Years ago, esports was merely a hobby for the passionate gamers who just wanted to prove themselves to be the best in their favorite titles and would accept some very modest prizes. History even knows the tournaments that simply had a crate of soda bottles as the main prize or just a bunch of certificates for free play at the club. Now, things have changed completely, as esports is not only an immense entertainment industry that attracts massive sponsorship deals, but it is also a way to move up in the world for the talented individuals who can be turned into millionaires within just a single season if they can prove themselves on the big stage. Here we have an article for you to answer one of the most common questions regarding the world of competitive gaming: how much money do esports players make?
Who can be considered a professional esports player?
But first, we need to understand who can be counted as a professional esports player. The answer here is relatively straightforward since you can consider yourself to be one as long as you’re making any money from playing video games competitively. So, one of the first steps here to become a professional is to participate in some local tournaments or their online versions that will allow you to get some competitive experience and earn your first bucks playing your favorite games to understand how much esports players make if they’re not in the very top. Winning such tournaments probably won’t help you to get your first professional contract, but that’s still a way to get yourself this little achievement that will allow you to be a part of the esports scene.
Of course, there’s still a big gap between this type of players and the elite esports athletes. The latters do not play for fun anymore, they have already chosen their main discipline and are sticking to it until the end of their professional career. They practice every day to become better and stay in shape, and this routine usually takes more time from their life than the regular day-to-day job would take. The famous League of Legends player Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok shared his schedule back in 2020, which revealed that the player only has 1 hour of free time a day. The thing is, he is just 77th in the list of highest paid esports players.
That’s the harsh esports reality for you because the field itself is very competitive. Many strive to turn their favorite hobby into an actual job, so it’s only the very few ones that manage to do so, and even then they have to work harder every day to stay on par with the rivals and the upcoming talents. In exchange, they get to play in the elite tournaments all around the world fighting for the multimillion dollar prize pools as a part of the professional esports teams. How fair is the trade, is up to you to decide, but not until you know how much an average esports player makes.
How can esports players make money?
There are many ways for the esports players to make money. The most obvious one turns out to be the most effective as well, as we’re talking here about winning the tournaments. The bigger the tournament — the bigger the prize pool, as well as the level of your opponents. Some events can turn a player into a multimillionaire with a single win, but usually it takes years to get to this level and have a chance to play for a prize like that. Still, there are some Cinderella stories in esports that saw relatively unknown players taking home massive paychecks. Usually, the clubs take a small part of the money won, but the rest goes directly to the players, and this is usually the number we get when asked how much do esports players make.
However, winning the tournaments is not the only way of making money for the esports players. You can as well just be a popular athlete whose face is known all across the globe, and then you’d be able to get yourself some promo deals to advertise different goods or be a face of some gaming brand. Besides that, there is still a salary that most of the players get from their clubs. The exact numbers are not disclosed of course, but it is safe to assume that you can get yourself a pretty comfortable life as long as the top clubs are interested in you. And also there is obviously streaming — some ex-players switched to Twitch and had even bigger success there.
Usually, these options are still related to your esports earnings. However, there are examples of players who have never been on top of their leagues but still managed to make themselves popular.
What do earnings in esports depend on?
As we’ve mentioned earlier, the level of play is obviously the biggest factor in esports to determine how much money an athlete can earn. There were some tournaments with astronomical prizes, such as Dota 2 The International 2021 with over $40 million, or Fortnite World Cup with over $30 million. The winners of the TI 2021, Team Spirit, got themselves over $18 million for the group of 5 players and a coach, which made them millionaires within a few weeks of the tournament. Now, they are among the highest-paid esports players ever. That is the quickest way to success, but only fea w teams can come this way.
However, not all the esports disciplines are based around crazy prize pools. For instance, League of Legends’ ecosystem offers way less money to the participants for their wins. The annual European league LEC has a $200,000 prize pool for a half-a-season split, while the 2021 World Cup had a $2,25 million pool for the teams to fight over. However, this system seems to be even more sustainable, as the clubs know for certain that their places in the leagues are secured for years to come. This way, the teams and orgs can reach for the sponsors and offer them stability and predictability in terms of the views and audience reach. In this model, the salary becomes the main source of profit for the players.
