The "Counter-Strike" franchise has gone through several iterations throughout the years, with the current incarnation of the main series, "Counter-Strike: Global Offensive," being one of the most popular competitive e-sports titles on the market. Beyond the running and gunning, one of the most interesting hallmarks of "Counter-Strike" is the game’s economy, both in-game and in real life. Players begin a match with basic weaponry and can accrue money by killing opponents or completing objectives, which they can later use to purchase new armaments.
But "Counter-Strike: Global Offensive" introduced a whole new level of transactions to the game with the introduction of digital cosmetics, which come in the form of ‘skins‘ and ‘stickers’ for weapons and apparel that can be acquired through loot boxes or trades. Skins are typically paint jobs or other kinds of metallic finishes that can alter the look of an entire weapon, while stickers are exactly what they sound like: digital decals to stamp on part of a gun. These items can be traded between players over Steam’s marketplace, and can reach jaw-dropping price tags.
As explained by the CS.Money blog, the complexity or relative beauty of a cosmetic is typically a non-factor in determining its value. Rather, cosmetics come in a variety of rarity categories, and belong to collections of items that are typically only available in crates that drop for a limited amount of time, creating scarcity. Additionally, weapon skins come in a variety of qualities, ranging from "Factory New" to "Battle Scarred," which also drastically affects price.
These are some of the most expensive cosmetic items in "Counter-Strike: Global Offensive".
Trade-Up endangered skins – Negev Anodized Navy Machine Gun
As explained by streamer TDM_Heyzeus, the Negev Anodized Navy is considered a "critically endangered" skin. This navy blue machine gun, originally available in the discontinued Assault Collection, is now being "traded up" to extinction. In "CS:GO," a trade-up contract allows a player to sacrifice ten weapons of the same rarity to obtain a single weapon of higher rarity from one of the collections used in the sacrifice. This is a crucial component of the "CS:GO" skin collection and trading market, and there are even online calculators designed to help players determine the probability of drawing specific guns.
The Negev Anodized Navy skin can sell for $100 to $400 on Steam’s Marketplace. That may sound like a lot for a weapon skin, but it is actually a budget option when compared to most of the other weapons on this list. The Negev skin itself is fairly cool-looking, but it mostly owes its high price tag to its potential as a trade-up item. Those hoping to get their hands on a Negev or any other Assault Collection items should probably act quickly.
As far back as 2014, members of the "CS:GO" Steam Community described Assault Collection crates as being out of drop circulation "for ages," and the only possibility of more of these crates appearing is if Valve decides to bring the items back as part of a Souvenir Collection, which seems unlikely.
StatTrak™ firearm skins
The single most valuable feature in determining weapon value is the StatTrak™ tag. As the name suggests, these cosmetics track specific statistics, such as player kills. No special visual effects are added to the weapon aside from the kill counter, but this feature can effectively double or triple the value of a weapon, generally scaling with its inherent rarity. For example, variants of the AWP sniper rifle, like the Lightning Strike skin from the Arms Deal Collection, normally sell for over $400 (at Factory New quality), while its StatTrak™ counterpart typically goes for over $800.
Skeptical players have inquired whether StatTrak™ weapons are worth the high asking price, as it is possible to buy better-looking, non-StatTrak™ weapons at competitive prices. As with all digital cosmetics, the answer is a matter of personal taste. It is worth noting that players can also check their lifetime kills in specific weapon categories by using third party sites. However, those who want to have an accurate count of their total kills with a specific weapon skin will probably want to spring for a StatTrak™ firearm. How else are you going to display your bragging rights on your actual firearm?
Knives have occupied a special place of reverence in the "Counter-Strike" community since long before "Global Offensive" launched. This is because accruing kills with a knife is generally harder than with firearms (hence the age-old adage of "bringing a knife to a gunfight").
