This is an exciting time to be a gamer! Esports is on the rise in popularity and has become a lucrative corner in the world of competitive sports. This begs the question, how much do pro gamers make? Between their salaries, sponsorships, and prize winnings, professional Esports players are now pulling in earnings that could rival that of the pros in traditional sports.
With in-person and online viewership combined, the Esports industry pulled in almost 235 million regular viewers in 2021, a number that is increasing with each passing year. What this ultimately means is that investors, sponsors, and companies are taking notice when it comes to gaming, resulting in increasing amounts of money being poured into Esports.
So, which particular games are the most rewarding in the world of professional gaming? Let’s take a look at the top-ranking games in Esports and their respective top players’ earnings.
Overwatch League Salaries
Overwatch is a relatively new league, first coming on the scene in 2018. They are also one of the only leagues that have publicized their players’ salaries. It has been reported that Overwatch League has a minimum base player salary of $50,000 per year but players also receive other employment benefits.
These benefits include a share of half of the league’s bonuses from tournaments, housing during gaming season as well as health insurance benefits, and a retirement savings plan. The top earners in this league continue to be players from the team London Spitfire, who won the first-ever Overwatch championship in 2018, even though they did not win the title in the 2019 season.
Though most of their earnings were from the 2018 season’s winnings, after their lower performance in the 2019 season, all five original players have cut ties with the London Spitfire. Below are the top five:
Overwatch earners currently based on tournament winnings:
- Gesture: $219,730.97
Departed from team London Spitfire and joined Seoul Dynasty after the 2019 season.
- Profit: $219,730.97
Departed from team London Spitfire and joined Seoul Dynasty after the 2019 season.
- Birdring: $200,453.84
Departed from team London Spitfire after the 2019 season.
- Closer: $197,026.19
- Bdosin: $193,261.08
Departed from team London Spitfire just prior to the start of 2020.
League of Legends Salaries
In 2019, League of Legends revealed that their minimum base player salary was $75,000 per year. In addition, they reported that their average player salary was much higher at about $320,000 per year.
The salaries of some higher ranking and, thus, higher profile players’ are not reported to the public, but it is believed that the best performers in League of Legends earn $500,000 in annual salary alone.
This does not include income from tournament winnings and other earnings. Below are listed a few of League of Legends’ top players and their known tournament winnings in 2019:
- Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok: $1,228,281
Faker is considered the best gamer in the world due to three Worlds titles and several MSI and regional titles under his belt. He has remained consistently with LoL throughout his wins which has earned him the position of highest earning LoL player of all time.
- Lee “Duke” Ho-seong: $954,620
With earnings from the 2016 World Championship win with SKT as well as the 2018 title with Invictus Gaming, Duke rests at the second highest earner in LoL history.
- Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan: $913,084
Wolf is another SKT team member and most of his earnings came from World titles while playing on this team. He has also played with SuperMassive Esports and has been deemed one of the highest LoL earners in history.
- Bae “Bang” Jun-sik: $910,451
Bang has played with both SKT and 100 Thieves. He has earned two World Championship titles as well as multiple MSI titles which have contributed largely to his overall earnings.
- Bae “Bengi” Seon-woong: $810,683.00
Much of Bengi’s earnings were made from winning three World Championships. He’s played with various teams including SKT and Vici Gaming and he’s also served at the coaching level with SKT.
While CS:GO pro players’ annual salaries are not public knowledge, rumors suggested by Esports journalists imply that annual salaries on the lower end range between $48,000 and $72,000 per year.
The higher end of annual salaries could possibly range between $200,000 and $300,000 per year, according to similar rumors. At the start of 2020, Danish CS:GO team, Astralis, has continued to dominate tournaments among CS:GO teams with three Major wins, but North American squad, Team Liquid follows not too far behind.
