So, Valve has announced a couple of weeks ago, that the upcoming camapign is going to feature some non-stock decorated weapons as rewards. Curious, isn't it? Which weapons can they choose to apply skins on? Today, I'm going to attempt to unveil some of that mystery, as there are weapons that can just not be decorated.
Please keep in mind : this article is mostly focused on artistic / aesthetical choices or integrity. I know that weapon usage / popularity also plays a role in the weapons they choose to add attribute to them, but there are cases where it's simply not possible to apply decoration on a weapon, regardless of how much popularity it could have garnered within the TF2 playerbase. Reversely, there are weapons which are very good candidates to get skinned variants, even if the TF2 community isn't as likely to take notice of those since they're not as popular. For this reason, I will not acknowledge the "popularity" factor in the first part of this article, where I will list the weapons that are the least likely to receive the decorated quality, and will mention it on the weapons which are the most likely to be added as skins.
Before highlighting the more likely candidates, let's go through an elimination process to see which weapons are simply not fit for decoration ; there are several things to take into consideration, so bear with me.
I - The less likely contenders
Weapons which too closely resemble other weapons
You have to take into consideration that some weapons already exist within the Decorated quality ; if you pick weapons that are too similar and apply a paintjob on them, it's going to be harder for the player to tell them apart. Some weapons are strongly affected by this due to the fact that they make the same noises as the stock variant that resembles them. For example, the Kritzkrieg provides the same sound feedback as the stock Medi gun (when healing), and the Scottish Resistance uses the exact same sounds as the Stock Stickybomb launcher. Those which have a different sound, such as the Natascha or the Backburner, are affected by this to a lesser extent, as the player can immediately tell them apart by the sound they make. Applying a paintjob on them could still confuse players who are trying to tell them apart on sight, but not when they are faced with the aforementioned weapons, and forced to deal with their users.
On the other hand, you have weapons which are very similar to one another, without having one of the variants already existing within the decorated quality. This can be observed with the Equalizer/Escape Plan, and the Killing Gloves of Boxing/Gloves of Running Urgently, where both weapons share the same models, but have different textures. In this case, my guess would be that the one with the smallest amount of distinctive features is the best candidate for a skin. The GRU has a bunch of flames on its textures to distinguish it from the KGB, and applying a paintjob over them would make this distinction irrelevant. A point can also be made on the fact that the flames are already a decoration on their own, and the KGB could be more deserving of a skin due to its wide, plain looking textures, making it all the easier to apply textures on it. In the case of the Equalizer/Escape plan, The Equalizer features blood to distinguish it from its counterpart, which makes this weapon less likely for a reskin, and makes the Escape Plan a good candidate.
Weapons where there isn't much to decorate
This is something that is particularly relevant to translucent items, where applying decorative textures would ruin the concept of having an icey weapon, in the case of the Spy-Cicle.
When it comes to the Mad Milk or the Jarate, it would be difficult to decorate them too, as changing the bottles' textures would make it impossible to see what the jar contains. The only thing you can do for those is to either put some paint on the Jarate's lid, or put a label on the bottles ; that's very unlikely to happen, simply due to the fact that when a weapon is decorated, it is entirely covered in paint (or partial decorations would be a new thing, even if I don't suspect it). If this were to happen, there wouldn't be as much to look at for the player, ruining the concept of skins.
In the case of weapons like the Huntsman (and to an extent, the disciplinary action), they just seem too thin to feature any sort of interesting paintjob.
Weapons which are already decorated
These weapons already feature some degree of decoration on their own (either in the textures to distinguish them from another weapon, or in their very models, which makes it hard to put any form of interesting paint jobs), which make them bad contenders for further decoration.
Paintjobs aren't edible
Some weapons cannot be reskinned, simply due to their nature. The Sandvich, or the Buffalo Steak Sandvich, for example, are very unlikely to receive some decorations; it wouldn't make sense to apply decoration on a food item, without modifying the model entirely. Same goes for the Ham Shank or the Holy Mackerel, even if (unfortunately), you don't get to put it in your mouth.
Weapons you can't see within your viewmodel
Decorated weapons aren't the same thing as hats ; they're both entirely cosmetic, but skins have an additional feature: they're not only here for the sole purpose of showing off to other players. Skins also serve the purpose of pleasing their owner, by giving him the ability to have a look at his skin as he's using it. They also come with an inspection animation to further this point. Any item that can't fit within a player's viewmodel can't have an inspect animation, and therefore isn't a good candidate to receive the decorated quality. The banners are affected by this to a lesser extent, as they come with an instrument; but I strongly doubt the TF team will include these only to skin a small trumpet.
