The Stickeronomics of CS:GO

With Valve adding the team specific ESL One Cologne stickers in this week's update, we take look at the economics of stickers in CS:GO and how they affect the teams.

Stickers were initially added before EMS One Katowice and instantly became very popular as thousands of players purchased them and attached them to their weaponry.

Since then we've grown accustomed to them as a mainstay when watching games or playing ourselves, but there's a whole other mostly undiscussed side to the stickers.

Obviously with each sticker costing $1 there is money involved, and as Valve uses various companies' logos on them, it greatly affects the teams. Let's find out why.

1. How stickers work and how everyone makes money
2. The first big payday for organizations
3. First problems arise - whose money is it?
4. Stickeronomics' affect on future negotiations

These things have everyone going nuts 

How stickers work & how everyone makes money

There may be more to the model but here's how it all basically works. Anyone can buy the ESL sticker capsules for $1, and they each contain one sticker. In short, every single sticker you've ever seen in the game of CS:GO has cost roughly a dollar - though exact pricing may vary with region - and that means everyone involved has made a killing on these tiny cosmetic modifications.

According to our sources, Valve takes a 66.6% cut from the stickers' initial purchase price, while the other 33.3% gets split up among the teams who belong in that capsule group -- either Legends or Challengers, depending on placing at the previous major. Additionally, Valve takes a 15% cut from all market transactions among Steam users, which obviously rakes in a reasonable amount of money for the company behind CS:GO as well.

Stickers get attached to CS:GO weaponry 

The first big payday for organizations

How much money is there to be made via stickers then? Again, since this information isn't public, we're going to have to quote our sources, who prefer to remain anonymous. According to them - and we've had multiple confirm this to us - teams in the Legends capsule, featuring top eight finishers from the previous major - made somewhere around $17,500, or slightly more, from EMS One Katowice, while the Challengers capsule teams pocketed around $7,5k or a little more -- before taxes.

Quick math shows that if teams made - using conservative estimates of $17,500 and $7,500 per team - $200,000 combined. That is one third of all the money, which means Valve must have made twice that much, or at least a minimum of roughly $400,000. Needless to say, that is a whole lot more money than the $250,000 of the money gathered via skin sales from the community that they put in these prize pots in the first place.

Naturally those amounts of money mean different things for organizations of various sizes and backing levels. Making $7,500 or even $10,000 hardly changes mousesports' bottom line, and same can be said for many teams raking in the higher amount of money, such as fnatic, dignitas, compLexity or NiP. Those organizations are well-enough off that it doesn't change things too much for them.

However, for teams such as Vox Eminor, Reason, 3DMAX or Clan-Mystik - each of whom made the lesser amount of money from the Challengers capsule - it can make a big difference in their annual budget. Same can be said for teams such as HellRaisers or LGB - who don't have great backing - out of the teams who finished in the top eight. Let's not kid ourselves here - not everyone has massive corporate sponsorships, and this will mean more and more going forward as teams such as dAT surprise others and qualify for these majors.

ESL One stickers will bring more money for everyone involved 

First problems arise - whose money is it?

More money, more problems, right? Since the stickers were first introduced in the first quarter of 2014 and teams most likely had no idea about them prior to the end of 2013, it's likely there were no clauses in anyone's contracts to stipulate who would be entitled to this money. Others claimed them as merchandise and interpreted their contracts as the organization owning all of it, while others went for different measures.

Obviously the best example of things going south is compLexity. By all accounts they were relatively happy with their organization, and likely would have extended their contracts this August had the sticker-situation been solved adequately. Instead coL kept all $17,500 or so of the sticker money, leading to some unhappy players, and ultimately to the team migrating over to Cloud9 at the end of their contracts.

Other teams have opted for what would seem like fairer approaches. fnatic, for example, gave their players part of the profits. fnatic Chief Gaming Officer Patrik "cArn" Sättermon told he believes the players are a pivotal part of the stickers being sold in the first place, and that in general the players' best interests should be aligned with the company's best interests.

