For many years, the gaming industry operated on a model where you would make a single game purchase, which you would enjoy for a couple of years until a new game was introduced.

However, this approach swiftly became unviable due to the soaring expenses associated with creating top-tier AAA titles, reaching costs in the hundreds of millions. This challenge became even more pronounced with games like Fortnite and other battle royales, as they relied on maintaining substantial player populations consistently; otherwise, the game's vitality would wane. Given that a substantial initial cost could potentially jeopardise the game's survival, there were limited alternatives available.

Although it's a recent development within the gaming realm, it is rapidly evolving into the norm within the entire gaming sector, where the estimated size of the gaming cosmetics market reaches USD$50 Billion (RM238 Billion). Consequently, gaming platforms for the purchase and sale of these cosmetic items have grown into significant and lucrative enterprises.

We’re going to delve into the highly lucrative market of eSports skin trading, covering everything from what skins are to their early days, the highest-grossing games and skins, the highest-priced skins ever sold, the mechanics of skin gambling, and how players turn pixels into real profits through trade-ups.

What Are Skins & How Did The Trading Market Come About? - A General FAQ

Simply put, a skin is a digital cosmetic item that alters the appearance of in-game weapons, characters, or equipment. While they generally serve no functional purpose, they have captured the imagination of gamers worldwide.

Skins are visually distinctive, often inspired by popular culture or art, and they allow players to personalise their gaming experience. 

Skins can range from simple colour changes to elaborate and unique designs. They have become an integral part of the gaming culture, symbolising individuality and status among players.

The Early Days of Skins

The first ever skin to be introduced was back in 2001 through the game Sonic Adventure where players were provided the option to download free Christmas-themed costumes for their characters. Later on in 2006, Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion, skins began their rise to fame after the launch of horse armour as DLC (downloadable content).

Prior to that, the gaming world had also seen the birth of what we call ‘microtransactions’ today in 1990 through Double Dragon 3 where players were able to purchase power-ups, characters, health, weapons, and special moves by inserting a coin in the arcade.

Putting the two together became one of gaming's most infamous and lucrative business strategies.

Many games since then have taken up the mantle of creating skins and other cosmetics and have developed numerous ways to obtain them from one-off purchases to subscription-based seasons.

Birth of the Skin Trading Market

The eSports skin trading market had its beginnings with the release of "Counter-Strike: Global Offensive" (CS:GO) by Valve Corporation in August 2012. While the concept of in-game items and cosmetics existed in other games, CS:GO introduced a groundbreaking feature: weapon skins.

Here are the facts:

  • Weapon Skins: CS:GO allowed players to obtain cosmetic weapon skins through in-game drops, which they could use to customise their firearms. These skins varied in rarity and design, with some being more visually appealing and sought after than others.

  • Trading and Customization: Players could trade these skins with each other through the Steam platform, introducing the concept of virtual item trading. This customization feature quickly gained popularity, and players started collecting, trading, and showing off their rare and stylish skins.

  • Skin Cases: CS:GO implemented the concept of "skin cases" where players could purchase keys to unlock cases containing random skins. This introduced an element of chance and excitement to skin acquisition.

Valve then introduced the Steam Community Market in December 2012 giving birth to an entirely new virtual economy. This formalised and legitimised the skin trading market allowing players to buy, sell, and trade skins on the Steam Community Market, setting the stage for the booming eSports skin trading industry.

Market Growth

In the early days, CS:GO skins were relatively inexpensive, and the market was still in its infancy. However, as the popularity of the game and the demand for certain rare skins grew, so did their market value. The rarity of skins played a crucial role in their value. Certain skins were considered exceedingly rare, often tied to specific events or conditions, and this rarity contributed to their high market prices. Some players began to treat skin trading as a form of investment, hoping to capitalise on the increasing value of their digital assets.

This upward trajectory attracted more players and investors to the skin trading scene. New platforms emerged where players could connect with potential partners for item exchanges, while other websites evolved to facilitate CS:GO skin-based betting. Additionally, tools for analysing item prices became available.

Moreover, automated bots played a significant role in these developments. Services utilised these bots to handle various tasks: platforms automatically assessed item values and ensured secure transactions, giving rise to the initial prototype of CS.MONEY.

This period witnessed the emergence of an entire industry centred around skins with players beginning to trade skins using real-world money. Despite the fact that these items did not confer any in-game advantages, the market's value surged into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Highest Grossing Games & Skins

When talking about the highest-grossing skins that have ever been sold, CS:GO holds the title of champion. While not the only game with a thriving skin market it is the only one that has witnessed jaw-dropping transactions, with some skins reaching astronomical values. What makes these numbers so high is that there are a limited number of these skins in existence putting skins on par with physical collectibles.