While the Spy's watches do appear on the player's viewmodel, they always appear as invisible, making a re-texturing of these watches quite useless. One can argue the point that the Dead Ringer also shows up when the Spy is not invisible; but even then, what if he's using a skinned revolver, and tries to inspect his watch as he has his revolver out? The animations would overlap, and it would be too difficult to implement; which makes the Dead Ringer a bad candidate for a skin also.
Demoman's shields feature the same problem; while you can see it on the viewmodel whenever you equip a sword, it cannot appear there as its own thing. How could you feature an inspect animation for it in this scenario?
This also applies to all shoe items, since the player can't see them either within their viewmodel.
Weapons that can't be obtained through an in-game item drop
The list is way too long to put their images, and I think it's fairly easy for you to understand what I'm talking about; weapons such as the AWPer hand, the Sharp Dresser, the Nostromo Napalmer, the obnoxiously long list of all-class craftable melee weapons, the Invasion update weapons (restricted to a certain collection), and so on and so forth. These weapons are supposed to be rarer than the usual weapons, and are usually already a reskin of the stock weapons, breaking the promise for skins of non-stock weapons. I have to say though, if we were to get decorated AWPer Hands, that would be hell of a reference...
Weapons with a very detailed model / wavy model
Applying new textures to these would look absolutely horrible. Most of their aesthetic traits are tied to parts of their model, and trying to change that could make the weapon uglier than its regular counterpart.
Weapons with visual restrictions
Even for the Pyro update, these are (unfortunately) also poor choices for decorated weapons. Not only are they a reskin to stock, they're also restricted to pyro vision, and will display a different weapon to those who are not in Pyrovision; while I previously said that skins were mainly for the owner's pleasure, they also serve the purpose of showing-off. They're not mutually exclusive, and will in fact only work if they go hand in hand together.
II - The most likely candidates
Weapons with wide areas of plain texture
These weapons feature very large areas the TF team can apply textures on, onto the which the player will be able to admire his hard-earned contract weapon. This is a pretty straightforward trait to understand, as these weapons can definitely use some decoration for themselves, due to their very plain textures. Even if the Frying Pan is a reskin to stock, I still think it is an excellent candidate, simply due to its sheer popularity within the TF2 community, as it is quite an iconic weapon. The Wrangler also has a massive bonus point, as there's already an inspect animation for it in the game, only used for the Giger Counter (Assassin Grade, Quarantined Collection).
Weapons with a dark color palette
With the exception of the Machina, which already has its own next gen design, these weapon are fairly generic looking, which is very good,if you want to apply new, decorative textures on this gun. They are distinct enough from their stock counterparts, and most of them seem to have garnered a fair bit of popularity among the TF2 playerbase. These are definitely weapons I can see getting the Decorated Quality.
These weapons are very old, for the most part; they had the time to settle down as classics, and common representations of the game. When they were released, many of these weapons introduced something new to the game. As such, their design had to be simplistic so that the player could quickly understand what these weapons were, which is why most of them don't have as many decorative features as some of the most recent weapons (ie. Dr. Grordbort's items). The Flare Gun, for example, has a very simple textures, as it had to set the standard for flare guns; all players needed to recognise it as a Flare Gun back then, when their only other option was a shotgun. If you check the Flare Gun's item description, you won't find any stats telling the player how it's any different from the shotgun; he has to figure it out on his own via gameplay. What's even more interesting now, is that all of the other Flare Guns will build on the player's knowledge by informing them of the differences from the stock Flare Gun. It's almost as if the Flare Gun was treated like a Stock weapon, as it sets the standard for all of the others.
Since the weapon has sunk in time as one of the most iconic weapons in this game (as its sheer popularity makes so that it doesn't even need a description to know what it does), thanks to its simplistic textures (which can now be easily worked on), it would be a very likely candidate to receive some skins. And since most of these weapons have very simple textures too, they can also be easily worked on to add some decoration to those.
Stock Melee Weapons
Yes, I know, they're stock weapons, which already makes them very unlikely candidates. However, it is important to consider that Valve didn't say they would only include non-stock reskins, and these weapons just happen to perfectly fit the aesthetic criteria for the Decorated quality. Large areas of plain looking surfaces, unique and characteristic to Team Fortress 2, and they're all very consistent weapons, even if there are better options. The point I'm trying to make is purely aesthetic; I'm sure you can see how they can receive some decoration with a bit of imagination. Wouldn't it be badass to have a skin on the Heavy's gloves?
However, since this is only about aesthetics, and doesn't take into consideration factors such as their popularity, these are still quite unlikely to receive the Decorated quality. But hey, one can still dream.
