First introduced in 2010, the item drop system of "Team Fortress 2" guarantees you'll earn, on average, one item per hour of gameplay until you've reached your weekly cap. Valve does not specify what this limit is, but community estimations suggest you can expect to earn up to 10 items per week.
Items Eligible to Drop
Of the five categories of items -- weapons, action items, taunts, tools and cosmetic items -- all are eligible to drop randomly every 30 to 70 minutes. Once you hit the cap for the week, you can keep playing but without item rewards. There are special items that won't ever drop, however, due to having other prerequisites attached. For example, the Heavy's Robo-Sandvich was only awarded to those who had purchased a specific San Diego Comic-Con toy in 2012.
Using the Crafting System
With a random loot dropping system, you're bound to get something you either don't want or already have. When you do, you can break it down into scrap metal or another material you can craft something else with. For example, the Scout can break down extra guns and eventually use the parts to craft a Flying Guillotine that hasn't been dropping.
Earning Achievements for Rewards
Each of the classes in "Team Fortress 2" has a set of achievements you can earn playing the game. While the achievements themselves won't provide you anything, earning a certain amount per class gives you the Milestone achievement; getting that achievement rewards you with a class set item. You'll also earn the Ghastly Gibus and the Pyrovision Goggles by earning the Ghastly Gibus Grab and A Fresh Pair of Eyes achievements.
Not So Black Market Trading
If you get an unwanted item that's otherwise useful, you can benefit from it instead of breaking it down. It's possible to sell most items though Steam Community Market or in-game. Similarly, you can just purchase an item from the Steam Community market itself. However, you won't be able to use the item right away; to prevent fraudulent items being used, there is a one-week waiting period.
Purchasing and Earning Additional Items
The in-game Mann Co. Store gives players the opportunity to purchase official weapons directly from Valve without a waiting period. While you obviously won't get the same variety of items, you do get to use what you know is a genuine item right away. Some games, such as "Poker Night at the Inventory" and "Left 4 Dead 2," will also give you free "Team Fortress 2" items for earning certain achievements.
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