But how much does an average esports player make? According to Hal Biagas, the executive director of the North America LCS Players Association (NALCSPA), in 2020 the average LCS player’s salary was around $410,000 plus all the cost-of-living expenses per year. If that’s the case, then the average player gets four times more money with his yearly salary than any of the EDward Gaming team players got for their World Cup win in 2021 (~$97,000 per person). And T1.Faker himself once got a $10 million offer to join a club in China, but refused that.
Another ingredient for financial success in esports is the popularity of the players. As long as you have your very own fan base and active social media accounts, you can surely get many sponsorship offers. However, winning the tournaments is arguably the most important way of increasing your fanbase.
Highest paid esports players
When it comes to discussing how much esports players make, it is important to understand that the reference point here is their prize money as those are the only numbers that are open to the public. We do not know the salaries of the players and the details of their other deals which would clearly change the list. If you keep that in mind, there’s no surprise that the whole upper half of the list consists of the Dota 2 players due to the high focus on the prize money this discipline has.
Johan “N0tail” Sundstein — $7,183,837 won
N0tail is the founder of an OG esports club. He spent his life playing MOBAs and had somewhat mediocre results for many years. The player shared that he was ready to end his career back in 2015, but then decided to give gaming one more chance at the Frankfurt Major with his own team. This event changed everything for him, as OG won the whole thing and proceeded to dominate the scene. Later on, the roster disbanded just before The International 2018, and N0tail had to hand-pick his new teammates with almost no time. The team hopped onto the last train to qualify for the event and then sensationally won it, winning $11,2 million. A year later history repeated itself, as OG came to the event with the status of underdog, but managed to overcome the odds and win the trophy. Now, OG is the only team that managed to win TI twice, and it’s captain N0tail seems to be done with playing competitively, securing himself a status of the highest paid esports player.
Jesse “JerAx” Vainikka — $6,475,948 won
JerAx is an ex-support player of OG who was a part of the roster that won two The International tournaments in a row. He joined the team in 2016 missing some of the trophies N0tail had with his old roster, but it is way more important that the Finn stayed with OG when things went south in 2018. And that eventually got him a 6 million reward for the loyalty. JerAx is known for his creative plays and an incredible impact that was an integral part of OG’s success. Some even consider him to be one of the very best players to ever touch Dota 2. He ended his career in January 2020, but came back to play for Evil Geniuses in November 2021 — after asking his ex-teammates from OG if they’ll be okay to see him under a different tag, of course.
Anathan “ana” Pham — $6,004,411 won
Ana is a young prodigy that was discovered by the highest paid esports player N0tail back in 2016. Before joining OG, Pham was relatively unknown for the Dota 2 community, and he got heavily criticized for his shaky plays during his first events with the club. At some point he had to step down from the team, but when the all-star roster disbanded ana was called to arms for The International 2018 that made him a superstar in a blink of an eye.
Pham is a very quiet and soft-spoken person outside the game. However, on the server he is an absolute beast that’s capable of making split-second decisions under immense pressure. Now, the player’s retired, just like the rest of his OG teammates. However, despite actually playing just a few big tournaments, ana is a very interesting case when it comes to discussing how much esports players make.
Sébastien “Ceb” Debs — $5,773,909 won
Ceb has been playing Dota 2 since the very first days of the game. However, his results were pretty average with teams like Shakira, Denial eSports and Kaipi. In 2016, he joined OG to be a coach for the team, but had to switch into the player’s role when some of his teammates left the roster. The road was bumpy at first, but then TI8 happened where Ceb was one of the brightest players of the whole tournament. Debs’ case is arguably the best example of how it is possible to completely turn the things around in esports in a blink of an eye, even after years without much success. Since then, the player has retired but still sits on the 4th spot in the highest earning esports players list. Now, he’s focused on helping the other OG rosters to develop.
Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen — $5,690,417 won
Topson’s story is every single Dota 2 player’s dream. He came out of nowhere and joined OG just before The International 2018, but still managed to win the biggest esports tournament in history. With just one event behind his back, Topson became a millionaire and could probably end his career. But instead, he went for another attempt year later — and succeded again, this time on TI9 and got himself to the top-5 of the highest paid esports players list.
