The players and their earnings
Fans have long fawned over the big contracts of traditional sports stars, as players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Tom Brady rake in tens of millions of dollars. Esports hasn’t hit that level quite yet, but lots of esports stars have made more money before age 30 than others will earn in their entire life.
You may have heard stories about people who make a great living playing computer games. Stories of esports stars driving Lamborghinis or investing in property portfolios are not urban legend. These stories are true.
One way to measure how lucrative esports can be prize is pool payouts. It has been said that the first real esports prize was given away in 1997 when Dennis “Thresh” Fong won Quake developer John Carmac’s red Ferrari 328. While this is impressive, the prize money involved these days could buy a number of Ferraris.
Here are just the top three:
- The International - Valve’s annual world championship in Dota 2 has broken the record for esports prize pools for nine years in a row. In 2011 the prize pool was a total of US$1.6 million. In 2020 it was US$34.3 million.
- The 2019 Fortnite World Cup Finals - Epic’s first Fortnite World Cup Finals featured one of the biggest prize pools in esports history, US$30.4 million. The inaugural tournament was split into two main events. 16-year old Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf earned US$3 million winning the solo finals, while David “aqua” W and Emil “Nyhrox” Bergquist Pedersen shared US$3 million after winning the duo finals. To put this in perspective, that same year when 43-year old Tiger Woods memorably reclaimed the US Masters, his take-home prize money was US$2million.
- PUBG Global Invitational.S 2021 - The first event of the 2021 PUBG season boasted one of the biggest prize pools in esports history, US$7.1 million. The Susquehanna Soniqs won the South Korean hosted event, walking away with a massive US$1.3 in prize winnings.
These numbers can be misleading because there are a number of other components that make up an athlete’s earnings such as salaries, sponsorships, stock options and steaming.
So let’s take a look at some of the richest esports players.
Johan “N0tail” Sundstein – US$6.9 million (Dota 2)
Image source: Dot Esports
The Danish Dota 2 veteran is the top earner by prize money in all of esports. As the only player to stay on OG (a Dota 2 team) throughout its entire history, he has been around for all of the team’s biggest victories. He lead the team to victory at the International in 2018 and 2019.On paper, winning TI8 added over US$2 million to N0tail’s bank account while TI9 added over US$3 million. That check from TI9 currently stands as the largest payout to an individual player for an esports tournament performance. N0tail’s career prize pool winnings total US$6.9 million.
Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok – US$10 million+ (League of Legends)Image source: Dot Esports
The prize pool winnings of League of Legends star Lee "Faker" Sanghyeok are relatively humble in comparison to those of top Dota 2 players, totaling US$1.4 million over a career that includes three world championships and nine LCK titles. While that’s not an astronomical sum, there’s a chance that Faker is quietly esports’ all-time top earner. Faker’s salaries have long been a topic of discussion and while neither Faker nor his longtime team T1 have given an exact figure on how much he makes, Faker stated that he turned down a US$10 million annual salary offer from an unnamed Chinese team as well as other big offers from North America. Whether Faker was being honest is unknown, but he is likely making well over a million dollars each year and also received partial ownership of the T1 organisation in his most recent contract with the team.
On top of this, Faker has other sources of income including possible brand deals and sponsorships separate from T1. The most notable example of this was his deal with Lotte to have his face adorn ice cream cones.
Tyler “Ninja” Blevins – US$30 million+ (Fortnite)
Image source: Redbull
Tyler “Ninja” Blevins likely has the largest bank account of any Fortnite pro, and possibly anyone else in competitive gaming. Ninja officially got his start in esports through Halo 3 and raked in some decent cash in the early years of Fortnite esports while also notching wins in smaller events for other battle royals. But the money he made from all those events pales in comparison to what he makes from streaming. Ninja reportedly received a US$30 million payout from Microsoft to cancel his Mixer contract as the studio moved to shut down.
That alone likely makes him worth way more than anyone else in esports, but he adds a number of lucrative sponsorships, brand deals, and appearances alongside the money he made on Twitch before and after Mixer. Streaming doesn’t technically count as esports, but when it comes to financial success in gaming, the discussion begins and ends with Ninja at this point.
These are only three examples. According to Cyberathletiks.com, the countries with the most professional gamers are:
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