That makes sense - in coL's situation the players earned the spot at the major, and now that they're no longer a part of coL, the organization makes none of that money. Without the players, that money doesn't exist. American iBUYPOWER have been the most generous, as they've decided to give all of the money to their players, as their goal isn't to make money off the team, as they're a company on their own, not a gaming organization, but the market their brand.

Vox Eminor put the $2,000 of prize money from Katowice in the same pool with their just under $10,000 of sticker money, and are using the fund to backpay their travel to EMS One Katowice. Without this, they couldn't afford attending these costly events from Australia. It is also why they can afford to attend ESL One Cologne next week, as the guarantee of some money coming in greatly reduces the risk-profile of the investment in the team. Knowing money would be coming in is also a way we could start getting teams from Asia to majors in Europe -- but only if Valve makes this known to teams.

Of course, there are also teams who were initially unhappy after Katowice, but made a change in their contracts to not leave the players out to dry come the next major event. The former compLexity squad also sort of fits this profile, as Spencer "Hiko" Martin said in our interview that their new contracts with Cloud9 include a clause regarding the sticker money.

Most surprisingly, when contacted about this issue, we found out some teams hadn't even known how much money was involved with the stickers, and had received none of it. That goes to show how different organizations are in how they function, and probably means there will be some hard discussions in the future. You can be sure every team will have had a talk about this by the time the dust settles from Cologne, and Valve starts redistributing the wealth.

Stickers led to coL.CSGO not renewing their contracts 

Stickeronomics' affect on future negotiations

This is something each team and organization has to think about before signing the next contracts. If we assume there will be two majors a year - which based on the current pace seems conservative - and the money coming in stays relatively the same, it would mean a top eight team without any organizational backing would net somewhere around $40,000 a year from stickers sales alone. Without any growth, while CS:GO as a game continues growing rapidly.

Considering how much more popular CS:GO continues becoming, it seems likely those numbers will inflate over the next few majors, and it's possible soon those teams would be looking at over $50k on an annual basis. For top sixteen finishers that would mean just under or around $20,000, which is also solid money -- especially for an organization not swimming in dough.

On the other hand, with many of the same teams qualifying for each major, eventually the value of each sticker will start diminishing as the market starts getting flooded. Valve will have to combat this, and they've already started with the Cologne 2014 Pick 'Em Challenge. They may also shift their focus away from stickers and insert some other merchandise, such as jerseys, into the game. There are no almost limits.

In our article from roughly a year ago titled How can Valve support events, we outlined the skins idea, and suggested jerseys as another add-on. You can also use this for other means -- FACEIT has already funded one league through their skin sales, and Valve could easily support smaller tournament organizers as well, by picking up their skins and giving them a share of the proceeds. If you put enough people in charge of this, it could fund a lot more than two majors a year.

Valve's new idea to keep stickers relevant 


That's our first look at the sticker economics of CS:GO. It's an interesting issue that will surely gain more attention in the future, with more major events featuring stickers.

It also goes to show just how much money Valve are raking in through CS:GO - which recently became the top seller in Steam. Each major seems profitable to Valve, so they're likely here to stay.

We might even get a The International-type event for CS:GO. Fans raised $10,000,000 with the Compendium for TI4 and Valve pocketed a cool $30,000,000. Why not try it with CS:GO?

Follow's @lurppis_ on Twitter.

