LIFESTYLE | January 29, 2019

THE FUTURE IS NOW: How Much Do E-Gamers Actually Earn?

The most successful esports..

Many people will be unsurprised to find out that the sporting event in which the competing athletes earned the most money occurred in 2017 when Floyd Mayweather Jr. fought Conor McGregor in Las Vegas Nevada. Floyd Mayweather reportedly took home a cheque for $100,000,000 following his victory over Connor McGregor, who received a $30,000,000 paycheque.

On the whole, based on the 52 major sporting events analysed, Boxing came out on top, offering the highest prize earnings. But now with the emergence of professional esports – where do esports prize winnings rank vs other sports?

Esports Prize Winnings

The most prestigious tournament in esports is the International Dota 2 Championships. The two most recent Dota Internationals in 2017 and 2018 ranked #13 and #14 on our top 52 sports list respectively (Top 30% of events based on tournament earnings). The International 2018 Dota 2 Championship offered a total prize pool of $25,532,200, with Team OG winning the event. Each player on the winning team earned around $2,247,000 of the $11,234,000 (5 players per team). One thing to consider here is the inflation of tournament prize pools in Dota 2. Tournament prize pools are inflated due to fan crowdfunding through purchase of in game items. This highlights the popularity of Dota 2 even today, given that this is a much older game, compared to Fortnite for example.

One of the more recent esports tournaments Fortnite Fall Skirmish Series 2018, ranked #20 overall, which is a testament to how much money Fortnite makes. Considering it’s recent emergence in the gaming and esports markets (released in 2017) this is impressive and highlights how far Fortnite has come in a short space of time. There was an available prize pool of $4,000,000, with $1,500,000 going to the winning team.

Sports fans may be surprised that the most successful esports players currently earn more than golfers, badminton players, cyclists, marathon runners and even UFC stars

The tournament winnings and prize money made available for successful players in the esports industry highlights it’s growing popularity, allowing competitors to become some of the wealthiest sports stars in the world. Sports fans may be surprised that the most successful esports players currently earn more than golfers, badminton players, cyclists, marathon runners, and even UFC stars.

Esports Popularity Increase

If we delve deeper into the prize money offered in esports, we can see a clear and rapid growth within the industry. With the increase of sponsorships for teams and tournaments, the number of players, and also a greater number of games increasing year on year this is no surprise. Back in 1998, there were a total of 9 competitive esports tournaments or events. In 2018 this has dramatically increased to 3,404; a staggering 37,722% increase over a 20-year period.

In 1998 the total prize money/earnings available in competitive esports tournaments was $131,700. Fast forward to 2018 this increased to a whopping $151,229,517. A substantial increase of $151,097,817, highlighting how far professional esports has come during a 20 year period.

Increase In Earnings

The esports industry has grown significantly over the last 6 or 7 years with substantial increases in earnings. The esports industry has seen year on year growth in terms of earnings and prizemoney since 2009, but increases have certainly been more rapid since 2012/2013. This is most likely down to the fact the top three games offering the most prize money in the history of esports (Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and League of Legends) were all released in either 2012 or 2013.

We asked Mark “Aer0z” Ochoa from Arctic Gaming about his thoughts on the growth of the esports industry in 2018. He responded by saying: “It hasn’t been just in 2018, it’s more like the last 4/5 years. I think the exponential growth has been possible thanks to brands non-related to esports, that are now participating in the industry. Esports is now more sustainable and the growth has been bigger thanks to the appearance of streaming platforms and social media. This has accentuated the growth and dissemination.”

In 2011 in esports there were a total of 1,638 tournaments with 3,702 total active players. In 2012 these numbers increased significantly to 1,956 total tournaments and 4,695 total active players. Releases of more popular games such as Dota 2 (Defense of the Ancients 2,) Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and League of Legends certainly will have contributed to this with a greater number of tournaments/competition and a potential increase in tournament earnings.

A significant increase in earnings came between 2015 and 2016. The total players’ earnings during this year increased a massive 32% from $66,661,946 in 2015 to $97,610,186 in 2016. Dota 2 tournaments such as the International 2015, DAC 2015 and The Frankfurt Major 2015 offered a third of the total earnings in 2015, highlighting the dominance of Dota 2 in the esports industry.

