in CS?
James Banks: I don't think I want anything particularly changed. I love what we have in terms of format. I like how we have it in maps. The only thing I would like to see is potentially maps change every season. So every year, right, we have two majors at the moment, and then every year I would like to see the map pool change. I think that's what a lot of pros have said as well. Not all of them, but some of them have said if we have a changing map pool, it requires the teams to learn a bit more and grow a bit more.
I think that will make it better for the overall gameplay and how teams lean into the practice they put in. Sometimes the map pool does get stale. Like, we can have Mirage back in. They've just put it back into CS2. Dust II is not there at the moment, but there's loads of maps in the game, and there's new maps as well. We've seen, even with Anubis, which is a great new map, that there is potential in this. So if we can keep that moving, I'll be very happy.
Bad News Eagles
BLIX: Last question, will an organization sign BNE before CS2 releases?
James Banks: I would love to say yes. It's very close to BNE being signed, but at the end of the day, with my role for them, it's their choice so I'm their advisor and I help. I'm not paid. It's not a salary, it's not a job. I just do it because I like the guys and they make the overall decision. So I can say to them, guys, this is a good offer, we should take it. But if they don't agree, then it won't happen. So it's more down to them.
But I hope so, because I want to see these guys get the support to go to another level already. They keep doing so well at the majors, and then if we had a team with, like, say, performance coaches or psychologists and stuff like that, they could become even better and maybe make it to all these events, like these top events we see around the world. So we're very close, so hopefully okay, thank you.
Cover image credit: James Banks' Instagram