What makes a multiplayer game unforgettable?
Is it the quality of gunplay, the immersiveness, the adrenaline rush? When we look back at the games we played for countless hours and walk down the memory lane, do we really remember the thrill we felt, or the ultis we threw or the headshots we scored.
I doubt it.
What stays with us for years to come are maps: The atmosphere, that feeling of being in our own house.
We know them inside out, by heart. They are “the” street we played near our house, or the first school we “attended”.
They get identified with the genres of their respective games, they are the first visual memory we recall when we think of a game. Then there are the ones that define the game itself.
It’s so easy to get lost when we think of legendary maps or even, what makes them legendary? The visual aesthetics, or the map’s balance or even, its imbalance.
People who played the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. The series when it first appeared fell in love with it because of its atmosphere, not because of its buggy gameplay and subpar story telling for example.
That’s also the reason why nobody will remember the bleak and repetitive maps of Valorant in the future, because they are incepted with no spirit, made just for balance’s sake and aesthetically unpleasing.
Then there are maps such as de_dust2 known for its versatility and being designed so fairly balanced, yet with a superb aesthetic that molded the Counter Strike’s visuals and soul. It’s a timeless classic for a reason.
Here’s a rundown of legendary competitive multiplayer maps for your intellectual pleasure:
DM3: The Abandoned Base, Quake
Designed by the legendary John Romero of id software, known for being the developer of Wolfenstein 3D and early Doom titles.
Actually it's the only deathmatch map designed by one of the Quake creators himself, and the first Deathmatch Arena design in esports history.
The Abandoned Base is one of the most memorable multiplayer maps in video game history, serving as the genesis of esports and simply the best deathmatch map in Quake.
Many Quake enthusiasts believed DM3 to be the best map for Team Deathmatch and Clan Wars because it was very well-balanced with weapons and power-ups throughout the map.
The map's unique design has impacted numerous competitive games after Quake, including Counter-Strike and Team Fortress, and has become a genre milestone.
The Abandoned Base is still the most popular multiplayer Quake map of all time, and it's one of the most enjoyable competitive shooter levels today.
If you ever have the chance of getting your hands on Quake remaster, enjoy living and breathing through this one. Because you are fighting in a living memory baby.
Facing Worlds, Unreal Tournament
“Back in ‘99” also known as CTF-Face from its file name. This map is brilliant for a reason. It’s simplistic, incredibly well balanced and gives the players the opportunity to snipe, counter snipe, rush for a pick up mini nuclear launcher all the while trying to capture the flag. It’s the map that comes to mind when one thinks of CTF mode. Its design techniques have been used repeatedly over the years and formed the base of Capture the flag map design.
The towers are connected by a two-lane bridge, with a large gap separating the lanes that allow for both long range fights and CQC brawls on the run to the next teams base. It’s like a boxing match where if a fighter wants to take a shot they must equally take a risk and expose themselves.
Epic’s Jim Brown at GDC 2014 shared his ideas on the map: “Masterpiece of simplicity… representative of a generation of design techniques that we are starting to stray from.” For Brown, the level had lessons for contemporary designers, including those at Epic.
Andy Kelly of PC Gamer deemed Facing Worlds "the greatest multiplayer map" in a 2020 retrospective, praising the map for its "beautifully simple design".
Speaking of his time playing Facing Worlds at LAN parties, Kevin Wong of Kotaku regarded the map as being "so well-designed, so carefully constructed, that every other CTF map paled in comparison."
Also, it plays a liquid Drum N Bass track in the background for its theme music. You can’t beat that. Listen to this beauty, a game map can’t get any more 90s than this.
DotA Allstars, Defense of the Ancients
Defense of the Ancients. Sounds weird right you zoomers? That was the name of the first map and the mod that started everything, and culminated into the MOBA craze that has taken over the world today.
Well technically it was a reinvention of Aeon’s Strife from StarCraft: Brood War and a couple of beta maps later the Allstars was born and that started everything,
Aeon64, the mysterious inventor of the custom game mod Aeon of Strife, created the game format. It modifies aspects of StarCraft's gameplay, drawing inspiration from Diablo II's single hero unit gameplay.
Its refined gameplay and high skill level made the game, or in its essence the map extremely popular in a competitive setting. One of its developers Guinsoo became a legendary name in the sector and went on to design the LoL’s legendary map: Summoner’s Rift.
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League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth, DotA 2, and numerous other MOBAs have copied this design, with relatively slight tweaks. It's pretty brilliant: It's mostly symmetric while giving an intuitive idea of the flow of the map.
Backlot, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Call of Duty’s own Facing Worlds you may call it: When I look back at all my years playing semi-professionally at CoD and try to single out the most iconic and well balanced map of Search and Destroy game mode (CS’s Bomb Defusal for cave enhusiasts) in competitive matches, Backlot comes first.