As evidenced by video compilations showing off knife kills in professional tournaments, these are exciting moments for spectators. For "CS:GO" fans, knife kills are flashy plays on par with a slam dunk in basketball. Of course, it is worth noting that knife kills are not entirely for show, as they award players with a higher bounty than a typical kill. They also generally require stealth, a near-superhuman display of bullet dodging, an incompetent opponent, or some combination of those elements.
Even so, knives are typically used by players with a flair for showmanship, and so Valve has situated knife skins in a rarity category of their own. Consequently, these skins are especially sought after by collectors. Particularly popular (and particularly expensive) knife models include the M9 Bayonet and the wickedly hooked Karambit knife, which are both based on real weapons favored by special forces. However, the most popular knife model in "CS:GO" is the butterfly knife, due to the weapon’s flashy animations, which are based on real-life knife tricks.
All of these skins can fetch hundreds to thousands of dollars on the resell market, making them a real investment for players who do want to show off their stabbing skills.
Glock-18 Fade – Restricted Pistol
There are a number of patterns that are highly coveted for firearms, but the Fade line, which displays an iridescent gradient ranging from light orange to indigo, is particularly popular. The Glock-18 Fade is a coveted weapon with a price tag in the low $1000-range. Even though there is no StatTrak™ variant for this weapon, the skin is highly prized because it has a low "float quality," which means that its appearance only ranges from "Factory New" to "Minimal Wear." Furthermore, like the Negev Anodized, the Glock Fade is part of the discontinued Assault Collection.
It is worth noting that the Glock-18 is the spawn pistol, or starting sidearm, for Terrorist teams, meaning that the Fade skin could potentially see more use than other skins. That said, because it is less powerful than many other weapons in the game, it is also less popular than some other weapon models, and the rest of its skins are generally cheaper. To provide a point of comparison, the next most expensive Glock skin after the Fade, the Bullet Queen, clocks in at an asking price of roughly $350.
StatTrak™ knife skins
Just as the StatTrak™ quality force multiplies the value of guns, knives that track player kill counts are also in a different league in terms of cost. Bowie Knives typically double in price with the StatTrak™ tag, and more popular knife models with rare patterns see even greater increases in price. For instance, the Karambit Crimson Web is nearly 3 times as expensive as the standard version of the weapon.
The disparity is somewhat less pronounced in the popular butterfly knife category, however, due to the tremendous demand for the weapon model, regardless of stats. For example, the difference between a Doppler Sapphire Butterfly Knife and a StatTrak™ version of the item of comparable quality is less than a twenty percent increase in cost — but that still translates to a difference of roughly two thousand dollars. Neither option is cheap.
Again, the value behind these weapons is a combination of personal satisfaction and digital swagger, but the former is especially important where knives are concerned, since players are generally using either their primary weapon or side-arm for the majority of the game. That said, players will occasionally organize "knives-only" matches for fun, novelty, and the opportunity to show off their prized weapons. Another longstanding tradition is implementing knives-only tie-breakers in informal matches by using console commands. And what better time to break out a fancy knife?
Crimson Web Knife Skins
The spiderwebbed scarlet blades of the Crimson Web style are an especially popular pattern that can fetch tremendous prices. The popular M9 Bayonet Crimson Web starts at just over $2,500 and can climb to the mid $10K range. Meanwhile, the Karambit Crimson Web starts with a price tag in the low $5000s, regardless of its wear quality. Interestingly, the Crimson Red version of the ever-popular Butterfly Knife has a much lower starting price point, but a much higher ceiling depending on quality — reaching all the way up to $15-16K.
The reason for these vast disparities in price again comes down to personal taste on behalf of the player, and may be accounted for by how well specific blade designs show off specific patterns. It is also worth noting, as CS.Money points out, that cosmetic prices fluctuate regularly, especially as new content releases approach or as discontinued items dwindle in supply. Because of these factors, Crimson Web prices occasionally overtake other popular knife skins.
