Counter-Strike 2's reveal has sent the game's skins market wild

Counter-Strike weapon skins, character skins, and sprays
(Image credit: Valve)

Valve has done a Valve once more. Not only did it announce Counter-Strike 2 out of nowhere but, with one finger raised aloft at all the web3 donkeys, announced that every skin from Counter-Strike: Global Offensive would be carrying over:

"Bring your entire CS:GO inventory with you to Counter-Strike 2. Not only will you keep every item you’ve collected over the years, but they’ll all benefit from Source 2 lighting and materials."

CS:GO skins are a very big deal indeed, with people in extreme cases paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for a new look for their gun. It's a marketplace that over time has only increased in value and thus has attracted those who want to keep it that way, and the announcement of Counter-Strike 2 and the fact skins will carry over has sent valuations all over the place: But mainly upwards.

Point being that for most players, myself included, skins are a nice optional element to the game. For others they are the game.

The general rule with CS:GO cosmetics and their value is the older the better. Skins that have been 'retired', meaning that the cases which you can get them from no longer drop, are the most valuable for obvious reasons, whereas skins that can be obtained from current cases are not so sought-after. This results in some weird outliers, and skins that were once unpopular skyrocketing in value.

There's also this assumption that when we discuss CS:GO skins, we're talking guns. That is the majority of it, but there are also agents (different avatars), patches which go on the avatar's uniform, and perhaps most importantly weapon stickers. I won't even pretend to understand the sticker market, which has seemingly random spikes in value all the time, but the time-limited avatars will definitely continue to rise in value over time.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this is that the value of cosmetics is often linked to, well, what they look like. The speculators who are buying into Counter-Strike skins right now in the hope of gravy later are focusing on those skins that have aesthetic elements which will or should be vastly improved in the new version of the game. That is, skins which have particularly lighting-sensitive and pearlescent finishes.

The AWP Lightning Strike is one of these and has increased in value over the last month by around $100, selling for between $450-500 in late February and, in the last 48 hours, selling for up to $730 with the lowest price around $630. But the necessary caveat here, and with every other price I mention, is that these values track individual trades. We're not talking about thousands of these things being sold: One gun going for $730 spikes the graph and, afterwards, the valuation will usually drop again. One of my AK-47s, for instance, was at one point this month sold for around $850, but is now back to a relatively stable valuation in the $200-250 region.

The sticker valuations have always been a bit of mystery to me, and at the moment those from the Stockholm major are for some reason wildly popular: The MOUZ (Gold) one was worth around $15 when it was released in October 2021; It's steadily increased in value since, but in the last 24 hours this thing is selling for an astonishing $270-300. 

Incidentally, one of the best things about all this is it makes Dr. Disrespect look like a right dingus in shilling his upcoming NFT-based shooter.

Yes, imagine that.

I looked up the AK-47 Asimov skin, just because it's a personal favourite, and a month ago these would sell for roughly $150. Since the Source 2 rumours started it's had a minor spike in value, going for around $175, and in the last 24 hours several have been sold for around $200. That speaks to the real story here. There's a small but notably rising tide in skin value for the simple reason that speculators know one thing about Counter-Strike 2: Whatever else, it's going to attract new players and in all likelihood increase Counter-Strike's popularity. More people equals more demand equals more money.

And Counter-Strike 2 has another depth charge. Players can now 'inspect' the Zeus, a one-shot up-close stun gun, which means Zeus skins are inevitable.

Patches, until this point, had a big problem for a cosmetic item. You couldn't see them in-game, even if your opponents could, because you couldn't see your avatar's body (beyond the hands holding the gun). Counter-Strike 2 lets players see their limbs and so patches, which have never really been much of a factor in the Counter-Strike skins market, suddenly have an extra layer to them: If anything is going to go crazy, one imagines it would be them.

And, of course, you can now see your feet. Cue the inevitable…

All of which is to say that, overall, Counter-Strike 2's announcement caused an immediate spike in skin values, and that's what you'd expect. The bigger question is going to be whether these valuations hold because, at the moment, they're entirely speculative. People aren't suddenly buying these guns because they like the look of them, but because they think in time the value is going to increase, and over the next few months we'll see whether the market sustains this kind of pricing.

Which leads me, finally, to the most important thing. Don't listen to people telling you to buy Counter-Strike skins or 'invest' in the market. I play Counter-Strike because I love it, and simply due to sheer length of time played I have some reasonably valuable skins, but in terms of a time-to-money ratio you'd be much better off doing almost anything else. The peaks and troughs of Counter-Strike cosmetic valuations are fun to watch but, unless you want to dedicate half of your life to watching tiny fluctuations across tens of thousands of cosmetic items, it's best to do so from a distance.

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."