United States Spencer 'Hiko' Martin
Spencer 'Hiko' Martin
No team
Rating 1.0:
Maps played:
Sweden Patrik 'cArn' Sättermon
Patrik 'cArn' Sättermon
No team
Rating 1.0:
Maps played:
Germany ayyy 
2014-08-07 19:00
Great read
2014-08-07 19:00
2014-08-07 19:01
2014-08-07 19:01
But... why?
2014-08-07 19:01
Important news.
2014-08-07 19:03
Already read about it in the interview published yesterday, but coL just became quite possibly my least favourite gaming organisation.
2014-08-07 19:05
Most surprisingly, when contacted about this issue, we found out some teams hadn't even known how much money was involved with the stickers, and had received none of it. That goes to show how different organizations are in how they function, and probably means there will be some hard discussions in the future. It's not only coL.
2014-08-07 19:13
when i worked for a team at Katowice, we wasn't even told by the organisation that the sticker was gonna make them money so :/
2014-08-07 20:31
Sure. But an organisation as large as coL does not need to keep the money as it already has sponsors, etc. I would not mind if some of the smaller organisations with less funding kept all the money because they need it to fund salaries and travel expenses. I would not be surprised if SK kept all the money for themselves, but I do not take them seriously anyway.
2014-08-07 20:48
interesting read, ty
2014-08-07 19:05
Everybody with a brain knows that these things are good for the pro community and game numbers themselfs! x
2014-08-07 19:07
2014-08-07 19:07
The stickers are good stuff. :) Personally, I don't like them on skins though.
2014-08-07 19:08
Small typo in the third paragraph. 'American iBUYPOWER have been the most generous, as they've decided to give all of the moeny'
2014-08-07 19:08
iBUYPOWER MOEny -skadoodle +mOE Confirmed by hltv
2014-08-07 19:12
I smiled, I admit it
2014-08-07 19:14
:D +1
2014-08-07 19:43
you dont get banned for fake flags.
2014-08-07 23:09
Okay jesus stop stalking me. :D
2014-08-07 23:13
2014-08-08 00:57
great read, but i hope that the last days sticker will be available in 0.25 USD :p
2014-08-07 19:10
im not understand too much can you just tell me what is will happen ?
2014-08-09 13:39
Last major (EMS One) sticker capsules were sold at 0.25 usd instead 0.99 the real price
2014-08-09 15:01
if stickers make this much, imagine how much do skins make... cheers valve and lets keep it up!
2014-08-07 19:12
As someone who makes skins :) (I don't need a job outside of school)
2014-08-08 17:39
really? so does valve send you a cheque or go straight to your bank, how does it work?
2014-08-08 17:47
vox fanboy
2014-08-07 19:13
Good read <3 After all, the "more money" helps the game growing a lot :)
2014-08-07 19:13
Now it makes sense, thanks lurppis.
2014-08-07 19:16
Germany Bongskie 
give some money to daT team Valve ! They need it right now !
2014-08-07 19:17
by 2016 there will be a major in cs go with around $1,000,000 prize pot. I can really see it happening
2014-08-07 19:17
I can see this happening next year.
2014-08-07 19:49
It didnt happen, sorry.
2015-11-16 15:46
Sure, if Valve decides to not be greedy.
2014-08-07 20:15
It's not about greed - at a certain point, a 1mil major will make Valve more money than a 250k one. They just have to decide when that is.
2014-08-08 15:15
please TI
2014-08-07 19:17
2014-08-07 19:19
Germany lpSykl 
Valve has great Ideas, but the movement in Go is still shit :D
2014-08-07 19:22
Don't forget the hitboxes.
2014-08-07 21:31
new stickers are shit comparing to the old ones
2014-08-07 19:23
Bet NiP make a killing from them 50k~
2014-08-07 19:24
Fucking great read lurppis <3
2014-08-07 19:25
who is vox and cloud9 seriously?! wtf
2014-08-07 19:25
Do you live under a rock?
2014-08-07 19:28
2014-08-07 20:16
Vox are from Australia and cloud9 = ex-complexity roster
2014-08-07 21:32
What is the circumference of the rock? and do you have an insurance plan for it?
2014-08-08 02:05
Are you drunk? HellRaisers dont have money? HellRaisers is not an organisation it belongs to asus lurppis, HR players get a salary and can attend any event easily. You didnt do your homework
2014-08-07 19:27
