Why are Dota 2 skins like Dragonclaw Hook plummeting in value?

Dragonclaw Hook owners have been pulling out their hair over the last six months as the most enduring prestige item in Dota 2 has plummeted in value.

The Pudge cosmetic has always been highly sought after. Though most cosmetics from 2012 look dated and ugly by today’s standards, the Dragonclaw Hook has always been an eye-catcher simply because of its unique visuals and amazingly high price tag.

At its absolute peak, the Dragonclaw Hook was selling for over $1,000 on the Steam Community Market. Its price dipped a bit from there but from 2018 to early 2020, it still regularly called for an upwards of $800 to purchase.

But since March 2020, the item has been in a complete freefall. As of this writing, there are a number of Dragonclaw hooks available on the Steam Community Market for under $150. What caused this? And will the price ever go back up?

Why was the Dragonclaw Hook so expensive?

It’s easy to piece together why the Dragonclaw Hook was so expensive. Though there are a number of pricey and prestigious items in Dota 2, Pudge stands tall as Dota 2’s most popular hero. He is the most-picked hero in all ranked brackets beneath Immortal, and that has made rare items related to Pudge more expensive than the average.

Not only that, but Pudge hooks stand out far more than most cosmetics. While Anti-Mage players have loads of options for skins, any given combination is still going to leave him looking like a purple ninja. By comparison, Pudge hooks are clearly visible every time he uses the Meat Hook spell.

And of course, the real reason that any item becomes expensive is that enough people believe it to be expensive. Valve game skins such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive’s Dragon Lore AWP and Team Fortress 2’s Earbuds aren’t necessarily that much better than other alternatives. There are just enough people who think that they’re worth more than other skins to make that belief a reality. For whatever reason, people latched onto the Dragon Claw hook in particular and made it one of Steam’s most wanted marketplace items.

Why has the Dragonclaw Hook dropped in value?

There are many different factors behind the Dragonclaw Hook dropping in value, but the biggest culprit behind its precipitous decline is that there has been an overall decrease in premium Dota 2 item prices.

Initially, it seemed as though the global economic decline that started in the second quarter of 2020 was the driving force behind the Dragonclaw Hook's price decrease, but that may not be the case. Prestigious items in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive have seen their prices rise across the board during the past year. 

One theory was that Valve has gotten a bit too cavalier with Pudge cosmetics in recent years. There were limited options for eye-catching Pudge hooks for a long while after the Dragonclaw Hook’s release, but since 2016 the Scorching Talon and Ripper’s Reel have become strong alternatives. The International 10 Battle Pass also introduced the Abscessorator, which may end up supplanting the Dragonclaw Hook as the ultimate item flex for dedicated Pudge players.

Nearly all of Dota 2’s most expensive items have seen their values plummet in the last 18 months. Items including the Golden Ornithomancer Mantle, Fantoccini's Dilemma, and Alpine Stalker set only sell once every few months on the Steam Marketplace, but these items are selling for much less than they were at this time last year.

Why are Dota 2 skins losing value?

That begs the question of “what’s wrong with Dota 2 items?” The answer is tough to pin down, but there are two probable causes.

First is the simple fact that Dota 2’s player count has been in a steady decline. January 2020 marked a scary low point in the game’s history, and while the game made some gains amid the travel halts in the spring, those quickly evaporated. It’s very possible that the people who have Steam backpacks worth six figures saw those numbers and decided to cash out before the market collapsed entirely.

Second is the fact that Counter-Strike: Global Offensive skins just provide more long-term value right now. Though Dota 2 has been slipping for years, CSGO has been enjoying huge leaps in popularity over the last two years. $1,000 in CSGO skins right now could be worth $10,000 three years from now, while $1,000 in Dota 2 skins could be worth nearer to nothing by that point. 

A mass liquidation of big-ticket Dota 2 items would explain the decline. The question now is whether a jump in Dota 2’s player count would help Dota 2's most expensive items rebound in price.