The esports industry is still in its infant phase, but even at this stage, it’s a multibillion-dollar industry, a blossoming business, and for some, a highly lucrative career path. Recent projections show that esports market revenue will reach $1.67 billion by 2024, which is a substantial amount but also a figure not many can fully understand.
Even if we tell you that the 2021/22 NBA season is projected to bring in $10 billion in revenue, that figure won’t turn many heads, but if we start talking tournament prize pools and player salaries, everyone starts listening. Admittedly, revenue is a more important figure for any industry, but knowing how much professional sports or esports athletes make is arguably the best and easiest way to show how big a particular industry is.
We know that some sports athletes make millions per year– some even per month. But how about esports athletes?
How do esports athletes make money?
The most obvious way professional esports players make money is bysigningwith an organization and drawing a salary. However, unlike how it is in sports where an athlete’s salary is publicly known, esports salaries are a mystery.
Somerumors state that an average salary in the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) is higher than $75,000, with some players earning as high as $300,000 and astar player’s salary easily reaching three times as much.
Those are no official numbers; however, knowing that esports players from other sports (Dota 2 and Counterstrike: Global Offensive) are reportedly earning roughly the same amount, we can take those figures as an approximation of how much an average esports pro player can expect to make.
Besides their salary, players also earn money from sponsorship deals and some by streaming on Twitch. Still, major sponsorship deals are mainly reserved for the biggest stars in their respective esports, and likewise, only the top players can brag about any sizeable income from Twitch.
There is even now an increasing number of eSports stars receiving state funding direct from their governments. In South Korea, for example, KeSPA (the Korean e Sports Association) was launched in 2000, awarding bursaries to the country’s most talented ‘e스포츠’ players.
Nevertheless, if the reported esports salary figures are correct, it’s fair to say that the financial situation for these athletes is more than great. But the real money in esports comes in the form of tournament winnings.
The rising prize pools ofesports tournaments
Esports tournaments nowadays are nothing like what they were a decade ago. Some of the most prominent esports tournaments started as side events at video game conventions and are now held at some of the biggest stadiums in the world, attracting thousands of viewers.
The most notable example is the League of Legends World Championship, which debuted at the Dream Hack convention in 2011. Since then, it has been held at Staples Centre, Seoul World Cup Stadium, Beijing National Stadium, and many other famous venues.
Not only have esports events moved to bigger venues, but the popularity of these competitions has also exploded in recent years, largely thanks to the changing demographics. This ushered in heavy investments into the esports industry, andwith much more capital available, the esports tournament prize pools went through the roof.
Admittedly, the esports tournament prize pools are not equal across all esports titles, with some featuring far larger pots than others. But if we’re talking about “Big Events”, a $100,000+ prize pool is more of a norm rather thanthe exception.
The “king ofprize pools”
When we talk tournament winnings, the most notable esports tournaments include the League of Legends World Championship, which featured a $2,225,000 prize pool in 2021, and any Counterstrike: Global Offensive Major tournament, which traditionally splits $1 million between the teams.
To put it into perspective, the NBA Champions get paid roughly $3.5 million, while each member of the Super Bowl-winning team gets paid $150,000. In comparison,there are only five LoL and CS: GO team players that split the pot.
Yet even those numbers are nothing compared to the “king of esports prize pools”, the Dota 2 The International. It might not be the most popular esports event, nor is it the oldest, but The International (shortened as TI) is known for two things – it is by far the best-paid esports tournament in the history of esports, and its prize pool continues to grow each year.
In 2021, The International featured a $40 million prize pool, with the champions taking home just north of $18.2 million. TI10 is, to date, the best-paid esports tournament in history, followed by TI9 ($34.3 million), TI8 ($23.5 million), TI7 ($24.7 million), TI6 ($20.8 million) and TI5 ($18.4 million).
When we talk life-changing money, winning TI is it, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that all of the top-21 best-paid esports athletes in esports history are Dota 2 players.
The biggest earners per esports
Since Dota 2 The International pays so generously, it’s only reasonable to see players who won the tournament sitting atop the all-time table of highest overall esports tournament earnings. And unsurprisingly, all the top-five spots are occupied by the former line-up of OG, who won TI twice.
