Esports is a profitable industry across the board – the top billers of many esports can expect salaries that would make most 9-5 employees weep. That’s no surprise with million-dollar tournaments happening more and more frequently, and esports prize money increasing from tournament to tournament.
Last year alone, over $220 million were awarded in prize money in esports tournaments. That’s more than double what it was in 2016, and ten times what it was in 2013. Given the exponential growth the esports industry has seen, that may not be so surprising for fans – what may be more surprising is who the top esports earnershave been so far.
The most lucrative esports
Given that League of Legends is by almost any standard the biggest esport in the world, you may be surprised to find that it isn’t the most lucrative esport out there. That honor goes to Dota 2 and Fortnite. In 2019, Fortnite featured the most overall prize money, at more than $60 million across 350 tournaments.
Dota 2 is a close second, with more than $46 million across 205 tournaments. No less than 5 esports pros managed to win over $3 million at tournaments in 2019 alone. The rest of the top 5 most lucrative esports are made up of CS:GO, PUBG and Overwatch. League of Legends only managed to take the sixth spot even though it still had over $9 million prize money in over 160 tournaments in 2019.
From a historical perspective, Dota 2, CS:GO, Fortnite, League of Legends and StarCraft 2 have proven to be the most lucrative out there. This is especially true in the case of StarCraft 2, where the large majority of those earnings are centered around South Korea. After all, the game has a cult-like following there.
The highest earners
Perhaps not unsurprising given the esports prize money stats, the top earners from the last year are all Dota 2 players. In 2019, no less than the Top 5 earners are all Dota 2 players. In that order, here is who topped the leaderboard:
- Jesse “JerAx” Vainikka from Finland
- Sebastien “Ceb” Beds from France
- Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen from Finland
- Johan “N0tail” Sundstein from Denmark
- Anathan “ana” Pham from Australia.
Despite their phenomenal earnings of over $3 million each, the list of top earners in the history of esports looks a little different, even if it features many of the same names. As of the beginning of 2020, the highest-paid esports pro in history was Johan “N0tail” Sundstein. Across his career, the 26-year-old earned close to $7 million. Unsurprisingly, his OG teammates are close behind – JerAx, ana, Ceb and Topson take up the next four spots, each having earned more than $5 million across their careers.
The top 11 earners across history are all Dota 2 players, though a single Fortnite player – Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf breaks up the monotony. Other than Kyle, all other esports pros in the Top 30 are also Dota 2 players.
Other notable achievements
While each and every single top earner on the esports pro leaderboard is impressive, there are some additional impressive earners out there. One such example is Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn. The Canadian StarCraft 2 player holds the distinction of being the highest-paid female esports pro in the world. Despite this, she is only just in the top 350 earners in history, having earned over $350,000 in her career.
Another impressive earning achievement can be found in the world of esports streamers. Former Halo-pro-turned-Fortnite-streamer Ninja earned roughly $500,000 per month alone in 2019. Other successful streamers like Shroud, Tfue, and DrLupo each managed to earn millions throughout their careers. The most successful streamers still made at least part of their income from esports prize money – the rest, largely from donations and subscriptions.
A recipe for success?
Compared to the average esports player’s earnings, or even the average streamer’s, a combination of both is far more successful. As most streamers further branch out into selling merchandise, collaborations and more, their income can often be more secure than that of pro players. Pros are often dependent on their success during tournaments, while only those signed with pro teams can also count on a steady salary.
Said salaries tend to average between $1000 and $5000 per month for most pros. There are exceptions, of course, but most players fall into that range. Supplemental income comes from sponsors, streaming, and prize money, which makes up the largest chunks for successful players.
Few manage to break the million-dollar barrier and get into the ranks of the top esports earners, though. In fact, the hurdle of becoming a full-time pro player is one that already stops all but the most dedicated and talented players from even trying. It’s a competitive scene, with very little room at the top – even for the skilled.