However, the highest yearly increase in earnings came between 2017 and 2018. In 2017 a total of $114,717,338 was earned/won in prize money. In 2018 this increased by 24% or $36,512,180 to a total of $151,229,517. Key reasons causing this were The Dota International 2018 and the 2018 LoL World Championship offering record prize pools of $25,532,177 and $6,450,000 respectively. Also, the success and popularity of Fortnite was a major factor. Despite only being released in 2017 Fortnite has already offered $20,074,787 in prize money through 161 tournaments; making it the fifth biggest game in esports history based on prize money awarded. This is impressive considering how new the game is compared to other long-standing competitors.

We asked Fran “NeNe” Godoy from Arctic Gaming what he thought was the biggest game of 2018, his reply was: “Fortnite, because it’s innovative and has managed to get together different kinds of people that previously played other types of video games, across different platforms.”

Decrease In Tournaments

The number of esports tournaments per year increased each year until 2015, which had a total of 5,090 competitive tournaments. Since this peak, the number of esports tournaments has decreased each year.

Year Average Tournament Prize Pool Total Tournaments Total Active Players
1998 $14,633 9 34
1999 $17,197 16 70
2000 $13,205 52 231
2001 $16,948 52 383
2002 $17,695 52 516
2003 $10,923 155 831
2004 $11,511 229 1,076
2005 $13,291 310 1,293
2006 $14,218 384 1,806
2007 $14,950 487 2,334
2008 $14,015 519 2,348
2009 $6,256 637 2,379
2010 $6,525 954 3,289
2011 $6,344 1,638 3,702
2012 $7,171 1,956 4,695
2013 $9,805 2,266 5,728
2014 $12,217 3,057 7,777
2015 $13,096 5,090 13,801
2016 $22,485 4,341 15,676
2017 $27,543 4,165 17,898
2018 $44,427 3,404 18,464
2019 (To date) $7,927 27 181

If we analyse the data in further detail, we can see that the number of tournaments is decreasing because there are more major tournaments offering bigger prize pools. This is the case because the average tournament prize pool has increased significantly since 2015 ($13,096) to a massive $44,427 in 2018, despite there being 1,686 fewer tournaments in 2018 than there were in 2015.

Interestingly since the 2008-2009 economic crisis, player earnings, average tournament prize pools, average earnings per player and the total number of active players have all increased year on year. In total since esports tournaments began a total of approximately $535,350,000 has been paid in prizes amongst 54,650 players across 26,400 tournaments.