Nevertheless, the top 5 earners in CS:GO history still fall among Astralis team members. Solely based on reported tournament earnings, below are the highest ranking earners in CS:GO professional gaming:
- Xyp9x: $1,744,921.90
- dupreeh: $1,741,722.74
- dev1ce: $1,706,223.21
- gla1ve: $1,575,884.08
- Magisk: $1,335,181.97
Launched in 2017 and rising rapidly in popularity since then, Fortnite offers some of the largest competitive prize pools around for an individual tournament with the exception of Dota 2. While the salaries of professional Fortnite players are either not publicized, the whopping $30 million prize pool in the 2019 Inaugural Fortnite World Cup pulled in some massive attention.
This enormous pile of prize cash ultimately made way for a sweeping change-up in the list of top money-makers among Fortnite professional gamers. Particularly shocking was the $3 million prize for first place in the World Cup solos tournament.
Awarded to Kyle ‘Bugha’ Giersdorf, this win propelled him to the top of the following list when it comes to the highest earners in Fortnight tournament history:
- Bugha: $3,062,966.67
- psalm: $1,868,800.00
- Aqua: $1,790,207.56
- Nyhrox: $1,513,176.49
- EpikWhale: $1,297,366.67
When it comes to the highest prize pools and earners in competitive gaming, Dota2 has the lead by a long shot. With a staggering $220 million in prize money given out in total throughout tournament history, Dota2 teams have the propensity to bring in some major cash.
The International (“TI9”) in 2019 boasted the highest prize pool for a single tournament in gaming history at almost $35 million. It’s no surprise that members of Dota2 teams are hands-down the highest earners in competitive gaming.
All five of these earners are members of team OG and the biggest contributors to their enormous earnings were their consecutive wins in both International 8 and International 9:
- N0tail: $6,882,440.18
- JerAx: $6,470,000.02
- ana: $6,000,411.96
- Ceb: $5,489,233.01
- TopSon: $5,414,446.17
Highest Individual Prize Earnings in Pro-Gamer History
(Johan “N0tail” Sundstein – DOTA 2 Player for OG)
Due to the massive $34 million prize pool at the Dota2 2019 championship event, the International, the list for the top ten prize winners in pro-gaming history is a bit skewed. Unsurprisingly, the top ten slots are solidly held by members listed above in the 2019 International championship team, OG, with collective team earnings at around $15 million.
With that said, there is a lot of money to be won across the board in the competitive Esports world among other games. Below we’ve compiled a list of the nine most popular games and their respective pro gamers with the highest cash prize winnings:
1. Dota 2 – Johan “N0tail” Sundstein – $6.8 million
As head honcho of team OG, N0tail led his team to victory at the International for two consecutive years, earning $2.2 million in prize money in 2018 at TI8 and then a whopping $3.1 million in 2019 at TI9. Adding these enormous sums to his previously earned prize money from other tournaments, Notail’s total cash prize earnings rests just below $7 million and lands him at the top of this list.
2. Fortnite – Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf – $3 million
16 year old Bugha shocked the gaming world in July 2019 when he dominated Fortnite’s World Cup and won the grand prize of $3 million in the Solos tournament. This single win propelled him to first place on the list of highest cash prize winnings. That is until about a month later when Team OG won their earnings in Dota’s 2019 “TI9” International.
3. CS:GO – Andreas “Xyp9x” Højsleth – $1.7 million
While Andreas had earned over $100,000 in prize money prior to joining his current team, Astralis, over 90% of his earnings to date were earned with Astralis playing CS:GO since 2016. Of his previous earnings, almost 70% were earned while playing with Team SoloMid in 2015.
4. League of Legends – Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok – $1.3 million
Since he is considered the best League of Legends player in the world, it’s no wonder Faker has won the most prize money in LoL history. With his highest individual cash prize ever being $338,000 won at the 2016 Lol World Championship, 2016 ended up being Faker’s highest earning year at $408,000 for the year. While he has had some other years with decent winnings in the $200,000 range, Faker’s earnings have tapered off for the last two years or so.