Canada ehze Asus is just the main sponsor driving HellRaisers financially. They take care of them!
2014-08-07 19:59
yep but that means that they have good financial back up doesnt it?
2014-08-07 20:18
nice read!
2014-08-07 19:28
man, lurppy is hungry for coverage. why don't you do your own research instead of speculating numbers found on reddit and other places. This is not original. Just read all this 2 days ago. GG tho.
2014-08-07 19:33
Norway duffz00r 
good read, interesting indeed
2014-08-07 19:34
btw if you didnt know lurppis, asus is the 5th largest pc vendor of the world with 500 million $ profit a year. But yeah they wont back HR up :)
2014-08-07 19:35
Who wants to give me some stickers? Never used them.
2014-08-07 19:44
dAt fake flag
2014-08-07 19:54
Why fake? I live in Ireland but I'm not Irish. >,,<
2014-08-07 20:04
:( thought u lived in CIS sawwy bro <3
2014-08-07 20:18
I am from CIS but I live in Ireland and according to the HLTV rules I can get banned for fake flag. :<
2014-08-07 20:26
2014-08-07 20:45
what he said. that's why I have to use "world" flag.
2014-08-08 13:13
Someone donate DAT team stickers to ESG
2014-08-07 19:45
amazing article thx
2014-08-07 19:45
How much has coL fallen from their 1.6 glory days to do this to their players. Not even giving them a small part from the stickers.
2014-08-07 19:47
The fact that coL didn't even give a percentage to the players is pretty outrageous. To hide behind the guise of branding is also ridiculous. I would understand the branding aspect if at least SOME of the money went back to the team, but it didn't. The question of eSports economics has always been touchy. I wonder what coL's cut was of any prize money that came in. Was it 100% to the team who earned it, or did they get a percentage as well? Because if they got a percentage, they're basically saying it's okay to dip their hands in, but it's not okay for the players to do so.
2014-08-07 20:09
They get a % of the prize money as well i think, a lot of organizations do but not a lot like 10%, iBP dont i think impulsive said in the last interview
2014-08-07 20:32
Yeah, I'm sure that coL took a cut(as do most organizations). It's just utterly unfair to earn revenue directly from your player's identities without giving any of it back to them. Even if they hadn't given it directly(ie: used it as a travel budget), it still would've been better than nothing at all. $17K isn't exactly a small amount of money, and these players have put their time and effort into making these organizations(and their sponsors) look good. At the very least they could reward them for their contributions, instead of hiding behind the guise of lousy business practice.
2014-08-08 00:20
Every year there is an expectation that esports has moved on from the days of CPL-style slave labour, and every year an organisation does its level best to prove we simply haven't.
2014-08-08 04:06
Which is handily depressing. It's frustrating to see organizations still attempting to take advantage of their players under the guise of "business marketing" and what not. These organizations wouldn't even have a face were it not for the players, but their return investment is rarely(especially in NA) sound.
2014-08-08 08:18
Who earns the money when a name labbled football or soccershirt is sold?
2014-08-12 14:22
To some degree the players. That's a bad representation anyway, as they're completely different business models in this sense. Those kinds of events bring in revenue by way of tickets, something that is not seen in "eSports." Those organizations are also, by and large, paying their players fairly and making sure they're taken care of. Complexity never got a salary, even though they earned their organization $17k, how is that even fair? You know how people say you can't compare eSports to real sports? Well, you can't compare their economics, either.
2014-08-12 20:19
i trade p250 sand dune wit titan holo and 3xibp holos
2014-08-07 20:08
2014-08-07 20:11
Cool, interesting read.
2014-08-07 20:18
great article
2014-08-07 20:23
Hungary lemusz 
n1 article
2014-08-07 20:25
2014-08-07 20:31
Croatia VuKA 
nice, interesting read
2014-08-07 20:44
2014-08-07 20:50
