eSports stars in 2021 will not be short on cash. Just a decade ago, elite gamers were battling for pennies on the dollar and accessories, while today’s top pro players compete for millions of dollars each year.
Fans have started to follow eSports events at an astonishing rate in the previous decade, thanks mainly to the popularity of Twitch. Since then, the increase has been impressive each year, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down. The increase in viewership has coincided with a significant increase in prize money on offer. Nobody could have predicted that the highest-earning eSports player would earn $1 million or more per year, even a few years ago.
More than $235 million was distributed throughout more than 5,400 tournaments in 2019. In 2012, the tracking website eSports Earnings reported only $13.8 million in revenue.
The ninth edition of Valve’s annual, The International, a Dota 2 event, made up over a fifth of the total for 2019. The 18 teams competed for $34.3 million, with the eventual victors OG taking home $15.6 million. Of course, these numbers have boosted the revenues of top earners—in fact, Dota 2 players make up the top 11 entries on eSports Earnings. But it isn’t just Dota that has exploded in popularity.
Here are the pro players who have won the most money in eSports history, from the most popular games today to the most famous titles in the past.
Johan “N0tail” Sundstein – The Highest Earning eSports Player
If the biggest revenues a player has produced in their eSports career are the sole criterion, Johan Sundstein will always be on top. N0tail, as he is known on the eSports scene, is the captain of OG, one of the most successful Dota 2 teams, which began making waves in the competitive arena almost immediately after its formation in 2015.
By the end of 2021, N0tail will have earned approximately $7 million, making him the wealthiest professional competitive player on the planet. He has achieved this through skill and dedication to Dota since he was 15, making him one of the game’s top earners and veterans.
Jesse “JerAx” Vainikka – $6.47 million (Dota 2)
Jesse’ JerAx’ Vainikka, another OG living legend, is currently a retired Finnish pro Dota 2 player in early 2013. The most significant of his 900 games spanning more than 20 countries was when he became the first two-time TI champion in 2019. His Tiny, an outstanding support play, was vital in their three Grand Finals victories.
Before joining the OG in 2016, Jesse was a member of several teams. He began his professional career as a support player with the Rat in the Dark. SingSing was so impressed by his performance that he invited him to join the QPAD Red Pandas, which he did. 4Anchors, Team Tinker, MVP HOT6ix, 5Jungz, and Team Liquid, came in second and third, respectively. He’s no longer engaged on the competition stage or in the eSports betting market, but he’s still active on social media, in addition to being one of the highest-earning eSports players.
Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf – $3.3 million (Fortnite)
As one of the most popular online gaming franchises globally, Epic Games was bound to invest millions of dollars in the competitive Fortnite scene. The popularity of Fortnite skyrocketed in 2018. It was just a matter of time until eSports followed suit since it swiftly became one of the most popular game titles in the world. Epic Games, the creators of the construction-crazed, kid-friendly hit, put millions of dollars into tournaments for the game, and one player came out on top.
The dominance of Sentinels’ Bugha at the Fortnite World Cup propelled him to eSports supremacy in 2019, earning him an incredible $3 million.
Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen – $2 million (CS:GO)
Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen, a Danish frag master, won his fourth Valve Major in 2019 with Astralis, one of the best Counter-Strike teams of all time. At barely 27 years old, dupreeh, who currently plays for Astralis, is the highest-paid eSports player in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. With three successive victories, the Danish golfer became the first player to win four major titles and solidify his position on any highest-earning eSports player list.
HLTV, a coverage site that carefully follows CS:GO’s professional scene and covers all major tournaments, dubbed Peter the 9th best CS:GO player in 2020.
Lee “Faker” Sang-Hyeok – $1.34 million (League of Legends)
Outside of Dota 2, the list of talented eSports gamers starts with Lee ‘Faker’ Sang-Hyeok of South Korea. He is now the highest-paid League of Legends player globally and has been dubbed the “Michael Jordan” of the game by Riot Games Vice President Dustin Beck. That’s because, among other achievements, Faker has won the League of Legends World Championship three times (in 2013, 2015, and 2016).
Unlike the other three Dota 2 players mentioned, Lee has always represented T1, a South Korean eSports team owned by T1 Entertainment & Sports. Faker, the most famous professional gamer of all time, is the only constant on T1’s three global victories rosters. In his first season, the 24-year-old won the world title, and he is still recognised as the finest player to ever compete in League of Legends.
Ian “C6” Porter – $1.21 million (Call of Duty)
Crimsix has earned the moniker ‘Crimbot’ for his exceptional gaming abilities and is widely regarded as one of the greatest. Porter competed at MLG Columbus in Halo:Reach before switching to Call of Duty eSports in 2012.
With 37 major tournament victories in Call of Duty, the American pro has built a name for himself. Not only is he among the highest-earning eSports players, but he’s also the first person in the world to be awarded the title of ‘MLG Pro Player.’ Crimsix now plays for the Dallas Empire and intends to return to the CDL in 2021.
Joona “Serral” Sotala – $915,000 (Starcraft 2)
Serral, a Finnish-born player who has quickly established his domination in the world of SC2, has quickly ascended to become one of Starcraft’s most successful players in terms of prize winnings. Serral’s earnings were boosted in 2018 when he became the first non-Korean player to win the $280,000 StarCraft II World Championship Series.
Park “Loki” Jeong Yeong – $710,000 (PUBG)
Over the previous few years, the 22-year-old South Korean PUBG player has been on a tear. He finished in the top three in numerous tournaments, won the PUBG Global Invitational in 2018, and dominated the MET Asia Series in 2019.
Bradley “Frosty” Bergstrom – $685,000 (Halo, Call of Duty)
The Halo player from North America has consistently performed well in four of the franchise’s games, with most success coming from Halo 5: Guardians. This includes Frosty and CLG’s $1 million wins at the 2016 Halo World Championship.
Frosty also competed in Call of Duty last year, winning three tournaments with the Florida Mutineers, in addition to his prize money. However, this highest-earning eSports player in recent years has subsequently returned to Halo.
Lee “Flash” Young Ho – $670,000 (Starcraft: Brood War)
One of the most prominent figures of the initial period of eSports is Starcraft: Brood War. The game was almost entirely played in Korea, and the level of competitiveness was so high that new players seldom ascended to the top and surpassed the old guard. However, Flash was one of them.
The Terran player created a new standard for performance with the race, and he grew to beat Lee “Jaedong” Jae Dong, Brood War’s top star and his main competitor.
Why is Dota 2 the Highest-Paying eSports Game?
You may prefer League of Legends or dislike all games except Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Regardless, the truth is that Valve has built a solid community-sharing income model that has allowed the game’s prize pool to expand over time. Since 2011, there hasn’t been a season when the prize pool hasn’t surpassed the previous year’s total. However, this natural progression should eventually come to a halt.
Meanwhile, Dota 2 players who are already on the game’s highest tier may expect to be well-paid and have the opportunity to earn multi-million dollar prize pools. Naturally, the stakes are high, and defeating OG or Team Liquid and any of its highest-earning eSports players can be a difficult task in and of itself. Still, with so much skill in eSports today, especially Dota 2, don’t rule out newcomers topping the profits eSports ranking in the near future.