Top Earning esports Players Of All Time

Player Rank Country Player ID Player Name Total Earnings (All Time) Game Played
1 Germany KuroKy Kuro Takhasomi $4,128,927 Dota 2
2 Denmark N0tail Johan Sundstein $3,739,056 Dota 2
3 Jordan Miracle- Amer Al-Barkawi $3,701,337 Dota 2
4 Bulgaria MinD_ContRoL Ivan Ivanov $3,484,412 Dota 2
5 Finland Matumbaman Lasse Urpalainen $3,468,116 Dota 2
6 Finland JerAx Jesse Vainikka $3,310,464 Dota 2
7 Pakistan SumaiL Sumail Hassan $3,285,915 Dota 2
8 Lebanon GH Maroun Merhej $3,087,345 Dota 2
9 United States UNiVeRsE Saahil Arora $3,033,738 Dota 2
10 United States ppd Peter Dager $2,897,766 Dota 2
11 Australia ana Anathan Pham $2,853,876 Dota 2
12 United States Fear Clinton Loomis $2,497,461 Dota 2
13 France 7ckngMad Sébastien Debs $2,329,597 Dota 2
14 Finland Topson Topias Taavitsainen $2,254,910 Dota 2
15 China Somnus丶M Lu Yao $2,247,924 Dota 2
16 Sweden s4 Gustav Magnusson $2,186,344 Dota 2
17 China fy Xu, Linsen $2,144,733 Dota 2
18 Estonia Puppey Clement Ivanov $2,033,246 Dota 2
19 China iceice Li Peng $1,998,973 Dota 2
20 Israel Fly Tal Aizik $1,992,586 Dota 2
21 China y` Zhang Yiping $1,974,244 Dota 2
22 China Faith_bian Zhang Ruida $1,974,183 Dota 2
23 Canada Aui_2000 Kurtis Ling $1,973,978 Dota 2
24 China Shadow Chu Zeyu $1,956,758 Dota 2
25 China bLink Zhou Yang $1,955,423 Dota 2
26 Canada Arteezy Artour Babaev $1,853,443 Dota 2
27 China xiao8 Zhang, Ning $1,824,535 Dota 2
28 China Hao Chen, Zhihao $1,761,647 Dota 2
29 China Faith Zeng, Hongda $1,740,727 Dota 2
30 Sweden Zai Ludwig Wåhlberg $1,694,058 Dota 2
31 Denmark Cr1t Andreas Nielsen $1,603,299 Dota 2
32 China Super Xie, Junhao $1,578,298 Dota 2
33 Australia kpii Damien Chok $1,531,755 Dota 2
34 China Ame Wang Chunyu $1,529,509 Dota 2
35 China KaKa Zhi Hu $1,493,963 Dota 2
36 Denmark MiSeRy Rasmus Fillipsen $1,451,612 Dota 2
37 Russia Solo Alexei Berezin $1,446,448 Dota 2
38 Russia RAMZES666 Roman Kushnarev $1,441,443 Dota 2
39 Russia 9pasha Pavel Khvastunov $1,438,726 Dota 2
40 China Mu Zhang, Pan $1,390,712 Dota 2
41 Ukraine Resolut1on Roman Fominok $1,380,251 Dota 2
42 Singapore iceiceice Koh, Daryl Pei Xiang $1,377,072 Dota 2
43 China Fenrir Lu, Chao $1,374,082 Dota 2
44 Macao DDC Liang, Fa Ming $1,333,773 Dota 2
45 Denmark Xyp9x Andreas Højsleth $1,315,392 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
46 Denmark dupreeh Peter Rasmussen $1,310,923 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
47 Ukraine No[o]ne Vladimir Minenko $1,291,770 Dota 2
48 China Banana Jiao, Wang $1,280,143 Dota 2
49 Denmark dev1ce Nicolai Reedtz $1,279,546 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
50 Romania w33 Aliwi Omar $1,243,919 Dota 2
51 China SanSheng Wang, Zhaohui $1,218,081 Dota 2
52 China Moogy Xun Han $1,209,718 Dota 2
53 China Sccc Song, Chun $1,195,120 Dota 2
54 China Yao Yao, Zhengzheng $1,190,498 Dota 2
55 China Sylar Liu, Jiajun $1,177,489 Dota 2
56 Korea Faker Lee, Sang Hyeok $1,175,927 League of Legends
57 China LaNm Zhang, Zhicheng $1,167,610 Dota 2
58 Denmark gla1ve Lukas Rossander $1,150,097 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
59 Malaysia xNova Jianwei Yap $1,132,528 Dota 2
60 Germany FATA Adrian Trinks $1,125,861 Dota 2
61 China MMY! Lei, Zengrong $1,112,601 Dota 2
62 China Chalice Yang, Shenyi $1,098,635 Dota 2
63 Malaysia MidOne Zheng Yeik Nai $1,094,374 Dota 2
64 China Q Fu, Bin $1,077,085 Dota 2
65 Malaysia Mushi Chai, Yee Fung $1,021,202 Dota 2
66 Russia RodjER Vladimir Nikogosyan $1,020,548 Dota 2
67 Canada EternaLEnVy Jacky Mao $944,600 Dota 2
68 China eLeVeN Ren Yangwei $934,083 Dota 2
69 Korea Duke Lee, Ho Seong $921,111 League of Legends
70 Korea Wolf Lee, Jae Wan $913,085 League of Legends
71 Korea Bang Bae, Jun Sik $910,451 League of Legends
72 Denmark Magisk Emil Reif $904,482 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
73 Ukraine Lil Ilya Ilyuk $902,809 Dota 2
74 Brazil FalleN Gabriel Toledo $897,126 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
75 China BurNIng Xu, Zhilei $894,603 Dota 2
76 Brazil TACO Epitácio de Melo $893,382 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
77 Brazil fer Fernando Alvarenga $884,467 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
78 Brazil coldzera Marcelo David $877,573 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
79 Macedonia Saksa Martin Sazdov $872,968 Dota 2
80 China Agressif Sun, Zheng $871,452 Dota 2
81 Sweden pieliedie Johan Åström $835,738 Dota 2
82 Canada MoonMeander David Tan $829,588 Dota 2
83 Korea Bengi Bae, Seong Ung $810,683 League of Legends
84 China rOtK Bai, Fan $800,164 Dota 2
85 Ukraine Dendi Danil Ishutin $794,358 Dota 2
86 Denmark karrigan Finn Andersen $759,231 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
87 United States Moo David Hull $758,424 Dota 2
88 Malaysia ChuaN Wong, Hock Chuan $740,983 Dota 2
89 Sweden olofmeister Olof Kajbjer $739,069 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
90 Sweden flusha Robin Rönnquist $735,669 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
91 Poland neo Filip Kubski $728,119 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
92 Canada Karma Damon Barlow $727,822 Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
93 Sweden JW Jesper Wecksell $723,561 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
94 Poland TaZ Wiktor Wojtas $711,762 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
95 Jordan Yapzor Yazied Jaradat $709,150 Dota 2
96 Slovakia GuardiaN Ladislav Kovács $706,525 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
97 China garder Liu, Xinzhou $705,437 Dota 2
98 Ukraine Zeus Daniil Teslenko $705,296 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
99 United States Crimsix Ian Porter $703,451 Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
100 Sweden Loda Jonathan Berg $700,205 Dota 2