5. Shadowverse – Feg – $1 million
Feg came on the scene in 2018 by winning the $1 million prize at the Shadowverse World Grand Prix. This is the record for the highest amount of prize money won by a Japanese player in Esports. Feg plays with team Yoshimoto Libalent.
6. Starcraft 2 – Cho “Maru” Seong Ju – $808,000
Jin Air Green Wings South Korean player, Maru, is the youngest Global Starcraft II League player of all time. Winning his first televised game at the age of 13, he has racked up some significant prize money. Most notably winning the $100,000 grand prize at WESG 2016 and the $200,000 grand prize at WESG 2017
7. Call of Duty – Damon “Karma” Barlow – $804,000
Karma earned the majority of his prize money by winning both the 2013 and 2014 Call of Duty Championships, making him only Call of Duty pro to ever win back to back championships. After these wins, he joined his current team, OpTic, and went on to win a third Call of Duty Championship in 2017.
8. Starcraft: Brood War – Lee “Jaedong” Jae-Dong – $642,000
Success followed Jaedong from the start of his career playing Starcraft: Brood War, earning him the “Rookie of the Year” award at the Korean e-Sports Awards in 2006. In 2007, he won the OnGameNet StarLeague (OSL) title and proceeded to win the title two additional years. He was awarded the “Golden Mouse” for achieving three total wins. In 2012, the sequel to the game released and Jaedong made the switch to the new game, Starcraft 2. After a year of poor performance, he climbed his way back among the top players and achieved a second place seat at the WCS Global Finals in 2013. Jaedong retired at the end of the 2016 season.
9. Halo – Tony “Lethul” Campbell – $578,000
Lethul is hailed by most as the best Halo player to ever compete. With two Halo World Championships under his belt, it’s hard to argue with the logic. Almost half of his overall prize earnings were made with his first championship title in 2016 which was $250,000. With the second win in 2017 earning him $100,000 and a second place win in 2018 earning him $50,000, his championship titles make up the majority of his total prize winnings.
Additional Income of Professional Gamers
The above lists take into account tournament winnings only, which are the only publicly shared portions of player’s earnings. With this in mind, the dollar amount of individual players’ earnings listed does not necessarily include their (often privately negotiated) annual salary or any income derived from sponsorships, live streaming like Twitch, advertising, and other income sources common to high ranking professional gamers.
Let’s take a look at some of the non-prize money earnings of professional gamers:
As previously mentioned, most pro gamers tend to earn an annual salary paid by their affiliated team. While players’ salaries are not public knowledge, some relatively recent remarks made by Esports executives make it clear that the wildly growing popularity of Esports in recent years has caused top players’ salaries to rise exponentially. Various sources have reported salaries anywhere between $50,000 per year and $300,000 on average.
Twitch Live Streaming
Twitch is a live stream platform that gamers use to broadcast their own game play. The way that money is earned on Twitch is that the player must become a Twitch Partner by maintaining an average viewership of 500 or more viewers and live stream a minimum of three times per week.
Once a Partner, Twitch will typically pay the player 50% of their subscribers’ fees which can start to compile into some large amounts of cash as your subscriber list grows. In addition to subscriber earnings, Twitch also offers a feature that allows viewers to tip or donate to the player. It is not unheard of for loyal followers to donate to a great streamer’s cause!
In addition to subscriber fees and donations, Twitch also pays out their Partners based on ad revenue. The payout for ad revenue can range anywhere between $0.70 per 1000 views for newer Partners, to $2.50 per 1000 views for more popular and profitable Partners.
Related: How much do twitch streamers make?
Like Twitch, gamers can use YouTube as a platform to broadcast their game play. YouTube also requires a user to become a member of their own Partner Program, but their parameters are a bit stricter than that of Twitch.
In order to become a YouTube Partner, you must have a minimum of 1,000 subscribers as well as a minimum of 4,000 hours of watch-time within a 12 month period. After that point, a Partner can earn Ad revenue based on number of views which can range anywhere between $0.25 per 1000 views to $10.00 per 1000 views, all depending on factors like the type of video streaming and the price of the ad that’s being run on the video.
