The world of CS:GO skins can be incredibly confusing, so in this article we’ll go over the basics to get you up to speed on the whole skin game. Hopefully this helps you make an informed decision on whether to purchase that new skin or not.
This is by no means a detailed, exhaustive guide on the skin market. CS:GO’s skin scene is a deep and intricate ecosystem with tons of nuances and interesting details, so it’s simply impossible to cover all of that in one short(ish) article. This is just a basic guide to get you up to speed on the basic principles of CS:GO skins. In case you’re interested, you can also check out our article on the most popular CS:GO skins here.
How to get CS:GO skins
There are a couple of ways of obtaining a CS:GO skin:
- A random drop after a game
- Unboxing after opening a case (cases also randomly drop after games)
- Buying a skin on the Steam market (or third party websites such as CS.Money)
- Buying an Operation pass (when Operations are happening) and getting skins via Operation rewards; Operations are special limited-time events in CS:GO
It is possible to get skins for free by just playing the game, but the skins that randomly drop after matches are extremely common and thus not worth very much. They’re also very bland looking, and while beauty is of course in the eye of the beholder you will need to spend some money if you want to get the more colorful or intricately designed skins in your inventory.
Note that knives and gloves cannot be obtained through random drops, these always have to be unboxed.
Skin trading and selling
Contrary to what you see with a lot of other games, you can sell and trade your CS:GO skins. Technically, CS:GO skins have no real world monetary value since there’s no official way of getting the skins out of the Steam ecosystem. Yes, you can sell a skin on the Steam Community market but then you’ll be ‘paid’ in Steam balance, and there’s no official way of converting Steam balance to real world money.
That said: there are tons of third party websites and communities dedicated to skin trading, and many of them allow you to cash out. This is done at your own risk, but if you use trusted websites (CS.Money is one of the most well-known skin trading websites, but there are others) it’s pretty much risk-free. Those websites have been up and running for years and are used by thousands upon thousands of people, so it’s safe to say that Valve allows these websites to exist.
With the fact that skins have a certain value and rarity, there’s a vibrant skin trading community out there. The cheapest skins worth a couple of cents just get traded on the Community Market, but higher tier skins usually get trade through third party websites since Steam takes such a big cut for every Community Market transaction.
Weapon Drops vs Cases
The game always has a couple of weapon collections to pull from when dropping items randomly, meaning that not all weapon collections are actively dropping at any given point. Certain weapon collections were only actively dropping during Operations, for example, making the weapon in said collection a lot rarer and thus more valuable.
The same goes for cases. There is always a pool of cases that the game pulls from when dropping cases, and cases can and do get pulled out of rotation, making them rarer and thus raising their price.
CS:GO Skin Rarities
As mentioned earlier, some (mostly lower value) skins can be obtained for free through random drops that you can get after playing matches in the game itself, but most of the more valuable skins need to be unboxed via cases. From most common to rarest, the list goes as follows:
Consumer Grade (White)
This is the most common weapon tier in the game, and if you see a weapon skin dropped to a player after a match it’s most likely going to be a Consumer Grade weapon. These skins cost under a dollar and aren’t very flashy or noticeable. They only drop as post game rewards and can’t be found in cases.
Industrial Grade (Light Blue)
These are a bit rarer than the consumer skins, but Industrial Grade skins still aren’t worth very much due to how ubiquitous they are. These range from a couple of cents to a couple of dollars at most, and they also cannot be found in cases.
These are the lowest tier of weapon finish that you can find in cases. As a consequence, they are rather affordable to buy on the market since more than three quarters of all opened cases end up with a Mil-Spec skin. Some Mil-Spec skins from older weapon collections can cost a pretty penny, but Mil-Spec skins are generally pretty affordable. They can feature some more intricate designs, but generally are rather simple and straightforward when it comes to their design.
Approximate unboxing odds: 79.9%
This is a lot rarer than Mil-Spec skins, and Restricted skins for popular weapons (AK, Glock, AWP, …) can get quite expensive, doubly so if they’re part of a discontinued collection or part of a case that’s not dropping anymore. The designs on these skins are starting to get more colorful and/or intricate. Expect to pay anything from a couple of dollars to hundreds of dollars for these skins.
Approximate unboxing odds: 15.9%
These are one tier below the rarest gun skin type, and as such you’ll see some beautiful and complex weapon designs in this tier. This is where you’ll find the skins that Valve deemed to be just not quite special enough for the rarest tier, but you can definitely find some real gems here. The cost of a Classified weapon greatly depends on its popularity (and the rarity of the collection or case that it’s in) so this is again a very wide range: you’ll pay anything from two dollars to over a thousand dollars for a Classified skin.
Approximate unboxing odds: 3.2%
This is the rarest tier of gun skins, and here you’ll find the most detailed and breathtaking designs. A Covert status doesn’t mean that a skin is prohibitively expensive, however. Covert skins from recent cases for more niche weapons can be had for a couple of dollars, but if you want to purchase a Covert skin for a popular weapon, expect to pay $10 at the very least for a Covert skin in good condition. As far as a maximum price goes: the sky is pretty much the limit. Covert skins from discontinued cases can cost thousands of dollars.
