Esports: What skins mean to gamers?

·6-min read

Gamers are a fickle group of people. For many, having the option to personalise the gaming experience is a necessity. Given the demand for personalisation options, the game developers add skins into the game at intervals, this allows players greater freedom in terms of choosing their own experience as well as expressing their sense of style to the game. There are some players who take their need to be unique farm more seriously.

Recently a record was set for the most expensive in-game skin, AK-47 Case Hardened with the StatTrak„¢ Technology. Bearing 4 'Titan | Katowice 2014' stickers on the skin with a Minimal Wear finish sold for a mind-boggling $150,000. This skin is made for the AK-47 rifle in the popular first person shooter (FPS) game called Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO). The previous record for a in-game skin was held by the Skadoodle-Signed Dragon Lore AWP Skin, which was sold for $61,000. Interestingly this skin is also for a gun in CS:GO.

The question that comes to mind when looking at the ludicrous amounts of money people are spending on these items is, what are these skins? Why would someone wish to spend so much money on a game? Do these skins offer players any competitive advantage?

The answer to the first question is straightforward. Skins are a type of item within the game that modify the visuals, to clarify these skins are digital products that are specific to the game being played. They can be used to change the visual experience for the player to a certain extent. Some games allow players even greater freedom as the skins can be further modified to a certain extent. This allows players to create a type of skins that are fully customised and hence unique to them.

Common examples of this includes costumes for various characters, special paint jobs for equipment being used in the game or in some cases even items that change the characters animation style. In some games, there are even skins available for a change in the colour scheme or a design modification for the game interface.

Considering the insane costs and how there are still buyers for the item, it is worth asking whether it helps improve one's performance in the game. The answer to this is no. Most of these items, irrespective of how expensive they are do not offer any competitive advantage to the player.

The reason for this is simple. In the world of gaming, especially when concerning games that have a professional eSports circuit, it is important for developers to ensure that the game remains fair to all players. Any game that fails to maintain this and begins to offer advantages to players based on the in-game items they have bought is viewed as a pay to win game. When this happens, most players lose interest in the game as their ability to pay is what gets rewarded, instead of their actual skill at the game.

Coming to the third question, while most skins are not of particularly high value as they can always be bought directly from the respective in-game store for a fair price. However, there are exceptions to this rule. Some items are made in a limited release or are available for purchase only for a short duration. In many cases, the developers even offer the items as a part of a collection box (each purchase results in the random drop of one item from the collection box). Such situations result in a scenario where eventually an item becomes unavailable and must be bought from a player who was able to obtain it. Like any product that is limited in supply the prices of such skins tend to increase over time. Some of the most expensive items have now become so rare that there are less than a handful of copies that are still confirmed to be in existence. This is what happened in the case of the item that recently sold for $150,000.

While these skins are worth a lot, their value is decided solely by how appreciative players are of the visual aspect of the item and whether the item has historic significance. To bring up an example of an item with historic significance that results in the value increasing significantly, the Dragon Lore AWP skin in CS:GO is certainly quite valuable, its price starts around the $2,000 mark. However, the version signed by Skadoodle is worth a lot more at over $61,000. The historic significance of this version of the skin comes from the fact that Tyler "Skadoodle" Latham, was named the MVP for the ELEAGUE Boston Major 2018. This was the first time that a North American team (Cloud9) won a major in CS:GO history.

In simple terms, most of these skins gain their high valuation as collectible items or memorabilia. Just like in the world of sports, memorabilia which is autographed or commemorative of an incredibly unique event, the more unique the item becomes the greater its value becomes.

Over the years there have been several of these skins that have become collectibles and as such they today command impressive resale value. Some of the more iconic ones are-

€¢ StatTrak AK-47 Blue | Case Hardened (CS:GO) valued previously around $30,000. The version with 4 'Titan | Katowice 2014' stickers and a Minimal Wear finish is valued above $150,000.

€¢ Skadoodle-Signed Dragon Lore AWP Skin - CS:GO valued at $61,000 (the value for other variants starts from $2,000).

€¢ Ethereal Flames Pink War Dog (Dota 2) valued at over $38,000

€¢ The Olive Branch Pan (PUBG) which is currently listed at around $30,000

€¢ Golden Ornithomancer Mantle of the Benefactor (Dota 2) valued around $2,000

€¢ Stat-Trak Karambit | Crimson Web (Factory New) valued at the least around $2,000 (rumours suggest that at one point it was sold for as high as $30,000, There are no known copies of this item up for sale now, suggesting the value may be far greater now.

€¢ Unusual Golden Baby Roshan (Dota 2) which last sold for a value of around $1,800 (although there has been no new listing for the item or sales in a while, suggesting that the value for this item may have gone up since).

€¢ Trove Carafe 2015 Autographed by 7ckngmad (Dota 2) which currently lists at a value of around $1,850. This item is not even usable in game as it is actually a treasure box that randomly drops an item from a selection, the value of this item went sky-high in 2018 after Sébastien "Ceb" Debs (formerly known as 7ckngMad) won The International in 2018.

€¢ Galaxy Skin (Fortnite), this skin is unique amongst the high-value skins as the only known way to obtain it was through purchasing a Samsung Galaxy Note 9 or Galaxy Tab S4 during the promotional period (this makes the skins worth either $500 or $1,000 depending on the device that was bought).

While these are some of the most coveted skins as of today, the situation may change as new skins continue to be released by developers in a bid to offer players greater options when trying to personalize their in-game look.

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