Gamma Doppler knife skins
Especially beautiful knife skins, like the jewel-toned blades of the Gamma Doppler style, are among the most coveted knife options in the game. The emerald-green Gamma Doppler M9 Bayonet can fetch as much as $12,476 in Factory New Condition. And again, high rollers can also spring for the StatTrak™ variant of the weapon, which is even more expensive. With a few exceptions, like certain Crimson Web models, the Gamma Doppler series comprises the most expensive knife skins being traded today.
"CS:GO" Guides provides a breakdown of the valuation of Gamma Doppler knives, which can help interested players understand the differences between the many variations. In short, Gamma Doppler comes in Mythic and Legendary grades. Mythic skins are much more common, and have four different "phases" that determine the positioning and patterning of the color on the knife blade. These phases are mostly equal in value, but Legendary grade knives, whose blades are completely colored, fetch up to 900% higher value than any of the Mythic phases.
The only skin class with a higher average value than knife skins are glove skins, which can fetch anywhere from just under $100 to nearly $30K. As Reddit user Applepie3141 phrases it, "If knives are the Gucci of ["CS:GO"] skins, then gloves will just be Rolex that goes with it."
A knife skin is almost a given for a well-equipped "CS:GO" player or collector, but gloves are true conversation pieces. Gloves were first added in November 2016 as special item drops, but like the Assault Collection, most gloves have since been discontinued and removed from drop rotation, making them exceedingly rare.
At the lower end of the price spectrum, there are Driver Gloves, which run between $70 to $500. At the high end, Pandora Sports Gloves net at least $1000, and have skyrocketed all the way up to the $20K range. Again, the variations in value are primarily determined by the gloves’ level of quality. Gloves have a float range that encompasses every quality, meaning they can either appear very worn, with abrasions and other blemishes, or otherwise be in pristine condition.
The extreme rarity of glove skins has actually been a source of controversy among the "CS:GO" community, with discussions debating the merits of the cosmetics’ wide price ranges popping up on Reddit.
Souvenir Dragon Lore AWP
The AWP sniper rifle is not only one of the most powerful weapons in "Counter-Strike," but it also has a wide variety of impressive skins. One of the most well-known and infamously expensive skins is the Dragon Lore AWP. While the design itself is cool, featuring a fire-breathing dragon against a gold background, the Dragon Lore’s high price is again the result of extremely limited availability.
And believe it or not, there is an even more expensive and rare version of the Dragon Lore, known as the Souvenir variant. Souvenir weapons look similar to their standard counterparts, but they also have otherwise-unattainable stickers pre-attached to the weapon, giving them an insane amount of exclusivity and value. Unfortunately for would-be collectors, Souvenir weapons are only attainable through Souvenir Cases, which dropped exclusively through official Valve-sanctioned "CS:GO" tournaments.
As reported by Dot Esports, a Factory New Souvenir Dragon Lore AWP emblazoned with a rare sticker sold for over $61K in 2018. The price for the now impossible-to-drop "one shot, one kill" sniper rifle has only increased since then.
The M4A4 Howl — CS:GO’s only Contraband-grade cosmetic
The M4A4 Howl is literally in a rarity weight class of its own, since it is the only item in "CS:GO" designated with the Contraband quality. In July 2020, the skin, supplemented by four "I Buy Power" stickers, sold for $130K in cash — a world record amount which was only recently eclipsed.
The story behind the sale and the reason for the unique Contraband quality are fascinating. As reported by PC Gamer, the art for the Howl skin, and the similarly-fashioned Howling Dawn Sticker, was actually submitted to the community workshop without the knowledge or consent of the original artist, violating their intellectual property rights. As a result, the artist served Valve with a DMCA notification.
Valve takes such infractions extremely seriously, and in addition to punishing the workshop contributors who illegally used the art with bans, the skin itself was removed from the game. Players who were lucky enough to already own the skin received a replacement design created by the "CS:GO" design team, which carries the Contraband tag and is completely unavailable through any means except trading.