There is a lot of Mann vs. Machine loot trading going on in the world of Team Fortress 2 since the big co-op update with its grand loot drop system. The TF2 item market has definitely benefited from this flourish of new items, and players are lining up for their chance at more. Speculation abounds that a dedicated player might be able to use their in-game skills to come out monetarily ahead on a Mann vs Machine Tour of Duty. Let’s take a look at what would be involved in doing so.
TICKETS, HATS AND BOTKILLERS
First of all, to gain even a chance at any Mann vs. Machine items, a player must spend $0.99 on a Tour of Duty Ticket. Each ticket grants them access to Mann Up mode, which takes them to their choice of six maps on Valve-hosted servers. If the player beats the map in Mann Up mode, their ticket is consumed and they receive a random item. This is not guaranteed to be a valuable item—quite the opposite, actually. There are only nine Rare Drop items, out of over 400 drop possibilities. A player has somewhere in the range of 1:44 chance of a rare landing in their backpack. Players can also purchase a Squad Surplus Voucher for $1.99 and put that up in any given match. When a team wins with a Squad Surplus Voucher in play, they are each granted an extra item with the same chances of a Rare Drop. If each of the six players ponies up a Squad Surplus Voucher, each player gains seven items (one plus an extra six). When a player completes all six maps (which requires six Tickets), they are awarded a special Botkiller weapon. During a full Tour of Duty, each of the six players buys six Tour of Duty Tickets, six Squad Surplus Vouchers, and nets forty two items. At the same time, Valve has made $107.28 on that run, but we are focusing on a single player who has now dropped $17.88 to get this far.
RARE IS GOOD, RIGHT?
As explained above, the rare drops are rare in the sense that you could get one of hundreds of other items instead—you actually have a better chance of unboxing an Unusual Hat out of any given crate—not rare in the sense of low supply. At the time of writing this article, there are about two hundred of each Rare Drop item—about 1800 in all. When the Mann vs. Machine update was first released, no one knew the drop rate of the hats, and many were traded for multiple keys—multiple times more than other random drop hats. As days pass, more have come into the Mannconomy and they have plummeted in cost. Because of the constant supply, the Rare Drops will soon be just another craftable hat worth less than two refined metals. Currently, it is still easy to trade any one of the items for a key.
SO, THE BOTKILLERS HAVE TO BE WORTH IT…
A player’s trophy for completing the Tour of Duty is a randomly selected Strange primary weapon with a robot head attached—a Botkiller weapon. There is less than one hundred of each of these in the game currently and traders are asking between ten and fifteen keys for them. There are Gold variant Botkillers that are randomly awarded in place of the normal Botkiller weapons. The Gold Botkillers drop at a rate of about 17%, based on the fact that only around 180 of these have dropped so far. Traders are selling these for the equivalent of $30 to $60 worth of TF2 items. Again, as time goes on, the Botkillers and their gold equivalents will continue to be given to players as they complete Mann vs. Machine tours and, along with the constant supply, they will drop in price.
IN A PERFECT WORLD
Ideally a player gets extremely lucky and two out of their seven items on each map were Rare Drops. Say this streak continues and a Gold Botkiller lands in their lap: They’re familiar with the trading sites and easily trade the twelve robot hats for a key each, and take a quick trade of an Ear Buds for the gold. Our ideal player is well connected in the TF2 black market, so they quickly sell the Buds for $30 and each key for $1.30 profiting $28.92 overall. That is enough to pay for their next tour and celebrate with a double burger, large fries and a pop.
DOWN IN THE DUMPS
An average player will get zero Rare Drops and a normal Botkiller. They can spend hours trying to find a buyer for their Botkiller, and even then may get frustrated and sell it for less than it is worth. Maybe someone offers them eight keys for the weapon, which seems close enough to what others are selling them for, and accepts that. They are not familiar with the trading community or don’t have the reputation for cash trading, so they use the keys to open crates. Bad luck turns worse when they end up with a pile of weapons with a total value of less than one key. They may or may not have had fun in the process but to define worst case scenario, this player is still in the hole $17.88.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO PROFIT ON MANN VS. MACHINE?
With a lot of luck and some connections and/or reputation in the TF2 trading community, you can come out slightly ahead in the short term. The Mannconomy is a living being that will not provide such an easy route to profit though. Did you ever scratch two winning Lotto tickets in a row? Yeah, neither have the thousands of other players Manning Up in TF2′s Mann vs. Machine.