Approximate unboxing odds: 0.6%
Rare Special Item (Knives and Gloves)
This tier contains the very rarest items in the game: gloves and knives. Knives and gloves cannot be found in the other tiers and as such can only be obtained by unboxing or trading. This, combined with their status as the most desirable items in the game, makes them extremely expensive. The cheapest knife in the game currently goes for around $60. If you want to get a decently popular knife and finish you’re looking at $200 and more these days.
Knives and gloves can get extremely expensive. A Karambit Case Hardened with a very rare pattern reportedly sold for 1.5 million (yes, you read that correctly) dollars, but even regular knives can cost a lot of money. A Butterfly Knife, for example, can’t be bought for less than $400.
Approximate unboxing odds: 0.25%
This is a special weapon skin tier that only contains the M4A4 Howl. After its release (the Howl was originally a Covert skin) it came to light that the Howl and Howling Dawn sticker contained stolen artwork. After resolving the issue, Valve also responded by banning the users who had submitted the files, as well as removing the Howl M4 and sticker from all cases and collections As such, the only Howls in the game are weapons that had been unboxed prior to this and the skin can only be obtained by trading for an already existing one as there is no way to unbox it.
The Contraband status did give the weapon a kind of mythical status in the CS:GO trading scene, and that combined with its rarity makes it so that even the cheapest M4A4 Howl costs thousands of dollars.
Buying vs unboxing CS:GO skins
As a general rule of thumb, it’s almost always better to just buy the skin that you want instead of hoping that you’ll unbox it. As you can see above, the odds of getting a knife in an unboxing are less than 1%, and that’s just for a knife. If you want a specific knife type and finish (and not just ‘a knife’) you have to get even luckier if you want to obtain it via unboxing.
What is StatTrak?
StatTrak (ST) is a special ‘form’ of a weapon skin. A StatTrak weapon essentially just counts the number of kills that you make (on human enemies; bot kills don’t count) in the game with that specific weapon skin. On guns this is displayed via a small module with a display on it, on knives this is displayed via scratches on the knife finish. Other than this cosmetic change, a StatTrak weapon does essentially nothing else, so if you don’t care about the kill tally factor you can skip ST weapons altogether.
StatTrak gun skins are generally more expensive due to the fact that they’re rarer, but StatTrak knife skins aren’t very sought after due to the fact that not a lot of people want to see their knife finish damaged by the StatTrak number.
Note that the StatTrak counter of a weapon will be reset once a StatTrak item leaves your inventory by trading.
Approximate drop chance: 10% (i.e. if you land on a pink skin when unboxing a case, that skin has a 10% chance of being StatTrak)
What are souvenir skins?
Souvenir gun skins are special versions of weapon skins that can only be obtained by opening Souvenir cases. These souvenir cases drop during Major tournaments (they used to randomly drop to viewers of the match, nowadays you can purchase them with event coins) and can be opened and traded like normal skins. A souvenir skin has special commemorative stickers on it in order to remember the match that it was dropped in.
CS:GO Weapon Wear
CS:GO skins come with different wear values. Simply put, this determines how worn a weapon looks. A Factory New weapon will have almost no scratches or signs of wear on it, whereas a Battle Scarred weapon will look as if it’s been through multiple years of fighting. The different wear patterns are as follows:
- Battle Scarred (1.00 – 0.44 Float Value)
- Well-worn (0.44-0.37 Float Value)
- Field Test (0.37-0.15 Float Value)
- Minimal Wear (0.15-0.07 Float Value)
- Factory New (0.07 – 0.00 Float Value)
CS:GO Float Value
The ‘Float Value’ is a random number that gets assigned to a weapon when it’s unboxed or dropped to a user in the game for the first time. That number decides how worn the skin looks: a knife with a float value of 0.14 will look a lot more used than a knife with a float value of 0.08, for example, even though both knives fall into the Minimal Wear category.
Note that the Float Value of a weapon cannot change. The Float Value gets assigned once (when the weapon first enters the game, either by being unboxed or dropped randomly) and then never changes, no matter if the weapon gets used in the game or not.
CS:GO weapon patterns
Some CS:GO skins (mostly knives and gloves, but some gun skins too) can have varying patterns. A Case Hardened skin, for example, can look drastically different even if it has the same Float Value. With Case Hardened skins, more blue is sought after, and a full blue Case Hardened knife will sell for hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars more than a regular looking Case Hardened knife.
As a beginning trader it’s not important to specialize in all the different patterns (the Case Hardened scene is almost a scene within the trading scene) of all the different finishes, but it is important to note that it can be a factor when deciding how much a knife is worth.
CS:GO trade lock
Every ingame item that gets traded (either via a third party website tradebot or with another user directly) in CS:GO is locked in the inventory of its new owner for one week, even if you have 2FA and everything turned on. This measure was added by Valve in order to combat scamming and skin betting.
Once you receive an item, you’ll be able to use it and sell it on the Community Market, but you will not be able to trade it until it has been in your inventory for 7 days. There is nothing you can do to lift this restriction.
Skins also get trade locked if you make changes to them by applying stickers.
The world of CS:GO skin (trading) can be an awfully confusing one, but this article should contain everything that you need in order to get a basic understanding of the CS:GO skin world. Do note that this isn’t an exhaustive list, nor is this a ‘trading guide’. The world of CS:GO trading is vast, and there are lots of intricacies and specializations within this world, so just like with any hobby you’ll want to devote some serious time to research and learning if you really want to get into this hobby.