Weapons with Australium / Festive variants
Weapons which have received a Festive variant appear to be more likely to receive a skin, as the TF team will probably allow the playerbase to make them festive on the Smismass 2017 event. Australiums also play a role in here, as australiums are, well, rather basic texture replacements. If they did it on australiums, they can certainly do it again with skins. However, it should be noted that Festive weapons from the Smismass 2013 event (Force-A-Nature, Flare Gun, Crusader's Crossbow, Black Box), have very large portions of decoration, which could cover the skin entirely, resulting in a player not being able to see his skin beneath the festive wrappings.
What's to note with these Festive and Australium variants is that they haven't been picked at random; they were chosen because the TF team knew they would appeal to the TF2 community, as they hold (held, in the case of the Axtinguisher) some standard of popularity. They knew they couldn't go wrong by reskinning those. However, this argument can swing both ways; the TF team might also choose to retexture different weapons because they plan on rebalancing it or wish to shine a light on them for the sake of bringing more variety and weapons to pick from on the battlefield. This is why I consider this factor to be considerably less important than the aforementioned ones, when it comes to my...
III - My final predictions
Please, keep in mind these are only predictions, and I simply cannot claim to be 100% accurate on them. However, I'm doing my best to be as accurate as one can possibly be, as making predictions which would then automatically prove themselves wrong would be an utter and simple waste of time. The TF team might also have chosen to surprise us, which they have very much proven to be capable of during most of the major updates; and this is, by definition, an unpredictable thing. That's the point of a surprise, after all!
By having a look at the number of skins released for each weapon during the Gun Mettle update and the amount of weapons reskinned per class, it would be foolish to expect more than two weapons per class. Past that amount, there would simply not be enough room to provide a variety of skins for each new weapon.
The Force-A-Nature and/or the Sandman
The Force-A-Nature has had the time to settle down as one of the most well recognised weapons in this game, thanks to its unique knockback mechanic. It also features very dark and plain textures, as it tends to follow the same texture pattern as the stock Scattergun. This makes it a very good candidate for skins. When it comes to the Sandman, it already has an inspect animation for it, currently used by the Batsaber only. Just like the Force-A-Nature, it features plain textures, and can be easily told apart from the Bat from both the noises it makes, and its sheer ability to shoot balls at opponents.
The Black Box and/or the Direct Hit
The Black Box is very easy to retexture thanks to its simple shape (which is also fully black, by the way, making it all the better for its candidature). Its very recognisable shape won't make it a confusing weapon to fight against at all, and there's already an inspect animation for it, used by the Rocket Launcher. Same thing goes for the Direct Hit; an iconic weapon, loved by its users and hated by those on the receiving end of these rockets, with a distinct shape and very generic textures, this would also make it a very good choice for the Decorated quality.
The Degreaser and/or the Flare Gun
The Degreaser has consistently been a popular choice for most Pyros since it was released, thanks to its ability to ease Flare Punch/Axtinguisher Pummeling combos. An inspect animation is already featured for it, currently used by the Flame Thrower. Looks plain, generic, and features wide surfaces to cover up with decoration. The Flare Gun has just about the same properties, except this one only features two colors, without much variations throughout the textures, which would make it an excellent candidate for skins.
While the Eyelander is a sword, one has to take into consideration how significantly thicker it is when compared to other swords. The TF team was also able to put a skin on the stock Knife, which is also a very thin weapon. However, its handle doesn't represent an insignificant portion of the weapon, enabling them to put noticeable decoration on it too, which is why they were able to do it. I can very well see the Eyelander fitting within this scenario too; it is a popular choice for Demoknights, was released all the way back during the WAR! Update, and doesn't feature too much distinctive features within its very model.
Honestly, it is very difficult to accurately predict what is the Demoman going to receive for this update; there is most likely a Grenade Launcher to predict here too, but the problem is which one of them is the best candidate? Is it the Loch-n-Load, due to how easy it would be to retexture it? Is it the Iron Bomber, for how similar it is to the Grenade Launcher (and its undeniable popularity)? Or could it even be the Loose Cannon? The problem here is that all three of those follow the exact same plain texture pattern; black cannons, brown handles. Aesthetically speaking, all three of those seem to make for great candidates, even if the Loch-n-Load appears to be the best candidate of the three, especially considering the Loose Cannon already has a (pirate) theme attached to its design, and the amount of details featured on the Iron Bomber. The Loch-n-Load doesn't appear to be the most popular choice among Demoman players though... Tough to predict, and I don't think I can go any farther with Demoman Predictions
The Tomislav and/or the Killing Gloves of Boxing
As I said for most of these weapons, the Tomislav is a popular gun, large surfaces to cover with decorations, looks plain and simple, and already has an inspect animation ready, thanks to Decorated Miniguns. The Killing Gloves of Boxing appear to me as a less likely candidate, but still one of the more likely weapons to be picked up; as of right now, the Heavy doesn't have any decorated melee weapons to equip, and I hardly see any other viable candidate for skins. However, setting up an inspect animation for the Killing Gloves of Boxing could prove to require some originality on the TF team's end, which is also why I think the Tomislav is a better candidate than the KGB.