According to Dexerto, in 2018 a souvenir AWP Dragon Lore Factory New skin was sold for an astonishing RM 29,1767.51 making it one of the most expensive digital items ever sold. Here are some of the most expensive skins ever to date still on the market:

Skin Name Skin Type Release Date Current Value (USD) Current Value (RM)
Fire Serpent AK-47 2013 500 - 7,000 2,300 - 33,500
Gold Arabesque AK-47 2021 1,500 - 10,000 7,200 - 47,800
Howl M4A4 2014 2,000 - 20,000 9,600 - 95,600
Wild Lotus AK-47 2019 3,000 - 20,000 14,300 - 95,600
Crimson Web (Factory New) Knife 2013 6,500 - 14,000 31,000 - 69,900
Gungnir AWP 2019 6,000 - 20,000 28,700 - 95,600
Ruby/Emerald/Sapphire Karambit/Butterfly/M9 Bayonet Knives 2013-2014 15,000 - 20,000 71,700 - 95,600
Vice/Pandora's Box (Factory New) Sport Gloves 2016 20,000 - 50,000 95,600 - 239,000
Case Hardened (661) AK-47 2013 30,000 - 120,000 143,300 - 573,500
Dragon Lore (Souvenir) AWP 2014 50,000 - 150,000+ 239,000 - 716,900+
Case Hardened (Blue Gem) Karambit Knife 2013 1.5 Million+ 7.1 Million+
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CS:GO is not the only game with a thriving skin market. Other popular titles such as "Dota 2" have also embraced the concept. Here are a few of their most expensive skins:

Skin Name Character Release Date Approximate Current Value (USD) Approximate Current Value (RM)
Shattered Greatsword Sven 2015 400 1,200
Golden Ornithomancer Mantle of the Benefactor Rubick 2016 715 3,400
Golden Silent Wake Drow Ranger 2016 770 3,700
Axe of Phractos Axe 2013 845 4,000
Bracers of Aeons of the Crimson Witness Faceless Void 2017 1,120 5,400
The Alpine Stalker's Set Ursa 2012 1,300 6,200
Golden Basher Blades Anti-Mage 2015 1,700+ 8,100+
Aghanim's Interdimensional Baby Roshan Courier 2020 1,800+ 8,600+
Golden Baby Roshan Courier 2012 1,800+ 8,600+
Jade Baby Roshan Courier 2018 2,015 9,600
Legacy Ethereal Flames Wardgog Courier 2012 39,000 186,400
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Skin Gambling & Overview of the Market Mechanics

Separate from the usual esports betting that you may be familiar with, skin gambling presents itself as an intrinsically linked yet separate market. In this economy, skins operate as a commodity. Their value fluctuates based on factors like supply, demand, rarity, and the condition of the skin. The market's stability is bolstered by trading platforms and skin marketplaces, which facilitate the buying and selling of skins. These platforms offer guaranteed services, ensuring the security of transactions and preventing fraud.

How Does Skin Gambling Work?

There are numerous different ways one can utilise the skins at their disposal or use real-world money to gain ‘betting chips’. Here are a few:

Esports betting

In this emerging sector, CSGO Lounge stands as one of the most established and widely used platforms. It permits users to wager CS:GO items from their Steam inventories on CS:GO matches taking place in leagues such as ESL and FACEIT. Participants have the option to place bets with a value of up to RM1,433.70 in items on a single match, although some users employ secondary Steam accounts to surpass this limit. The winnings are determined by odds, which are subject to change in real time based on the proportion of bets placed on each team.

CSGO Lounge is accessible to anyone with a Steam account. According to the website's regulations, it's the user's responsibility to ascertain whether such activities are legal in their place of residence: "By placing a bet on CSGO Lounge, you are confirming that you are complying with your local laws permitting participation in skin betting," as stated in the website's rules section. Typically, this requires individuals to be at least 18 years of age, but it's crucial to verify this information. If a user fails to claim their winnings within 21 days, CSGO Lounge retains them.

Mystery Boxes

CS:GO itself provides players with miniature gambling elements through its weapon cases, which can be unlocked for a fee of RM11.90 while you're in the game. Third-party websites aim to replicate the thrill of opening these in-game weapon cases, but they use their own unique tokens and cases for this purpose. Essentially, it's an imitation of the in-game experience, but it involves different potential outcomes, and a different entity is handling the monetary transactions.

