One of the first weapons I got was an Ubersaw. I’m pretty certain I don’t have it any more, as it wasn’t the achievement one. Most of the other first weapons I’d found were for classes I wasn’t playing – Scout, Sniper, Spy, Heavy, Soldier, the classes that I found genuinely hard (or too slow) early on. So I was mostly playing Medic, Engineer and Pyro and I didn’t really have any weapons for the other two. One of the first things I noticed on my brand new weapon was a level, level 10, compared to my level 1 Bonesaw.
Now, to many new players, especially ones coming from games where new weapons are generally better than old ones, it’s possible that they’d believe the level 10 Ubersaw is better than the level 1 Bonesaw. In this case, they (and I) would be right, because the Bonesaw is shit, but what if one of my first weapons had been the Frontier Justice, or the Homewrecker, two weapons that, while they are different, work best only in niche situations? While I did end up sticking to the Bonesaw because back then my only other choices were the Ubersaw and Vita-Saw (gee, that makes me sound old) and I never used melee anyway, I was quick to make note of the different coloured stats.
But what if my first weapon had been the Kritzkrieg? The Medi Gun, the best of Medic’s healing weaponry, is level 1. The other three Medi Guns (or one at the time), are all level 8. The wording on them isn’t exactly clear, and I died during my first Kritzkrieg charge because I didn’t know that you didn’t go invulnerable. I’m pretty sure every dumb newbie Medic has done that, but the whole level thing does seem… silly.
Apparently, Valve did want to try a leveling system, but I don’t know what for, perhaps as an early iteration of strange weapons? Either way, they’re not really a thing any more. Most weapons these days have a level randomly assigned to them when created (i.e. crafted, unboxed or found), or a static number that’s always the same, e.g. the level 8 on non-stock Medi Guns. It’s worth noting that, originally, the 8 seconds was a reference to the 8 seconds of Ubercharge you get, although the Vaccinator is kinda weird about that.
There are some levels that have a use. Botkiller weapons have a level based on the number of tours completed when the weapon is found, meaning you can get levels above level 100, but you’d need to do a LOT of tours in order to get a botkiller like that. Speaking of botkillers, Uranium Botkillers please, Valve.
The only other interesting items with levels are things like the Dueling Badge, the MvM tour badges and that infernal Duck Journal, which, if I see Davjo spam again, begging everyone to look at his stupid bird, I will snatch from him and ram down his throat, making him choke on those stupid rubber pixels. Anyway, these badges actually do level up whenever you complete a tour, win a duel or score a point. The Dueling Badge is the only one that upgrades (at levels 25, 50 and 75) though.
These days, levels don’t really have that much value, apart as gimmicks when it comes to trading. Some people believe that a level 0, 1, <10, 99 or 100 leveled weapon, particularly in the case of vintage weapons, are worth more money, but you’re essentially paying for a barely visible weapon. That’s sillier than things like Vintage weapons themselves, or Collectors weapons.
At the end of the day, apart from confusing newbies and showing off your grinding skills, there’s not really much to levels after all.