The esports winter is here; major organisations are making cuts, teams are struggling to stay afloat and prize pools alone aren’t enough to cover costs. So where do Counter-Strike teams look to balance the books? Enter sticker money.
But what is it? In Counter-Strike, guns are customisable and players can buy or earn skins (cosmetic items) in-game to apply to their guns, on top of which they can also add stickers. After the teams for every Major are confirmed, developer Valve releases capsules which players can buy for a chance to get stickers of their favourite team logos. There are also autograph capsules which contain stickers of players’ autographs. Valve and the organisations then split this money, the percentage share of which is unknown; this is then internally split between the organisations and the players.
The inner workings of sticker money, profits, and how this revenue is split between esports organisations and players has always been kept secret. Esports Insider has collated an overview of how much sticker money in Counter-Strike is worth, based on our own exclusive reporting, alongside HLTV.org reports and figures released by Valve.
Before we look at how much sticker money is worth, some context is in order. Just like every esport, the most well-known way that teams make money in Counter-Strike is through prize pools. Whether big or small, winning events is a sure fire way to secure income. At tier one these prize pools can range from $100,000 to $1m. Looking at the top CS2 teams, we can get a gauge of how much organisations are making from prize pools, as per Esports Earnings data.
|Total prize money in 2023
|Number of prize pool-paying tournaments
|From 14 Tournaments
|From 18 Tournaments
|From 14 Tournaments
|From 10 Tournaments
|Into the Breach
|From 12 Tournaments
|From 11 Tournaments
From these stats we can see that some tier one teams are making around a million a year from events, but this can go down depending on region and success in these tournaments. Now keep these figures in mind as we explore sticker money statistics.
Counter-Strike sticker money value
In August 2022, Valve released a blog post to celebrate 10 years of CS:GO, in which the company revealed that “over the past 12 months alone, we’ve seen […] massive community support with over $70 million raised for professional organisations, teams, and players.”
This gives us a rough idea of how much Major stickers are worth. But in an article released by HLTV, which we have backed up with our own sources, it seems that the BLAST.tv Paris Major in 2023 massively outperformed these two PGL Majors — bringing in total combined earnings of around $110 million.
According to the article and our sources, this amounts to around $4.5m (~£3.5m) per team, but this varies depending on what capsule each team was a part of; Contender, Challenger or Legend. These different capsules represent all the teams in the Major. 24 teams qualify, the eight teams that did the best during qualifiers get Legend spots, the eight below them are Challengers, and the bottom eight are Contenders. BLAST released a helpful video that explains the format here.
Esports Insider spoke to multiple sources across key teams in CS2 who all opted to remain anonymous. These sources gave us an insight into the average split between organisations and players when it comes to stickers.
For team stickers, the split between organisations and players is typically 50/50. However, organisations are now shifting towards getting a higher percentage of this money.
There could be many factors behind this shift, including the aforementioned esports winter which is plaguing organisations across esports. But the main reason that these organisations are not getting backlash from players for taking a higher percentage of the sticker money is because, sources told Esports Insider, teams do not take a percentage of the player’s autograph sticker money.
Autograph money is specifically for the players and none of Esports Insider’s sources concretely knew of any teams that take a percentage — one source speculated that teams might take 10% but this would be very uncommon. For this reason, teams are now looking to negotiate a higher percentage of the team sticker money, with the highest known by our sources being 70%.
With these percentages in mind, HLTV.org’s estimates mean that organisations that made Contenders were taking home $2.25m (~£1.9m), whilst Legends made $1.75m (~£1.38m) and challengers made $1.3m (~£1m). The Paris Major sticker money alone was more than the top organisations were making in a year from prize pools.
One reason that the contenders might have made more money than Legends, who in theory should be the better teams, is that big organisations with many fans were in this group. Every team that is a Contender gets the same cut, meaning that Fluxo and FaZe Clan made the exact same amount of money from the BLAST.tv Paris Major.
If we take three examples into account we can get a more specific look at just how important this sticker money is. Team Liquid made $218,666 (~£157,000) from the prize pools of 11 tournaments, whereas, based on the aforementioned sources, Liquid potentially made over $2m (~£1.57m) more from the Paris Major sticker money.
Now let’s take into account a much smaller organisation which made its first Major, Into the Breach. The British team made $99,384.45 (~£80,000) from 12 tournaments in 2023. Meanwhile, as a Legend, assuming an estimated cut of 50%, it would have made $1.75m (~£1.37m) from one Major alone.
Finally, lets take a look at a team that made a lot of money in 2023, FaZe Clan. It made $2.37m (~£1.87m) from 18 tournament prize pools which is a significant amount, and is a million more dollars than most of its closest competitors. But regardless of its outlier status, FaZe still made more money from the Major sticker money, presuming a split of 50/50. If FaZe’s split is higher, it could have made even more. So even to the most successful team from prize money, sticker revenue is still incredibly valuable.
It is important to take into account that this Major was the only Major of 2023, due to Valve’s release of Counter-Strike 2. This likely increased the sticker sales for the Major. Another important element of note is the fact that Valve is steering CS2 away from franchising, so tournament organisers such as ESL and BLAST will be changing the leagues both company’s run. This will affect prize pools even further and maybe even add to the value of sticker money.
Counter-Strike isn’t the only title that distributes esports cosmetic revenue to teams. VALORANT distributed $33m to teams in 2023, for example, though the teams that receive this money are chosen differently. Riot Games’ skin sharing is part of its partner team programme, so the money is only split between permanent partnered teams whereas due to Valve’s Open Circuit Majors any organisation, big or small, could qualify for the Major and be entitled to its share of the sticker money.
With all these stats in mind, sticker money appears to be the glue that holds the Counter-Strike ecosystem together. To be successful financially, you have to be making Majors. The Paris Major may be an outlier, and teams might never see that level of income from stickers again, but regardless of this fact it is still a lot of money in an industry that is notoriously hard to make a profit in and is only getting harder. Sticker money is the gold dust of esports.