Recently, I finished outfitting all of my guns (well, almost all of them) with skins, and there were a bunch of things I found out along the way that I probably would’ve done differently if I’d known about them beforehand. This is a really basic guide meant to point out some of the things about skins and the buying/selling thereof that might be useful to people who are brand new to the game and don’t know exactly how skins work. I’m sure the stuff detailed below is blisteringly obvious to most people, but this guide isn’t for most people. As a result of that, I’m going to leave out knife skins because I don’t think the people who would be interested in this guide would necessarily have $50+ to blow on a fancy skin for a single weapon. I’m also not going to touch stickers here, but I might add that in later.
Skins come in three general varieties: Normal, Stat-Trak, and Souvenir. All skins come in Normal, but no skin comes in both Souvenir and Stat-Trak, and some don’t come in either. Normal skins are, obviously, normal – they’re the baseline for the other two categories, and don’t have any special characteristics or properties.
Stat-Trak and Souvenir skins are two different ways to show off. Stat-Trak weapons function much like Strange weapons from Team Fortress 2 or Dota 2. They feature a small LED display on the gun that tracks kills made by the gun’s owner. Note that if a Stat-Trak skin gets listed on the community market, the kill counter will reset; if you’re buying one of these, you won’t get any of the previous owner’s glory.
Souvenir weapons are special weapons that drop randomly during large CS:GO tournaments to people watching the games. Each Souvenir weapon has a message on it commemorating the game during which it dropped. During a game, special weapon cases will be randomly awarded to spectators; these cases contain a random Souvenir weapon, plus several special stickers for the tournament and the two teams playing in the game. Many people elect to keep their Souvenir weapons and not to sell them, so note that they’ll generally be quite expensive.
No matter what kind of skin it is, each and every one will have a “wear value.” This is a modifier to each skin that affects exactly how the skin actually appears. Wear values never change over time – a skin keeps its exact same wear value forever, no matter how often it’s used. Most skins have a range of wear values that starts at 0.00 and ends somewhere between 0.70 and 0.99, although there are quite a few skins that don’t follow this rule. Since these exact numbers are not only invisible* but also a bit of a mouthful, they’re separated into grades: Factory New, Minimal Wear, Field-Tested, Well-Worn, and Battle-Scarred (in order from least to most worn). Note that even within the wear grades, there’s still room for variation, which is where the decimal values come in. A Factory New skin will look pristine, just like it does in the pictures. A Battle-Scarred skin will be much more beat up. Some people find this attractive, some people don’t. This is all aesthetic anyway, so just pick what you like.
*You can actually see these numbers if you’re willing to jump through some hoops – this guide shows you how. It’s possible to inspect items from other people’s inventories (i.e. ones that you see on the market) – if you really want to go the extra mile, you can find out exactly how worn a skin you’re eyeing is. You can generally safely trust the wear grades, though; this is detailed more below.
Picking a skin
Some first-time skin buyers know exactly what they want, and are looking to get one specific skin that’s caught their eye. Others just want to take a look at all the available skin options and get something they think looks cool. In either case, there’s some information you’ll want about that skin. There’s one particular site that’s extremely useful to anyone buying skins: www.csgostash.com. Here, you can explore every skin in the game, get pricing information, look at wear details, and also take a look at all of the stickers too.
I should point out at this time that there are quite a few ways to go about actually acquiring skins, but the least complicated approach (and therefore the one I base this guide on) is buying them directly from the Steam Community Market. Trading skins for skins is best left for when you have more experience with this, and gambling is obviously not reliable. Opening cases is simply not worth it from a monetary standpoint; many people have run the numbers and concluded that you’ll lose money in the long run, on top of which there’s of course no guarantee you’ll get the skin you want, let alone with the wear value you’d like.
At this point I’ll leave it to you to browse through all the skins and find one that you’d like to buy (or, if you’re more ambitious like I was, make a large wishlist of all the skins you’re interested in). You’ll probably want to stay conscious of your budget, though. Make sure that the currency in the top right of the site is set to your local currency so you can get accurate price estimates. Keep in mind that it’s extremely possible to get a ton of skins for very little money. There are lots of different ways to stretch out your cash.
One very simple way to cut costs is to find out if you’d be satisfied buying some of the skins you have your eye on at a different (i.e. less expensive) wear value. This is especially true for “patina” skins – skins that don’t have a painted-on or sprayed-on image, but instead have designs engraved on the metal (or have specially colored metal, such as the Tec-9 | Brass). Take, for example, the USP-S | Stainless skin. As of the time of writing this, the Factory New version is selling on the market for about three dollars. The difference between the Factory New and the Minimal Wear version is absolutely miniscule (a very slight darkening of the metal), but the Minimal Wear version can be had for half that! It’s definitely not necessary to buy every skin Factory New if you want mint-looking skins; keep an eye on how skins look at different wear values to see if you can save some money.
To get a better look at this, each skin’s page on csgostash has a HTML5 video at the bottom of the page that shows the skin going through its wear values. If, for example, you’re trying to decide whether Field-Tested is acceptable, find the very lowest wear value that’s still Field-Tested and look at that one. That’s your worst-case scenario for how the skin will look. (If you’d rather the skin look more broken in, look at the highest wear value for that wear grade.) If that looks all right to you, then there you go. If not, try again with another wear grade, or be prepared to gamble that the Field-Tested skin you actually get will look as good as you want it.
By the way, if you’re interested in getting the wear value HTML5 videos direct from the source (or if you want to download each individual still frame with or without the wear value label), you can find them here.
A note about Case Hardened skins
There’s one type of skin called Case Hardened – it shows up on the AK-47, the Five-SeveN, and several knives. Case Hardened skins don’t follow most of the rules that the other skins do with regards to price, because the actual pattern on the metal is randomized. As such, they fluctuate wildly in price, which tends to relate directly to the specific pattern of the skin. If you’re interested in buying one of these, be prepared to examine a lot of candidates until you find one that you like. Additionally, don’t trust csgostash’s price guidelines: it only shows the lowest overall price for the skin, but the one with the pattern you want may be much more expensive.
Tips for actually buying the skin
- Keep an eye on the market page for the skin you’re looking at. Skin prices can go up and down quite a bit over the span of just a few hours – if the price graph seems to be at the top of a hill at the moment, it’s sensible to wait a little while and see if the price has become a little more reasonable.
- The prices shown on csgostash aren’t up-to-the-minute – the only way to know exactly what a skin is selling for at any given time is to go search for it on the community market. If you only look at the csgostash prices, be prepared for some occasional sticker shock when you go to make a purchase.
- If a skin has had stickers applied to it, that’ll show up in the market listings. It’s possible to get a more or less free sticker tossed in with the skin you’re buying.
- If you want to make some free money that you can use to buy a lot of cheap skins, click on your username in the main Steam window and select Badges from the dropdown. You can make some quick money by idling in each of the games you can still earn trading card drops from (you can actually idle in more than one game at a time) and selling those cards on the market. Since many skins (especially those for less-used weapons) go for very little money, a few trading cards is often enough to buy a skin.
- To add to the previous tip, a great time to buy skins is during Steam sales – most Steam events distribute free trading cards or other marketable commodities that can be sold for quick cash (if you’re not interested in the event). Additionally, skin prices tend to go down a little during sales since people sell off skins they don’t need in order to buy up the trading cards.
That’s about it! Please let me know if there’s any way I can improve this guide, be it by adding information or reworking the wording. I hope this helps someone out there who’s as confused as I was when I started out.