When CS:GO was released in August of 2012, the M4A4 rifle was the primary Counter-Terrorist assault rifle, replacing the M4A1 from previous versions of CS. The M4A1 offered players the option of changing between silenced and unsilenced firing modes in Counter-Strike: Source and 1.6, but the M4A4 of CS:GO scrapped the silencer altogether. Nostalgic players lamented the absent CT rifle in GO at the time, but the game was riddled with enough bugs to keep the community occupied.
After CS:GO had been out for a year, the M4A1-S was released as an alternative to the A4. With a silencer that eliminated tracers through smoke and a tighter spray pattern coming at the expense of less ammo, the new CT rifle was certainly a viable alternative to the M4A4. Now, in previous iterations of Counter-Strike, the M4 was a single gun that handled differently based on whether or not the silencer was equipped. In CS:GO, however, the M4A4 and M4A1-S occupy the same loadout slot, presenting players with a dilemma: which of the two CT rifles should you use, and why?
Tipping the Balance
After its release, the M4A1-S quickly became the more popular rifle, preferred by most players in both professional and casual settings. With a tighter spray and better damage at long distances, the M4A1-S seemed like the superior rifle. As time went on, the M4A4 almost fell completely by the wayside.
In September of 2015, in an effort to balance the two rifles, Valve shipped multiple nerfs to the M4A1-S. The price of the silenced rifle was lowered from $3200, meaning that it now cost the same as the A4, but the rate of fire and armor penetration were both reduced. Valve also increased the base spread of the gun, making the M4A1-S less accurate.
While the silenced M4 was still more accurate and did more damage at a distance, the nerfs were enough to bring the unsilenced M4A4 back into the fold. Pro players began using the M4A4 over the M4A1-S, and top-tier teams like Fnatic dropped the silenced rifle entirely.
For a time, there was much more parity between the two rifles–some preferred the larger ammo reserves of the A4 for spraying or spamming bullets through smoke, and others appreciated the accuracy and range of A1-S. However, another patch from Valve in August of 2016 tipped the balance in favor of the M4A4. Valve increased accuracy recovery on the three main rifles, the AK-47 and both M4s, a direct buff to the reliability of tapping and burst fire.
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Previously, the M4A1-S was the weapon of choice for tapping and bursting on account of the gun’s tighter spray and improved accuracy. However, the overall buff to rifle accuracy had pro players move quickly towards the M4A4. The unsilenced rifle was already better for closer ranges and spraying because of the gun’s larger clip, but the buff to tapping and bursting meant that the M4A1-S had no real advantages anymore. In professional play, the tighter spray pattern of the A1-S simply doesn’t matter as much, and pros couldn’t turn down the extra ammo and clip size of the A4.
M4A4 vs. M4A1-S: Current Pro Preferences
While there’s still some degree of parity between the two rifles, the M4A4 is the preferred rifle for the pros. Looking at HLTV’s Top 20 players of 2016 list shows that among the best CS:GO players in the world, the M4A4 is the favored CT rifle. If you exclude the primary AWPers on the list–Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo, Kenny “kennyS” Schrub, and Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovács–you’re left with 17 of the best riflers in the world.
Among the 17 riflers on HLTV’s list, 11 favored the M4A4 over the M4A1-S in 2016. The pros who favored the M4A1-S were players with incredible first bullet aim–Egor “flamie” Vasilyev and Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom. Other notable M4A1-S users include Richard “shox” Papillon and Janusz “Snax” Pogorzelski. Regardless, the majority of the pros in HLTV’s Top 20 favored the M4A4, most likely due to the clip size and ammo.
For Us Plebs: M4A4 or M4A1-S?
If you’re not a professional CS:GO player, it’s still not clear which of the two CT rifles is better. Unfortunately, we don’t all have the one-tap potential of ScreaM or the spray control of GeT_RiGhT, which means that deciding which CT rifle to use forces us to analyze our own strengths, playstyle, and preferences.
The M4A1-S is still the better gun for long distances, and the tighter spray pattern is more forgiving for newer players. If you’re often holding bombsites with long angles, the M4A1-S may be the rifle for you. If you prefer playing smaller sites or positions and trying to mow down multiple enemies as they try to rush you down, the extra ammo of the M4A4 will save your life more times than you can count.
The rifle you choose may also be dependent upon what map you are playing on. For example, Dust 2 has long lines of engagement–Mid and Long A, for example–which may benefit a CT using the M4A1-S. The M4A4 may be better suited for a map like Inferno, where the choke points are tighter and the firefights are more claustrophobic.
Experiment a little bit. Hop into a deathmatch server and see how long it takes you to hit 100 frags with each rifle. At the end of the day, personal preference is the driving factor when you’re deciding between the M4A4 and the M4A1-S. Here’s some parting advice: no matter which one you’ve got equipped, drop your M4 for an AK whenever you can.