Interestingly, all the top-21 spots on the all-time earners feature Dota 2 players, who either won The International or came close to lifting the Aegis of Champions. So instead of listing Dota 2 players based on their success at TI, we will check which are the top-5 best-paid esports athletes per esport.
1. Johan “N0tail” Sundstein (Dota 2) – $7.2 million
We don’t know how high Johan “N0tail” Sundstein’s salary was, how much he earned via sponsorship deals or how much money he received as a co-owner of OG. But what we do know is that N0tail led OG to two The International titles (2018 and 2019) and four Dota 2 Major titles, earning roughly $7million in tournament winnings over his nine-year-long career as a professional Dota 2 player.
With $7million in tournament winnings in his pocket, N0tail holds the sole position as the best-paid esports athlete in history.
However, N0tail didn’t make all his money from Dota 2. He has also won roughly $11,700 in tournament winnings from his Heroes of Newerth days, granted that is a rather negligible sum relative to his total earnings.
2. Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf (Fortnite) – $3.2 million
Even those who are not familiar with esports have likely heard of Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf, a 16-year-old from the small town of Pottstown, Pennsylvania,who became a millionaire in 2018 when he won the Fortnite World Championship and pocketed a mouth-watering $3 million prize.
Although winning the world championship remains Bugha’s most notable accomplishment of his Fortnite esports career, he has achieved plenty of success in other tournaments, adding an additional $175,000 on top of his pot.
3. Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen (CS: GO) – $1.94 million
To find the next best-paid esports athlete that does not compete in Dota 2 or Fortnite, we must go way down to the no.41 spot on the all-time list, where we find the legendary Danish CS: GO player Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen.
The Danish rifler gained world recognition in 2018-2019 as a member of Astralis, one of the greatest CS: GO dynasties. With the Danish roster, dupreeh dominated the CS: GO scene and won four CS: GO Major titles, making him one of the most-decorated and best-paidCS: GO players in history.
4. Lee “Faker” Sang Hyeok (LoL) – $1.34 million
Every esports title has at least one player that is known as the GOAT, but even if we compare the stars of their respective esports titles, very few can compare to the status of Lee “Faker” Sang Hyeok. The 25-year-old League of Legends pro player is the most recognizable name in the whole esports industry and someone whose reputation in esports can be compared to that of Michael Jordan in basketball.
The iconic member of the T1 (SKT T1) roster won the LoL World Championship in his debut season and has since added two more Worlds and 10 LCK titles to his trophy chest to become the most decorated and the highest-paidLoL player in history. Unfortunately, LoLtournaments don’t pay as much as Dota 2 TI, so Faker will never sit atop the all-time esports tournament winnings list.
5. Ian”C6″ Porter (Call of Duty) – $1.33 million
The legendary North American Call of Duty esports pro player Ian”C6″ Porter might be only the 76thbest paid esports player in the world, but he holds the sole position of the best paid CoD player in the history of the game.
Throughout his illustrious career as a Call of Duty esports pro, C6 has won three world championships and 37 major tournaments. At 28-years-old,he is still at thetop of hisgame and widely known as one of the best CoD players in the scene.
Kakip (Shadowverse) –$1.23 million
A relatively unknown name in the western world, Kakip is a Japanese Shadow verse pro player and the Shadowverse World Grand Prix 2021 champion.
Joona “Serral” Sotala (StarCraft II) –$1.14 million
Joona “Serral” Sotala is a Finnish StarCraft II player who has throughout the years carried the Western flag in an esports title that is predominantly dominated by Korean players. As one of only two non-Korean players to win the Triple Crown, Serral is also the best paid SCII player in the world.
Zhu “paraboy” Bojun (PUBG Mobile) –$1.12 million
Zhu “paraboy” Bojun is known as one of the best PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Mobile professional players globally and is the winner of the 2021 PUBG Mobile Global Championship.
Peng “Fly” Yunfei (Honor of Kings) –$1.02 million
Not to be confused with Tal “Fly” Aizik (Dota 2), Peng “Fly” Yunfei is one of the biggest names in Honor of Kings,with over $1 million in tournament winnings over his career. His biggest haul came in August 2021, when Fly led his team QG Happy to victory atthe Honor of Kings World Champion Cup.