Just like Hollywood celebrities and athletes, pro gamers can earn some significant income by recommending or endorsing gaming products. Typically they join an affiliate program with a certain retail company and as long as the resulting purchases are tracked, they will earn a portion of sales resulting from the recommendation.
Most users will post a link to the product on their streaming channel or social media account in order to track the sale. Anyone who clicks on the link and purchases the product will ultimately put money in the pocket of the endorser.
Again, just as celebrities and athletes receive sponsorships from companies, popular professional gamers often sign contracts with companies to be the face of their products. While affiliate marketing pays money based on individual sales, sponsorships are typically a contract for a set amount of money and require the individual to use, promote, and back the products themselves.
In the gaming world, companies aim for sponsorship contracts with the most popular pro gamers and even with entire gaming teams. The amounts of these contracts are typically confidential and likely vary in amount, but they can ultimately put some big chunks of cash in the players’ pockets – not to mention free products from the company!
Outside of cash itself, pro gamers can reap some other pretty significant perks for being on a professional team. As previously mentioned, it is not unheard of for leagues to provide free housing during gaming seasons as well as health insurance and even retirement benefits.
Take a look at the 100 thieves gaming facility to see the level of luxury the players enjoy:
Want to Become a Professional Gamer Now?
Do you think you have what it takes to be a professional gamer? Are you unsure what steps to take toward the goal of competing professionally? You may think that if you just practice for an ungodly amount of hours you will break into the pros.
Well, it’s not exactly that simple. If you think you have the talent, the stamina, and the guts to break into competitive gaming at the professional level, here are a few tips to put you on the road to success.
Don’t be a “Jack of All Trades”
Keep in mind that you will generally need to focus on and become a master of one particular game in order to make it big in the world of pro gaming. Currently in Esports, competitive fighting games are the most popular and hold some of the highest cash prizes along with the most successful pro gamers. However, you will want to pick a genre that compliments your natural abilities.
Do Your Homework
Study up! There are a lot of tutorials and expert tips out there in the internets, so find them and read as many as you can. It is also important to religiously watch the pros work by tuning in to competitions and tutorials as often as you can.
As discussed previously, pro gamers often live stream their game play on YouTube or Twitch so find a pro in your particularly chosen game and study their strategies and maneuvers.
While you are out there researching, talk to the gaming community. Go to message boards and forums to find out what other gamers are struggling with in regards to the challenging aspects of your game as well as their competitive strategies.
Surround Yourself With Like-minds
It will be difficult to accomplish this task alone. That’s why you will need to get out there and get connected to other gamers, preferably good ones. Networking is just as important in gaming as it is in any career. You will be able to make important professional connections as well as learn from better players.
Become Incredibly Awesome at Your Chosen Game
You might have guessed that “practice” would be on this list, but it has to be said. Practice whenever you can. The amount of hours needed to become an expert and possibly a pro is enormous. Whatever amount of time you think you need to become great, double it.
Spend Some Money on the Best Equipment
Since you’ll be spending a lot of time playing on your rig, you will want to be sure it can handle the hours of play that are about to descend upon it. Invest in some upgrades and look at the money spent as an investment in your career.
Begin by joining online competitions and leagues. This is where you will start to build your gaming name. All of your practice will be put to the test here and if you’re successful, your wins will be noticed as they pile up.
Once you’ve collected a solid amount of wins, you can then start to enter tournaments and build up your name even further. This is where your networking will come in handy as you may want to organize a team for your particular game.
Best of Luck!
The world of Esports continues to grow in popularity and the world is taking notice. There has never been a better time to jump at the possibility of becoming a professional gamer. While only the best of the best make the most cash in pro gaming, that doesn’t mean it can’t be you in that top prize money spot before long.
Put in the time, power through the practice, and you could be joining the big leagues and making a killing in no time – all while doing what you love!
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