Video games are big business with a global market worth around $160 billion. Out of that a whopping $60 billion was from the US alone. Once, video games were almost the sole preserve of arcades, and then afterward, simple consoles such as the Atari VCS 2600. Nowadays there are huge tournaments and leagues where professional esports competitors battle it out for big prizes.

The prize pool for the top ten esports in 2020 ranged from approximately $2.6 million up to nearly $15 million. The top ten is compiled from household names like PUBG, Fortnite, Call of Duty and right at the top, Counter Strike: Global Offensive. But, it isn’t just the esports tournaments and the video games industry that is generating money. Right now there is big talk about skins because one just sold for a record-breaking amount.

Gaming is open to anyone and even MMA fighters like Scott Jorgensen play Call of Duty. This accessibility means there are a huge and diverse group of people playing and many of them are serious skin collectors with real cash. 

What are skins exactly, and where can you get your hands on the best ones? Reading below will hopefully give you a clearer insight into this modern phenomenon.  

What is CS:GO?

Counter Strike is a series of games from Valve that run on various platforms including the XBox, Playstation, and PCs. The last version released was Counter Strike: Global Offensive or CS:GO and is an extremely popular first-person shooter with an emphasis on terrorism and counter-terrorists. To date, the game has sold over 40 million copies and through constant updates and tweaks has managed to stay immensely popular, even being voted the esports game of the year 

What is a skin?

For the non-gamer, it might seem hard to understand but a skin is a downloadable graphic that changes the ‘look’ or appearance of an item or character. It could be a uniform, or a skin for a gun, knife, or other equipment. They can be animated and some are incredibly detailed and complex.

Valve introduced skins around 2012 for Team Fortress 2 and CS:GO to add some more excitement to the games and keep players interested. It worked, and now skins trade for real cash, occasionally a lot of it. 

Why are they so expensive?

Gamers use real cash to buy virtual credits for use in the Steam Community Market. One of the uses for these credits is to buy skins. What has happened over time is that the open API that Steam operates on allowed third-party groups to sell more skins to CS:GO gamers. These skins are often rare and very detailed pieces of work. Of course, this led to lots of gamers having big collections of skins with no way to sell them so they started to use the skins as a kind of virtual currency.

One of the most popular uses for this ‘virtual currency’, if not the most popular, is to gamble with them. When a battle is occurring on Twitch or another streaming platform players can gamble their skins on the outcome. These skins will be put up against another’s and the victor will retain their skins and win their opponents too. So far, so good, but what happens when someone has a whole load of skins and can’t do anything with them?

That’s when a new type of skin website started to appear. 

Skins become a currency of their own

Third-party sites started to appear due to the popularity of skins and gambling and it is now possible to trade skins in for cash. The problem with Steam being that once cash has been converted into its online credit system, it cannot be changed back meaning you have no choice but to spend the credits.

With the rarer skins being so valuable they have become their own currency. Ten of the most expensive knife skins range from $2000 up to most expensive, the blue-gem Karambit Case Hardened in Factory New condition which sold for an amazing $120,000. It is no wonder that skin trading and gambling are getting bigger.

How do you start to collect skins?

If you are a beginner at CS:GO then you will want to understand how skins work and how to get hold of some. At the end of a match when a drop occurs you may occasionally get a skin. These however are likely to be low quality and it is highly unlikely you will find a good one this way.

The next way to get skins is to go to the Steam Community Market. Here you will see lots for sale for different prices. You can also sell your unwanted skins here but there is a fee to pay Steam for the service.

The next way is to buy weapons cases. You have to buy a key to open the container and see what you have ‘won’. It is possible to find a weapon skin that is worth something this way but it is unlikely to bring you a big profit. 

What types of weapon skins are there?

While you are hunting for a record-breaking CS:GO skin and hoping for hundreds of thousands of dollars you will need to know what you are looking for.

There are six different grades for gun skins or as it is known in the market ‘weapon quality’. The six levels of weapon quality are assigned a name and a color and they run like this:

  • Consumer (grey)
  • Industrial (light blue)
  • Mil-spec (dark blue)
  • Restricted (purple)
  • Classified (pink)
  • Covert (red)

There are two more classifications, yellow which is rare, and if you get one of those you can get knives and gloves which are more expensive than most of the gun skins. The other classification is contraband and was assigned to the M4A4 due to DMA copyright infringement. It is still available but only outside of the game through the Community Market or from trading.

The skins you want are covert and classified to be able to make a profit although it is possible with restricted too. This doesn’t mean you should dismiss Mil-spec or industrial as occasionally there may be a valuable skin there too as they may not appear in games very often. 

Quality control

The other thing to understand about skins is the condition of them. This is known as wear or float and it ranges from factory new to battle-scarred and will also affect the value of the skin. If you want to buy from the Community Market you will see there are different pages for the same skins. This is to accommodate the different wears which are as follows:

  • Factory new
  • Minimal wear
  • Field-tested
  • Well worn
  • Battle-scarred

It is a little like buying something used from Amazon except there it is worn, in good condition, etc.

Stay safe while gaming

One thing to be aware of is that there are sadly plenty of scammers. Where there is money there will always be someone trying to make an easy buck and this is true for skins. Only trade with reputable companies, look for reviews, or trade through the Steam Market. Don’t hand over skins without receiving payment first, don’t give your skins to someone who promises to duplicate them, and beware of people pretending to be from Valve and wanting to inspect your skins. 


The esports business is only going to get bigger and you can see how other businesses are getting in on the act. The future of MMA and esports will be interesting as will how other traditional sports look to take advantage of this new revenue stream. As gaming grows people look to monetize different aspects of it and skins are just one more way to do so. Collecting skins is easy for anyone to do and with some luck and some clever trading you could end up with a record-breaking weapon skin.


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