Who doesn’t like money? What if I told you the skins you use in one of your games can actually be turned into cash relatively easily? There’s only one catch, you could lose all your hard earned skins and money in an instant and it may not be your fault.
Counter Strike: Global Offensive has been insanely popular since it was released in 2012. This competitive first-person shooter has created its own industry just from the skins for in-game weapons. Usually we don’t pay much mind to skins in games as most are unlocked simply by leveling up. In CS:GO however, skins are “rolled” from cases that can be earned as a match reward or purchased on the market for around $5, depending on the case you choose. In order to “unlock” your skins, you’ll need to purchase a key on the market for around $2.50. Skins range in quality from Common to Exceedingly Rare (knife skins) and Contraband (discontinued skins). Every skin is assigned a “market value” based on its quality rating and the condition of the skin (battle scarred, factory new, etc). At the time of writing this, the most expensive skin currently on the market is a Souvenir AWP Dragon Lore, valued between $3170.00 and $6200.00. For many of us, that’s a down payment on a car or a house. It seems insane that a collection of pixels on another collection of pixels could be valued at that much money.
So how do people turn these skins into real money? By selling it on a market, of course. There are quite a few places where players can “cash out” on their skins. One of the most popular is the Steam Community Market. All players have to do is assign a price to their item and throw it up on the market till someone buys it, similar to the Auction House in World of Warcraft and Diablo. You can use the funds you earn from sales to purchase games and other content on the Steam marketplace. Obviously, you aren’t going to get whatever the skin is valued at because someone may not value the skin as much as you do and simply won’t pay your price for it. That’s just simple economics. Unfortunately, just like almost every other product market on the planet, there is corruption.
Whenever money is involved, people get greedy. That’s a universal truth. In the case of CS:GO skins, their values are more or less fixed so your only option is to get more skins. For a while, the only way to get more skins was to wait for them to be dropped as a match reward or buying and opening a case. Both options involved a large amount of chance, but what if there was a way to net yourself a bunch of skins all at once with little to no effort? Trading was the answer, and everyone loved to do it. A multitude of sites popped up almost overnight to help CS:GO players find each other to trade skins. Players from all over the world were connected to trade their skins and many players fell in love, getting all the skins they ever wanted.
It all seemed great, but let’s be real, trading is relatively boring. You find someone, add them on Steam, open a trade request, authenticate the trade and send off your old skins for a brand new one that you’ve had your eye on for a while. Now what? You finally have that skin you wanted since you first saw it teased in the CS:GO patch notes. There has to be more you can do with skins than just showing off to people while in matches, right? Why trade your skins when you can gamble with them? The thrill of gambling had previously only been confined to casinos and sports games and now it has spread into the video gaming industry.
This prom-night dumpster baby of a system was adopted almost immediately. Sites where you could gamble away your hard earned skins swarmed in like a plague of locusts in the spring. Players of all ages went all out trying to get as many skins as possible to increase the value of their account. Now, obviously, this presents a problem. The gambling age for most countries around the world is 18. Since this is technically gambling, it falls into a legal gray area because players under the age of 18 can engage in this form of gambling with next to no regulation or restriction. Sites such as CS:GO Lounge can be used by anyone after a Steam account is linked, but it’s up to you, the player, to figure out if it’s legal to gamble at your age or not.
The winds started whipping up after competitive teams, streamers, youtubers, and other content creators started getting involved in the gambling scene. Videos about people winning or losing large amounts of money went viral almost immediately, such as this one about famous World of Warcraft player Sodapoppin:
Many Twitch streamers and YouTube content creators switched gears entirely from the content they used to produce to ride the never ending waves of traffic and ad revenue by producing videos about skin gambling. A lot of these content creators would have their videos sponsored by a specific gambling site. One of these sites, CS:GO Lotto, has made quite a name for itself in the past couple of months. The owners, Treavor “Tmartn” Martin and Tom “Syndicate” Cassell, run multiple YouTube channels with a combined total of over 10 million subscribers. A lot of their recent videos have to do with “winning big” on a skin betting site. That site? CS:GO Lotto, obviously. The controversy, in its entirety is accurately and elegantly explained by this video from h3h3productions:
Some may argue that it’s fine if content creators are doing it as it’s their content and their site and they really aren’t hurting that many people, but what if competitive teams and their managers get involved? In January of 2015, Valve banned seven players of Team iBUYPOWER for match fixing. These players bet on their opponents in a 2014 match and lost on purpose in order to win tens of thousands of dollars in skins.
The storm is going full force now. We have content creators, streamers, and even competitive players caring more about the dollar value of their skin collection than the game itself. Now some of you may be asking, what has Valve done about this? Well, until recently, not that much. Until this past week, the most they have done is ban players and put out some statements condemning match fixing and other things of the like. On July 13, Valve put out an official report saying it is going to start sending out cease and desist notices to all skin gambling sites. On the same day, Twitch put out an official news post saying that it will start to ban channels for using skin gambling sites that improperly use Steam’s OpenID API, as detailed by Valve’s report. These new actions have come as a result of a class-action lawsuit insinuating that Valve is somehow involved with these numerous gambling sites and is letting them skate by on purpose.
So where does all this leave us? Well, if you’re a player that plays the game for fun with friends or by yourself, absolutely nothing will change. You’ll still get skin drops in game, you’ll still see some skins on the community market, and you’ll still be able to play with your skins in game. If you play the game to unlock chests for skins and make videos with your big wins, you’ll still be able to. You just won’t be able to gamble your skins for more wins in your videos. If you open chests for skins for the sole purpose of gambling them off to make content, you’re going to have to find something else to make content from. Valve and Twitch are clamping down pretty hard and it’s only a matter of time until YouTube follows in their tracks and starts to remove videos that advertise these skin gambling sites.
It seems, for now anyway, we’re in the eye of this storm. Depending on how the various lawsuits against Valve and various gambling sites (such as CS:GO Lotto) pan out, we may see a new way for players to gamble their skins or the complete and total annihilation of CS:GO skin gambling. In the meantime, let’s take advantage of the calmness and just play games the way they were meant to be played.
Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5