SkinCrates takes the individual CS:GO skins they possess and repackages them into custom 'crates' that are not officially recognized as CS:GO weapon cases. These crates are accessible for purchase on their website. For instance, with RM14.34 worth of SkinCrates credits, you can unlock an 'AWP Crate' and try your luck with one of the 24 different knives, each varying in value and rarity. With RM286.74 worth of credits, your chances of obtaining a specific knife increase.

Shared Pots

This widely embraced variant of skin betting is possibly the most straightforward, revolving entirely around odds-based wagering against fellow players. For example, participants contribute their skins to a common pot within a brief timeframe, and once the timer reaches zero, no further bets are allowed. The system then selects a winner based on the collective entries from all participants, where your chances of winning the pot increase proportionally with the total value of the skins you wagered.

Gambling Games

A different subset of gambling platforms enables you to transform your in-game items into a unique in-house currency, which can be used to participate in online renditions of classic games such as poker, rock-paper-scissors, dice, or roulette. For example, on csgolive.com, you have the option to engage in blackjack by utilising 'chips' that have been derived from the worth of the skins you've deposited.

Trade-Ups

Trade-ups, a feature prevalent in CS:GO, allow players to combine multiple low-tier skins to potentially receive a higher-tier skin in return. This gamble adds an element of excitement to the skin trading world. In many third-party gambling platforms, players trade multiple skins with varying values in the hopes of hitting a valuable jackpot.

Using Skins to Gain Real Money

Selling Skins

Skins change in value over time. As more skins come out and others become less available, collectors and sellers will affect the general marketplace value for specific items. Having a skin from 4 years ago might be more valuable now than it ever was, so keeping and "investing" in skins, then selling them at another time can earn you some profit.

The most common way is to sell your skins on places like the Steam Marketplace (which is the safest) or third-party platforms for example CSGORoll, DaddySkins, HellCase and many more.

Trading Skins

Trading skins is a much more delicate way of making money, but it's also a much faster way to make a profit.

Trading involves gaining knowledge of market trends and niches, knowing what collectors are looking for, and joining active trading communities. Finding the best way to trade usually involves rinse-and-repeat methods, such as finding discounted items and reselling them for a profit to collectors or for a more valuable item that you can sell to another collector.

Trading requires a lot more effort than just selling skins, but it's a great way to socialise in lobbies and become part of some great communities.

How to Identify a Reliable Exchange Site

You've probably heard of as many dodgy CS:GO skin exchange sites as we have, so we've narrowed down some ways you can find the legitimate ones.

Browse the Site

Common sense is a powerful tool. Keep an eye out for things that seem illegitimate such as deals that are too good to be true or outdated information. Check how long the site has been around and keep an eye out for poor spelling and grammar. If you get a bad gut feeling about the site, you should probably avoid it.

Check Online Reviews

Loads of people ask whether a site is legit or not, and many websites research this to provide an answer. Browse online and see if people have had good or bad experiences with certain trading sites. You can always check out our operator reviews as well to see if they're trustworthy or not. Typically, we have a ratings guideline we follow which is tried and true. Therefore, you can find that our reviews are reliable.

Review Online Forums & Reddit Threads

Reddit is a surprisingly great place to ask and find questions about whether a site is safe for trading. Besides that, you can always reach out to us as well if you don't see a certain operator reviewed on our site yet. Don't be afraid to ask!

Read the Terms & Conditions

The terms and conditions of a site can be a dead giveaway for potentially fraudulent activity. It will be a drag, but reading the T's and C's will help put your mind at ease. 

Final Thoughts

Skin gambling and trading can be a very lucrative game to get into however with the ever-changing market and valuation of skins, similar to the stock market, you’d need to immerse yourself within the community to fully understand and make the best decisions on what skins to buy or sell and to know if one is going to age well or not. Game forums like Reddit or content creators like Sparkles, or review websites like us are going to be the best go-to for reliable information.

Like any gambling, there is no guaranteed win until you acquire a lucrative skin and proceed to the selling or trading the rinse and repeat. Make sure you understand what you're doing and remember to practice safer gambling!

FAQs Regarding The Skin Trading Market

Do I need a game account to gamble? Arrow
Are skin gambling websites legal? Arrow
How do I get skins for skin gambling? Arrow
How do I know if a skin gambling website is legitimate? Arrow
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