Who Is The Highest Paid Gamer In The World?

As of 2018, the highest paid gamer in the world is ‘KuroKy’ – real name Kuro Takhasomi, who is a German esports player. Kuro is a professional Dota 2 player and well known in the gaming and esports community. At the age of 26, he has won a total of $4,128,927 from 92 tournaments: averaging an impressive $45,000 per tournament – meaning he is the highest earning gamer of all time (based on career earnings.) Kuro is also captain of Team Liquid, and his earnings surpass world number 2 ‘N0tail’ Johan Sundstein by $396,300.

Another honourable mention here is Pakistani sensation Sumail “SumaiL” Hassan, who is currently the 7th highest earning competitive esports player of all time. Sumail was a member of the team that won The Dota 2 International 2015, alongside Fear, Aui_2000, UNiVeRsE, and ppd, making him the youngest ever player to surpass $1 million in esports winnings.

A key point to highlight here is the popularity and dominance of Dota 2. All of the top 20 earning esports players (and indeed the top 44 earning esports players in the world) all play Dota 2. This really does highly that elite level esports players can earn some real money, and with the growth within the industry, this is only set to increase in coming years.

Esports In 2019

The esports industry has experienced significant growth since 1998, but this has been more rapid over the last 5 years. There are more professional esports players now than there have ever been; and based on the increases over recent years, the number of competitors is only set to rise. Increases in earnings and tournament payouts appear to correlate with the number of competing players; with tournament winnings set to increase next year, we expect to see the number of esports players increase again in 2019.

Up until 2015 the number of competitive esports tournaments had increased year on year, but 2016 saw the number of competitive esports tournaments decline. One explanation for this is that tournaments are maturing – they are becoming prestigious, with greater amounts of prize money being offered. This all means that the much smaller tournaments are being shunned in favour of the more popular tournaments in a bid to earn more money and make a real career of out esports.

If the esports industry experiences a similar growth rate of 2017-2018 – a 31% increase; we can expect total yearly player earnings to surpass $195,000,000 in 2019.

Key forces in the industry such as Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and League of Legends are increasing prize money each year and are solidifying themselves as the games with the biggest prize pots. There are encouraging signs for new games in esports though – Fortnite has rapidly broken into the top 5 highest paying games of all time in esports and we only see their share increasing next year.

With the emergence of Fortnite, and based on previous increases in player earnings, we expect to see further growth within esports. If the esports industry experiences a similar growth rate to 2017-2018 (a 31% increase in player earnings) we can expect total yearly player earnings to surpass $195,000,000 in 2019.

We asked David “Peke” Lopez from Arctic Gaming about the prize money in esports, and why he thought it had increased significantly in recent years. He responded by saying: “Well, I think the main reasons are the growth of fanbase, sponsors and metrics on the Internet. If there are more and more people following an event, then sponsors are more likely to participate. As a result the prize money awarded in competitions is increasing. It’s natural, the industry is getting bigger.”

After all of this – we believe esports should be given the same attention as the more traditional sports. Not only is esports leading the way in terms of growth and competition, but this is a viable career for someone willing to dedicate the time and resource to become an esports champion.


Sources: We gathered data manually for sporting event prize winnings, we also used esportsearnings.com



Image Credit: ESL One Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament in in Cologne, Germany’s Lanxess Arena, July 2017.HELENA KRISTIANSSON/ESL


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