When Valve introduced the skin market back in 2013, no one could have ever predicted that one day a skin would be sold for six figures. How could that even be possible? To answer that we have to go back to the very beginning of CS:GO skins.

CS:GO’s Most Controversial Skins

Nine years ago Valve rolled out skins as part of the “Arms Deal” update for CS:GO. Following the footsteps of Team Fortress 2, where Valve first experimented with microtransactions for hats, it was only a matter of time before CS:GO got a virtual marketplace of its own. Unlike any other games, Valve games use the Steam workshop to allow people to submit their own skins. Those that are popular enough can actually be added to the game. This has led to tons of amazing skins in CS:GO. Even though the quality of most of them is mediocre, the skin workshop was a great idea. But like all great ideas, it didn’t take long for people to start abusing the system. And there is no more exciting story of people abusing the skin market than the story of CS:GO’s most coveted, controversial, and legendary skin – the m4a4 howl.

This exact weapon will never be obtainable again: you can’t get it from a trade-off contract or the Huntsman case, so it has become really rare now. It all started back in 2014 when Steam users Auzzii and Sic submitted the original Howling Dawn sticker and M4A4 | Howl skin to the market. Their submission received 4,500 votes, which was more than enough for the Howl to be included in the upcoming Huntsman case. Auzzii said that the piece was inspired by a picture of his dog.

Anyway, putting a weird-looking dog aside, people did like the skin, and it was relatively popular. But just a few weeks later, something strange happened. Not even a month after the Howl came out, Valve released the takedown notice from the user named Canis Albus. The young Finnish artist posted the following to the blog:

“Looking familiar? Someone has stolen one of my artworks to make a custom skin for a gun in a game called CS:GO. The name of the weapon is M4A4 | Howling Dawn. I’m just letting you know that I did this design piece, but I didn’t upload the items to the Steam marketplace.”

Valve was obviously a bit nervous about how the news would affect their thriving skin economy, so they acted quickly, banning both accounts forever. Valve also tightened its rules around intellectual property. Here’s where things get really interesting. So, instead of just wiping out all memory of Howl completely and deleting it from the game forever, Valve decided to put this skin in its own special category, thus making it one of the most desirable and rarest skins on the market.

The Story of M4A4 | Griffin

While the Howl is by no means the only skin in CS:GO that infringed someone’s copyright, is it the only one that has ever been labeled Contraband? Let’s take the M4A4 | Griffin, for example. The Griffin skin did receive the DMCA Takedown notice because it turned out to be traced from another artist’s work. However, Valve’s reaction to Griffin was totally different.

There were a lot of really exciting investors convinced that Griffin was going to be the next Contraband skin. However, Valve did not make Griffin contraband. Instead they just changed the artwork and left it as a restricted skin in the Vanguard collection.

Today, you can get a Factory New StatTrack M4A4 | Griffin for about $35. So in the end, Griffin didn’t receive that intriguing Contraband label and it never got the same eye-popping price tag as Howl. At the end of the day, most skins don’t gain their value through controversy — they get it because of the hype.

CS:GO Legends

Dragon Lore is a famous skin that encapsulates the moment when Cloud9 became the first North American Major champions ever. It is understandable why skin traders of that time wanted to own a piece of CS:GO history. It might even explain why someone shelled out $61,000 for the skin. However, even this moment pales in comparison to what M4A4 | Howl did, because last year a Chinese skin collector bought one for $100,000. The skin also came with four incredibly rare Katowice stickers slapped on the side, making it one of the most valuable pieces in CS:GO history.

Now, some of you might be saying that none of it is real, that a skin is just a bunch of pixels on your computer and you don’t really own anything. Experts suggest that the price of skins has been skyrocketing because of China’s growing interest in CS:GO. Indeed, the value of high-tier items is reaching all-time highs because of China’s purchasing power. There are multiple sales reaching $100,000, so it is not slowing down.

Over the past years, the supply of high-tier CS:GO items like Dragon Lore, Howl, and rare knives have been bought up by Chinese collectors. It is very evident that the market revolves around China now. Every time there was good news from China in terms of introducing the official version of CS:GO in the country, high-tier skins increased in price. During the Chinese New Year, when players need to take some time off or spend time with their family, skins drop in price. You can clearly see when the Chinese vacations start from how the market behaves.

In Conclusion

Even though other sales have already reached the $100,000 mark, the M4A4 | Howl is still probably the most valuable skin in CS:GO if you subtract stickers and souvenir items from the equation. It’s crazy to think that this all started because Valve had a really weird response to someone stealing art from another person. Or maybe this is all because this skin really looks good. Share your own thoughts with us in the comments.

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Vineet Maheshwari is a passionate blogger and relationship oriented digital marketing consultant with over 10 years of experience in SEO, PPC management, web analytics, domain investing, affiliate marketing and digital strategy. He has helped high tech brands connect with customers in an engaging manner, thereby ensuring that high quality leads are generated over time.