real question is; how much money is Valve making from all the skins and stickers, both the key and market sale.
2014-08-07 21:02
tens of millions, if not hundreds
2014-08-08 03:55
tl;dr lurpis can you ask gaben if he will put a sticker of you in the game enjoying a nice salad please i know you two are friends i heard you went to a cigar bar in soho together and a raucously spiffing day was had i want to put it on my pp-bizon
2014-08-07 21:23
suNny | 
Finland m1skaa 
2014-08-08 14:49
2014-08-08 14:52
Nice read.
2014-08-07 21:31
How Valve is cashing in on you.
2014-08-07 21:34
they earned 30,000,000 from TI4 but have placed only around 1.2 into it , tbh not nice ...
2014-08-07 21:37
Regardless, Organizations don't have a written obligation to offer them this. My main concern is if valve truly did earn 400k from just this they must be earnig at least x4 that in terms of skins annually. IF SO, valve needs to make it up to 4 majors a year OR increase the prize pot to at least the double.
2014-08-07 21:40
4 times only? I guess not.
2014-08-07 22:09
Maybe more who knows? the fact remains.. They are spending so little on the tournaments.
2014-08-07 22:55
You have to keep in mind that valve is a company and they want to profit on the stuff they do. If they make 500k on skins and then blow 450 for a tournament that wouldnt be good economical wize. but if you make 500 on skins and invest 100 in a tournament thats a lot smarter
2014-08-08 00:56
I highly doubt that valve makes less than a mill every quarter on csgo. They should at least give back 25% quarterly not only semi-annually.
2014-08-08 11:00
+1 I understand if they keep some for themselves, but yeah then increase the pot to 500000 or maybe even 1 million.
2014-08-07 22:27
suNny | 
Finland m1skaa 
Will the sticker capsules be like 0.20€ for some time after the event is over?
2014-08-07 22:09
I hope so :D
2014-08-07 22:22
No, pls no. Don't Fuck up the economy
2014-08-10 08:39
GREATEST.ARTICLE.EVER. on a news site with cstrike news. That's what i was rooting for since 2010. great job, lurpplaren.
2014-08-07 22:09
great read
2014-08-07 22:09
I will buy 100 esl capsules, wait to their price rise up, sell them, earn money, buy hax, and own everyone. 2 ez
2014-08-07 22:10
2014-08-07 22:56
Like 250,000 other people you mean? Good luck with that.
2014-08-08 07:50
great read lurppis
2014-08-07 22:15
Great read!
2014-08-07 22:27
Super shady how coL didn't pony up the money for some international travel costs, didn't give a salary to their players AND kept the sticker money.
2014-08-07 22:33
Good read!
2014-08-07 23:03
Good read. Great job, lurppis.
2014-08-07 23:15
good write up!
2014-08-07 23:24
On a little unrelated note, it pisses me off that all the stickers have blue lining. That means I can't use almost any of them since I have no skins that would look cool with blue sticker on them :(
2014-08-07 23:30
great article yet again. It's obvious how much money valve is making off of cs:go . now Imagine some of that money going into local tournaments , more matchmaking servers for certain regions and you could be looking at great activity numbers for cs:go . too bad That's not happening though
2014-08-08 00:34
good read
2014-08-08 00:59
2014-08-08 01:04
2014-08-08 01:46
India h8or 
CS:GO: A game where stickerz & skinz > gameplay
2014-08-08 02:38
not sure if completely retarded or trolling
2014-08-08 07:11
"Stickers led to coL.CSGO not renewing their contracts" Pretty quick to assume that Lurppis.
2014-08-08 03:31
Hong Kong SHiFT^up 
It was not assumed. Read and stop making stupid assumptions.
2014-08-08 03:39
Did you even read that full interview? "Hiko: The compLexity organization owns rights to their name brand, there's no denying that. On one side of the fence you kind of see where that comes into play - it's understood but the reality is we made those stickers have the value they did and do. If we were anything less than a top tier North American Counter-Strike squad then those stickers would have less than half of their current value. The real frustration comes from knowing that other organizations gave their sticker money directly to the players as a result of this concept. I will say that coL did fulfill their end of the contracts and even more, and am still very thankful to have had the support coL gave us." That is the only statement Hiko gave regarding Complexity and the stickers. No where in there did he say that the lack of sticker money received was the singular cause for them to not renew their contracts. So I'm gonna bounce that one back at you. Stop making stupid assumptions.