Even though I’ve always enjoyed the aesthetics of Eastern Bloc themed maps of CoD more, and my heart screamed write down Vacant here, I have to forego my emotions: Backlot is timeless because it doesn’t only just take in factors such as balance and map design or aesthetics BUT also the innovation, since CoD is still fairly a new title when compared to the classic esports games such as Quake: Arena or Counter Strike. Backlot brought something new to the table.
It may look like a normal multiplayer arena at first glance but it isn’t:
The reason it’s such an iconic map is because of the versatile gameplay it provides from verticality to the mini lanes within the lanes. All the while not upsetting the balance of the game.
Every lane is essentially cut in half vertically, imagine a MOBA map but with two storeys. The same rule applies to horizontal lanes too, essentially doubling every lane you can take into mini lanes with organic covers.
It is such a simplistic looking map yet very innovative on its own all the meanwhile it’s looking aesthetically organic and not forcibly balanced for balance's sake. It was so popular that it made its return in 2019’s Modern Warfare reboot, renamed as Talsik Backlot.
Inferno, Counter Strike
You expected de_dust2 here right? or maybe Mirage? It’s extremely hard to determine a legendary CSGO map when nearly all of its maps are legendary and withheld the test of time over the years. Dust2 even with its design flaws has become the face of CSGO. There is even a game revolving around it titled Dustnet.
Well read down below and you’ll understand my choice:
Dust is the popular cool guy of CS maps, Inferno is the eternal doomer, and Mirage is well… the popular and handsome new student that just came to your highschool from out of state who gets all the girls.
Don’t get me wrong, they are equally popular in their own right. But they just held up differently as time passed.
Inferno is by far the most balanced map, according to Valve at least. According to HLTV data, it has the most even victory percentage of any map in the game: 49.9% T side to 50.1% CT.
HLTV map stats indicates that it's just behind the ultra popular Mirage by distribution of maps played(i.e. popularity), and far ahead of Dust2.
But what makes inferno better than its peers is:
Inferno is the map that balances itself out, whereas Dust allows for better teams or solo stars to pull off incredible feats on par with John Woo movies, on Inferno the T side must fight with the map itself to make gains and CT just needs to hold tight and vice versa when teams change sides. It’s the map that rewards the underdog for trying.
That’s why Inferno has a special place among CSGO maps. It's the ultimate equalizer map.
Inferno features a unique gameplay style that necessitates a variety of approaches from players.
With AWPs, CT team may easily hold down corridors and bomb sites, camping in a limited number of spots.
Terrorists will find it tough to take a location, they must use a variety of tactics combined with grenades and work as team more so than in the other maps but once they do, they become incredibly hard to dislodge from the site they just took.
Inferno is tough to master since it necessitates mastering smoke throws, rotations, and timing. It also encourages consistent play and tight games between teams that are evenly matched.
But it is the ultimate CSGO map that necessitates teamplay more than others.
Big Game Hunters, Starcraft Brood War
Big Game Hunters is a StarCraft map originally released as part of the Maps of the Week release of October 1998.
It was also featured in the StarCraft: Brood War WebMaps collection. The map is similar to the original StarCraft map "The Hunters," with the exception of enhanced mineral and vespene gas reserves. Mineral clusters have increased to 20000 from 1500, while geysers have increased to 50000 from 5000.
This map gave birth to the term “NR” on RTS games back in the late 90s. NR meaning No Rush. Lobbies were usually named “15NR” or “25NR” meaning the amount of time that you should wait before expanding and attacking outside your territory –you could always just forgo this unwritten rule and zerg rush everyone, and get your family members insulted ingame.
When it comes to learning how to play StarCraft, BGH battles were a formative experience for many individuals and jump started a lot of people’s professional RTS esports career and became a legendary map in the genre. Starcraft’s queen Scarlett was probably raised and hunted on this map come to think of it.
Guinsoo Perfected the original DotA material and became a game designer at Riot Games and created the first LoL map that’s still being played to this day since the game’s inception.
The formula is essentially the same. These are MOBA games after all, rinse and repeat for 50 years and you still get the same thing. But this extremely boring game formula tends to attract hundreds of millions of players which is impossible to understand from my own experience. Regardless, the map looks astonishing even for a non MOBA player such as me. With its unique aesthetic and sound design, I even know the map by heart without touching the game by just seeing it from my friends’ computer screens.
Guinsoo’s protege, pseudonymously named IceFrog, went on from a mod maker to being the lead developer of Dota 2 and still keeps his identity hidden to this day despite the speculations that his true name is Abdul Ismail.
We have come to the end of our list dear readers. It’s hard to condense so many esports maps into a handful of legendary ones that made the esports what it is today, and find the ones that are still holding up to this day.
There are of course many more to mention such as Facility level of Goldeneye 007 that began the split-screen competitive gaming craze. Or the Erangel of PUBG that etched itself into our memories as the first Battle Royale experience online. Perhaps one day we will mention them too. Take care.