How much money do professional gamers make?


Esports is a relatively new and growing industry and with any new industry comes growing pains and sometimes unfair business practices.  

Many players dream of getting paid to play their game at the professional level but that can’t happen for everyone.  

Getting paid to play can come from a multitude of ways with the most common and simple of those being tournament winnings. There are other ways players get paid. 

(Most successful Professional League of Legends player of all time Lee (Faker) Sang-hyeok/ Source The Athletic)

Some players may be sponsored by an already established esports team or just someone who wants to pay you to play. For most players, the ideal career path is similar to that of a normal professional athlete. Players who want to play their game get noticed for their skill by entering tournaments streaming or through word of mouth. The next step is getting picked up by a professional team. The team pays them a salary and then eventually when they are done in the competitive space, they start content creating and making it as an influencer. These players do end up making a decent salary, but this does not last very long and only happens with the best of the best players or the most charismatic players. 

For the majority of Esports athletes, even the ones who make it to the highest level of their game, the average age of retirement is 23-26 years old.   Due to this, players need to make as much money as they can in the space for as long as they can.  

(Tarık Çelik Winner of the Boston major and Professional CS GO player for C9 (2018) / Source Liquipedia)

The companies backing esports know this and prizepools and payouts for even large-scale tournaments are often abysmal. Having grand prize pools for some smaller non-developer-backed tournaments for games like Super Smash Brothers Melee being only a few thousand dollars. Even for the largest esport in the world League of Legends backed by the multibillion-dollar company Riot Games the prize pool for the entire multi-week event averages around 2.5 million dollars. If you don’t know much about the event it might sound like a lot of money, but these teams have dozens of people in them from analysts to coaches and players. So the breakdown of the payment for the winning team is 445000 dollars with each starting player on that winning team getting around 50k of that before taxes. This event was hosted by a multi-billion dollar company to millions of live viewers and multiple high-level company sponsors so the winning players getting only a 50k dollar payout for the event is ridiculous. This is quite typical for most esports tournaments but some companies do have fair payouts so it is not impossible for companies to have good prize pools. Valve the creators of Dota 2 have prize pools sometimes totalling 40 million dollars. To be fair Valve crowdfunds some of the prize pool through cosmetic items bought by players with some of the money going to the company and some to the tournament. Even with this, the money Valve puts in themselves dwarfs every other company with the money they put in for their games tournaments. This is why players of their games completely dominate the highest-earning esports players list having 81 of the top 100 highest earning Esports players of all time coming from Valve games. 

(Team “Entity” Winners of the 2023 Dota 2 tournament “The International”/ Source Dota 2)

This contributes to Valve’s competing game Dota 2 isn’t as popular with a much smaller player base as its competitor League of Legends it still has a popular pro scene. These larger payouts allow professional Dota 2 players to make a living just from tournament winnings. The amount of commitment to the pro scene that Valve has should be the industry standard, they’re example shows that some players are willing to help support the pro scene. Unfortunately, most developers don’t operate that way and use the fact that a lot of these players are happy and lucky to be playing their favourite game at the highest level to be greedy and not pay them well. This ends up screwing up most Esports player’s futures as on average they will only be able to play their game at a competitive level for 8 years. So if they continue to get mediocre payouts and they cannot find success as an influencer or work for their old teams in some way they will have to go and find other normal jobs and be behind everyone else in the job market. These companies can pay their players fairly for the time effort and attention they bring into their game with effectively free marketing but choose not to. They take advantage of a lot of these players being a young adult 16-18 when starting their career not knowing any better and being happy just to be able to play their favourite game at the highest level.

Below is an infographic and map for more information about the top 100 Esports earners.