2014-08-12 05:46
Hong Kong SHiFT^up 
"The real frustration comes from knowing that other organizations gave their sticker money directly to the players as a result of this concept." This implies that coL, while fulfilling their end of the contracts, did not give the sticker money directly to the players, which Hiko probably did not agree with. Hiko does say more about it in the part below what you referenced: "Hiko: While I can't say what we have discussed and agreed too on sticker money split, I can agree that it will become a clause in all of my team's future contracts. That being said, it should be no real surprise to see other teams follow the same trend and I actually encourage it. It's not that the man is getting over on teams but that it needs to be made very clear from the get go. The real setback for us in terms of the whole process was that the conception of stickers in game and the monetary value of what could be made off of them came about as kind of a surprise since it was new." Cloud9 is giving what seems to be a fair certain portion of the sticker money directly to the players. Furthermore it is possible lurppis chatted with coL player(s) and they said something to him that he did not publicly post in news. While it may not necessarily be a fact that "Stickers led to coL.CSGO not renewing their contracts", it is a hypothesis backed by evidence, albeit limited. The definition of an "assumption" is "a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof" - however, in this case there is limited proof that makes it more than just a blind assumption. So, no, it's not an assumption, whether it may be a fact or not.
2014-08-12 12:42
kNgV- | 
Canada AyWays 
$17,500 and $7,500 per team - $200,000 combined Idk but when I add those numbers mentally I get 25,000 and not 200k
2014-08-08 04:10
25,000 * 8 ( 8 top major finishers) -$ 2,00,000
2014-08-08 07:39
"According to them - and we've had multiple confirm this to us - teams in the Legends capsule, featuring top eight finishers from the previous major - made somewhere around $17,500, or slightly more, from EMS One Katowice, while the Challengers capsule teams pocketed around $7,5k or a little more -- before taxes."
2014-08-08 07:41
He said per team! If you count the number of teams in the legends and times that by 17,500 and then count challengers and times by 7,500 :)
2014-08-08 07:57
it's makes sense if I open capsule and get wolf sticker I support them ?! oh cmon I want them to disband better...
2014-08-08 08:42
2014-08-08 08:53
Fair enough if coL wouldn't pay up it is their choice as it is their brand name and merchandise. But at the same time the Csgo team could switch to another organisation who offers a better deal. It ties in with free market principles and competition.
2014-08-08 08:53
Very good read, and lurppis got it all right again. You have perfect opinions usually in everything you write / comment. Valve should add you.
2014-08-08 12:07
I can make rhetorical "opinions" too.. The sky is blue. 1+1 = 2. A cube has 6 sides. Kappa
2014-08-08 13:11
2014-08-08 12:40
Didnt like ur last article about g3. This one was interesting! gj
2014-08-08 12:47
Interesting read. I don't think I'll be bothering with the stickers though.
2014-08-08 13:10
Wow, there's actually an interesting feature on HLTV for once, even despite lurppis' lack of eloquence.
2014-08-08 20:26
that cloud9 logo looks tight man! way better then the shite coL one. hope they play just as good as at esea lan!
2014-08-10 10:13
How much do you love Vox @lurppis :D
2014-08-10 15:19
Honestly, you should be working for csgo_dev to develop events.
2014-08-10 17:45
wolf's sticker ?
2014-08-11 06:12
Nice article, but "There are no almost limits." pls fix xoxo.
2014-08-12 04:53
Here we are now.
2016-04-02 12:14
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