Topson is known for his creative, unconventional hero builds that helped him to catch his opponents off guard many times. Some say, he re-invented the mid laner role, but the player himself says that he’s only trying to push his rivals out of their comfort zone.
Kuro “KuroKy” Takhasomi — $5,221,264 won
KuroKy is the captain of Team Nigma roster. The core players of this team have stayed together since September 2016, and the key part of this stability that is unusual for esports is KuroKy’s leadership. He is one of the living Dota 2 legends who has been around since the very first days of the game and has been successful ever since. He completed the ultimate goal of winning The International back in 2017 but since then has been trying to get back on top once again, and despite the years passing by, his results remain quite stable as Nigma’s always among the top contenders for the title.
Amer “Miracle-” Al-Barkawi — $4,824,201
Miracle- is one of the first superstar players of the professional Dota 2 scene. At some point, even the pub players that did not care about esports at all knew who Miracle- was as the flashy playstyle of this prodigy has led to numerous highlights literally flooding the scene. He was the original member of OG team whose roster now sits at the top of the highest earning esports players list, but he decided to leave the squad and join KuroKy under the tags of Team Liquid and, later on, Team Nigma. Now, he’s not a young sensation anymore but an experienced player with dozens of trophies behind his back, but his name’s still among the most well-known ones in esports. Most of his prize money Miracle- got from TIs he’s been to.
Ivan “MinD_ContRoL” Ivanov — $4,605,276
MinD_ContRoL is the unbreakable tank and an indestructible wall that guards Team Nigma whenever they enter the server to play. This offlaner has been a part of KuroKy’s team since October 2015 which makes this duo the longest standing one in the history of Dota 2. Ivanov is arguably the role model for all the offlaners out there, as he’s never going for extra style points with his plays but instead just does his job no matter the situation. As his results clearly show, that is the perfect attitude to win trophies. And if you ask MinD_ContRoL how much esports players make, he'll surely tell you, “A lot”.
Lasse “Matumbaman” Urpalainen — $4,520,649
Matumbaman was another player of the original Team Liquid core along with KuroKy and MinD_ContRoL. Together, they have won The International 2017 and got to the semi-finals of TI8, but later on the player got kicked from his team as his captain decided that the roster needed some fresh blood. Soon, Urpalainen joined Team Secret — the team that is led by arguably KuroKy’s biggest rival Clement “Puppey” Ivanov, and since then the fans have seen a classic story of revenge, as lately, Matumbaman has been doing even better than his former team.
Maroun “GH” Merhej — $4,219,570
GH is the ultimate good guy of the professional Dota 2 scene. Even the haters of his team still love the guy, as his unbreakable optimism and kind approach win everyone’s hearts. On the server, though, he is an actual monster that is able to completely turn any fight around with his supporting skills. He joined Team Liquid as a stand-in for a single tournament in 2016, and has been playing with them ever since. TI7 was the peak of his career, but just like the rest of his teammates, he also had just enough trophies to get onto our highest earning esports players list.
And here is a list of esports players from the other disciplines, besides Dota 2, who managed to win over a million dollars:
- Fortnite — Kyle "Bugha" Giersdorf with $3,175,211;
- CS:GO — Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen with $1,943,081;
- Call of Duty — Ian "C6" Porter with $1,333,092;
- League of Legends — Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok with $1,309,607;
- PUBG — Zhu "paraboy" Bojun with $1,052,732;
- Arena of Valor — Peng "Fly" Yunfei with $1,002,223.
Esports games with the highest earnings
We’ve now discussed how much money do esports players make, but what about the games they play? Which ones have awarded the most prize money? It should be obvious from the list above that Dota 2 is the game with the most money when it comes to the prizes. And even though it does not necessarily mean that Dota 2 players are the richest ones out there if we count all the sources of income, the game is surely still attractive to the audience due to that feature of it’s esports scene.
However, there are many games with millions of dollars awarded to their players, and here we’ll share the top-10 with you. Remember though, that sometimes it is not the prize money that are important for the teams and their members. Quite often, like in League of Legends’ case, the trophies themselves mean a lot more, since there are many sponsorship deals that bring a lot more to the table.
|4||League of Legends||$90,355,461|
|5||Arena of Valor||$44,681,469|