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How a stolen skin became CS:GO's most legendary gun

CanisAlbus's original artwork that Auzzii stole.

Crime and punishment 

While the Arms Deal update that brought skins to CS:GO played heavily on themes of illegal black market trading, it was never intended to facilitate actual theft. But in June of 2014, Deviantart user CanisAlbus discovered that's exactly what had happened—the popular Howl skin wasn't inspired by Auzzii's dog, it was a shameless copy of his own artwork. 

"Someone has stolen one of my artworks to make a custom skin for a gun in a game called Counter-Strike: Global Offensive," CanisAlbus wrote in his Deviantart blog. "I'm just letting you know(sic) that I did design this piece, but I didn't upload the items to the stream [sic] marketplace and the spineless worm who submitted it didn't have my permission to do so. However, I have reported both copyright infringements and I'm hoping that the items will be removed soon."

As CS:GO continued to become more popular, the price of a Howl skin skyrocketed.

Days later, Valve announced that they had received a DMCA takedown notice regarding the use of CanisAlbus's artwork without permission and responded. "When we launched the CS:GO Items Workshop, our goal was to provide artists with a space to share their creative ideas," Valve wrote in a blog to the community. "By design, the Items Workshop has very low friction for artists to submit their work—new contributions do not require Valve review or approval." They do however, require that modders sign a legal agreement before uploading their creations.

The community didn't react kindly. In a Reddit thread one user wrote, "[it] took me a damn week to finish the artwork for my skin, disregarding the time spent modifying the pattern to fit the gun properly. Auzzii is a tool for doing this, and honestly I'm pretty surprised it hasn't come up sooner." 

A comparison of the old Howl (left) and the new (right). Click the arrows to enlarge.

Howl, the Howling Dawn sticker, and the five other guns from the Huntsman collection that sic was involved in making were removed from the weapon cases though they would still remain in player's inventories. In the case of Howl and its sticker, both were given original redesigns by the CS:GO team to reflect their original aesthetic but avoid infringing CanisAlbus's copyright.

For sic, this revelation of theft was a slap in the face. He had been making CS:GO skins for months, and compared to first-time contributor Auzzii, stood to lose a lot more. In an update to the Howling Dawn's original Workshop page, he implied his ignorance of the theft. "Guys please take note that I am not the guy to stole the art. It was proposed by Auzzii that I use HIS art to make a skin or sticker, which was the worst decision I've made by far looking at what's happening. I've already contacted the artist Canis about this matter and apologized, hoping to get a solution for this matter."

Unfortunately for sic, the only solution was a lifetime ban from Steam for himself and Auzzii. 

Making a legend

What makes the Howl such a remarkable story is that Valve simply could have remade the skin and wiped its hands of the matter. Valve’s redesign was its own property, so there was no need to pull new copies of the weapon from being generated in weapon cases, but in doing so they created CS:GO's most unique skin.

Following the redesign of the finish and sticker and the announcement that neither would be attainable beyond the stock that already existed in player's inventories, Valve embraced sic and Auzzie's illicit activities and bumped Howl up into a category all its own by assigning it 'Contraband' level of rarity. To date, no other item in CS:GO carries this descriptor.

With the skin no longer available for purchase, the remaining stock quickly became valuable items for any CS:GO player's collection. Using archive.org to view CSGO Analyst, we can see that by the end of 2014 the skin was being listed at roughly $270. As CS:GO continued to become more popular and the esports scene took off, that price skyrocketed to the $1,800 it is today. 

The new Howl noticeably changes the wolf in CanisAlbus's work to a more non-descript beast.

Skins in CS:GO come in different qualities, but the Factory New with the StatTrak add-on that tallies kills has become an icon among professional players. GuardiaN of team Natus Vincere hoards six StatTrak Howl (Factory New) M4A4s in addition to lesser quality ones—a total worth an estimated $12,000.

There's no telling how many Howls are still in circulation. Because the Steam marketplace places limits on the price of items, those being sold are through third-party CS:GO trading websites. Stickers can still be purchased right now for over $150, however. But if you've got a lot of money to burn and are looking to own one of the most sought after finishes in CS:GO, a StatTrak M4A4 Howl (Factory New) is the closest thing CS:GO has to an Excalibur or a Mjölnir. And it's all thanks to two thieving artists.

Steven enjoys nothing more than a long grind, which is precisely why his specialty is on investigative feature reporting on China's PC games scene, weird stories that upset his parents, and MMOs. He's Canadian but can't ice skate. Embarrassing.