The release of the Arms Deal update for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive was a big announcement. So big it even drove the game to the awesomeness it is today, because you know, why be mainstream, when you can be unique? Well, sort of. That was the main reason of the weapon skins mechanics to exist in first place.
I mean, isn’t it cool when you pwn your opponents headshooting them with an AWP painted in some sweet electric blue and yellow lime color depicting a gorgon with her characteristics snake-like dreads? Or what about that same weapon but instead, it has emblazoned the figure of a mystical creature breathing fire, in front of a sandy-colored background like a wall full of hieroglyphs?
Or, what about going around and bragging about how you’re one of the luckiest CS:GO players in town because in your inventory lies a legendary, contraband-type weapon with a particular backstory – legal issues included – that made it the rarest skin in the whole game. So rare, it even has its own category for itself. We’re talking about the infamous M4A4 Howl.
Now if you’re not into the game that much, you’re probably wondering what’s the big deal with this skin. First off, look at that painting on the rifle: light-red colored striping patrons all over the weapon and the head of a beast with its open jaws looking all fierce and brutal, drawn to the left side. Pretty cool, huh? Second, it was in the Red (covert) category, so a Factory New, StatTrack version of this skin had a high level of desirability among the players. That was enough to be considered one of the rarest, good-looking finish drops back then.
But even so, its actual value doesn’t come from what I’ve just mentioned, but from the story behind its creation, submit and posterior removal from future droppings. Thanks to a clever move by Valve, it went from almost the top of the quality to have an exclusive higher rank, even above Gold, and acquire the uniqueness it has nowadays: Contraband-level of rarity.
This is what happened: When Valve made available the Steam Workshop for the CS:GO community, many users wanted to give it a shot by submitting their own designs and arts. For those who are not familiar with, it’s a website where anyone can upload their custom items for a wide variety of games, often trading those for a few (or more) bucks which makes it, essentially, a micro-transactions economy platform. But in Counter-Strike, these items were weapon skins and stickers, and particularly, a bunch of community-made finishes was going to be selected for the (back then, on May 1, 2014) next update: the Huntsman Collection.
A particular design, the “Howling Dawn”, was submitted by two users who went by the alias “Auzzii” and “sic”, respectively. Supposedly, it was an original drawing from Auzzii that was inspired by his dog and translated to a gun finish by sic. It quickly became popular among the community, receiving more than 4.500 points that would eventually earn it the privilege of being picked up as part of the chosen custom skins and stickers to be added in the aforementioned pack.
Once it was released, people who acquire a Huntsman weapon case in-game would have to buy a key specifically for opening that crate and, if lucky enough, get a brand new M4A4 Howl. But as soon as its presence in the game and on the Internet became more and more noticeable, a twist in the story would mark its road to achieve legendary status, but not before having some quite disastrous consequences.
On June of that same year, a DeviantArt user who goes by the alias “CanisAlbus” found out that one of her arts, “Aggression”, was plagiarized. Uploaded to the artworks platform around March 14, 2014, its design bears a striking resemblance to that of Auzzii and sic. Or should we say, theirs are the one bearing that resemblance, because Howl was submitted to the Workshop around March 30, 2014, and when compared side by side, you can notice that their only difference is the color scheme.
The artist didn’t just complain about how a “spineless worm” not only shamelessly copied her (pretty splendid) piece of art but also was profiting on it thanks to its popularity. She actually filled a report of copyright infringement which prompted a takedown notice issued by the DMCA to Valve. In turn, they responded with an explanation of how the workshop works and that although there are no strong controls regarding the upload of custom items, modders have to sign a legal agreement in order to submit any work of their own.
But here’s where Valve did that clever move I’ve mentioned earlier. Additionally to the written answer, all of the skins and stickers where sic was involved in were removed from Huntsman’s weapon cases thus preventing them from being accessible ever again, but remaining on players’ inventories if already acquired. And the Howl skin was redesigned by the CS:GO Team, ceasing to look almost exactly as its original version, sticker included.
Naturally, both Auzzii and sic were kicked out forever from Steam, much to sic’s dismay, who was a modder from quite a good amount of time. But the fact that Valve opted for keeping existing weapons already owned by lucky people instead of just taking them away, and preventing more of these skins to be dropped in future Huntsman’s cases, in addition to not only redesign the involved gun but also giving it an exclusive quality, were reasons enough that skyrocketed this rifle’s rarity (and its price). What’s more, an irony to this weapon’s condition is the name of its rank, being Contraband a play on themes of illegal trading, most fitting with its actual nature and already described backstory.
There’s no way to tell exactly how many copies of the M4A4 Howl and its variants exist out there, but one thing for sure: depending on their wear quality and inclusion or not of the StatTrack feature, they can easily exceed USD $1.000 in value, making it one of the rarest and most expensive guns of all Counter Strike: Global Offensive. And all because of a guy who “lied” to another guy about an “original design of his own”.