The Wrangler and/or the Frontier Justice
The Wrangler has got to be one of my most certain predictions, simply due to the fact that there's an inspect animation for it, that is only compatible with the Giger Counter or the Wrangler. The TF team being the TF team, I'm almost certain they won't be able to resist the temptation to recycle that inspect animation. Also it looks plain, dark, large areas to cover, you get the point. The Frontier Justice would also be a suitable contender, since it is very similar to the Shotgun, which already received quite some fancy decorations. The Jag also seems to be a great one, but I tend to lean towards the Frontier Justice, simply due to the different kind of gameplay it tends to favour. The Jag doesn't provide any new ability, it simply allows the Engineer to be better at certain tasks while worse at others.
The Blutsauger and/or the Übersaw
The Blutsauger has the same usual characteristics to define it as a good contender; compact, easy to retexture, dark, plain looking, etc... The usual characteristics to define a great possibility for the TF team, along with some bits of underdog low-key niche kind of popularity among Medic Players. The Über saw also seems to be a reasonable guess, as it is also dark, generic looking, and easy to retexture. However, the "Fluid" Über thingy inside of the Übersaw is to be considered; it's supposed to be bright and visible,so that your enemy can instantly know if you have a significant amount of Übercharge or not as soon as you pull it out, even if nobody pays attention to such a detail. It is an important feature to take into consideration, and putting a texture all over it would prevent players from seeing that glowing Übercharge. If they were to leave this part untouched, it would be the only partially Decorated Weapon in the game though.
The Crusader's Crossbow would also be a good option to consider, but due to its very detailed model, I don't think it's as great of a candidate as the Blutsauger, or the Übersaw, despite its overwhelming popularity when it comes to Medic primary weapons.
Sniper is a very difficult one to predict if they're going to release non-stock skins for every class. Pretty much every weapon that isn't the Jarate or can be seen on the viewmodel already has a theme attached to it, and has some details on its very model to remind us about it. Sure, the Machina has a quite dark colour palette, but its model is very detailed and already gives it some degree of decoration, to take it as an example.
If you review the few iconic weapons the Sniper has in his inventory, you'll find the Huntsman; however, the Huntsman's viewmodel is an absolute mess, and it would be very difficult to give it an inspect animation as the string extends infinitely outside of the field of view, giving it no precise bound. One could also see the Bushwacka as a possibility for the Sniper, as its combo with the Jarate is very well known. The Kukri could also be a decent choice for a skin, even if it is a stock weapon. I'm afraid I won't be able to give that much more information on the Sniper, it's most likely going to be a surprise to us all.
The Ambassador is a very large weapon for the Spy, and a very popular one too. The decorations it features on its barrel are textures, and can easily be replaced with new ones by the TF2 art team. It would be difficult to predict anything for the knives, as there isn't as much of a need to distinguish them from one another, as most of the time, you won't be able to see the Spy's weapons, and all of the Spy's knives share one main purpose; backstabbing. While we can surely get rid of the Spy-Cicle, for example, both the Your Eternal Reward or the Conniver's Kunai could serve as decent contenders for additional decoration.
The Frying Pan
The Frying Pan would be a great possibility if the mercs were to all get a weapon in their Melee slot. Conveniently enough, the frying pan can't be equipped by the Engineer or the Spy; both already have skinned melee weapons. It is dark, it has very large surfaces of generic looking textures to cover, and it would be an easy way to give everyone a melee weapon to look at. While it is a reskin to stock, it is certainly a very popular weapon within the TF2 community, and a very well recognized one at that, thanks to its obnoxiously loud noises.
There you have it! An attempt, as accurate as possible, to narrow down the different possibilities for skins we might be receiving pretty soon for this Pyro Update! While this non-stock skin announcement left me quite curious, it is important to remember that this also means that contracts are back, with quite an amount of new features for us all to enjoy!
That being said though, please understand that this isn't a list of weapons I want within the decorated quality. This is more of an article to explain what makes a weapon likely to receive the Decorated Quality and to narrow down the different possibilities one could think of to the weapons we can realistically expect; both for aesthetic, or technical reasons.