The lofty numbers surrounding esports prize pools are the goal in the minds of many young gamers. While very few will ever reach esports’ highest levels, many millionaires have been made thanks to there gaming prowess. So who are the highest earning esports players in the world?
Each of the major esports handle financial winnings differently. Nonetheless, all of these games boast events that award over a million dollars in total prizes. The games that have awarded the most money in the largest esports tournaments include Dota 2, League of Legends (LoL), Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), Call of Duty (CoD), and Fortnite. While Fortnite’s status as an esport is up for debate – more on that later – it’s massive prize pools are not.
Two other esports could arguably be put on the level of those games. However, Starcraft 2 doesn’t have an event offering seven digits. Similarly, Overwatch, with only one season of the Overwatch League having been played, hasn’t had enough time for a top earner to emerge.
The gamers on this list of highest earning esports players also bring in money through team contracts and individual sponsorships. Those numbers, however, are rarely made public. That makes prize pools the best way to highlight the top players in each esport, and brings us onto our list of the highest earning players across esports.
Who Are The World’s Highest Earning Esports Players?
Dota 2: Kuro “KuroKy” Takhasomi ($4.1 million)
The reason a list of just the highest earning esports players doesn’t work is because of Dota 2’s flagship tournament: The International. With $25.5 million in prizes in 2018, The International (TI) is by far the largest prize pool in all of esports.
The prize pool is so large that the top 50 players across all of esports all made their money playing Dota 2. Many didn’t even have to win the tournament, just place highly a couple times. KuroKy combined a string of high placements with a win at TI 2017 to take the top spot on the list of highest earners across all of esports.
TI invites 18 teams each year. Impressively, KuroKy’s has never finished lower than 8th since his first one in 2013. He finished second that year – earning a measly $126,000 compared to $800,000 as a second place finishers in 2018. This then started a long streak of being one of the best Dota 2 players on the planet. He is still playing and winning events and with a fourth place finish in TI 2018, his top spot seems secure, at least until TI 2019 next August.
League of Legends: Lee “Faker” Sang Hyeok ($1.175 million)
KuroKy may top the list of highest earning esports players. Faker, on the other hand, is the most famous esports player in the world. The LoL superstar has dominated competition for much of this decade. Faker is still widely considered the best LoL player of all time. This is despite him suffering a string of poor results recently.
Here’s where the esports financial landscape gets trickier. While Dota 2’s prize payouts are the player’s primary sources of income, Faker makes most of his money through sponsorships and his contract. According to reports, his team South Korea Telecom (SKT) pays him $2.5 million a year, but he just recently negotiated a new contract so that number may be even higher.
So how did he reach this near-mythical status? By winning, and winning a lot. He won the 2016, 2015 and 2013 World Championships. Alongside his teammate Benji, they are the only three-time world champions.
Faker is secure in his spot at the top of League of Legends. He is also likely the wealthiest professional gamer through his contract, prize pools and sponsorships.
Counter Strike: Global Offensive: Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen ($1.035 million)
Compared to fellow Valve game Dota 2, CS:GO’s prize pools are much lower but also more spread out and structured. Instead of 60-70% of a players earnings coming from one TI win, racking up money in CS:GO takes a lot of consistency. The top tournaments in CS:GO now cap out at prizes around $100,000 per player.
Called Premiere events, these tournaments represent the pinnacle of CS:GO success. Dupreeh has won three premiere events to go with a long list of other major and minor tournament victories.
He’s a key member of Astralis who was recently voted Esports Team of the Year at the Esports Awards because of their dominance in 2018. He’s got competition for the top spot in CS:GO with teammates Xyp9x and Dev1ce. Nevertheless, the Astralis trio sit solidly ahead of any other challenger.
Call of Duty: Damon “Karma” Barlow ($707k)
Call of Duty (CoD) made waves as the second esport to have a tournament that eclipsed seven digits in prizes with Call of Duty XP back in 2011. The month before, The International passed that benchmark. While TI’s prize pool kept growing, CoD focused on franchising.
Now the Call of Duty World League (CWL) hosts events around the globe. Nevertheless, the big prize pool is at the Call of Duty Championships. Since the event changed from Call of Duty XP to the CWL’s championship in 2013, Karma is the only three-time champion.
His wins in 2013 and 2014 each earned him $100,000. That prize had risen to $150,000 when he won again in 2017. A controversial decision saw Karma benched in 2018, though. His team OpTic Gaming subsequently finished with their worst result in the CWL Championships after being knocked out in the group stage.
Fortnite: Turner “Tfue” Tenney ($470k)
Fortnite may seem like a weird inclusion on this list of highest earning esports players. The absurdly popular Battle Royale title actually has controversy surrounding its place as an esport. Unlike the other games on this list, Fortnite does not have a set competitive structure or league. In addition, the way Battle Royale games work (1vs100) makes them difficult to turn into proper esports.
Fortnite belongs on this list for one solid reason, though. Epic Games dedicated a massive $100 million in prizes to Fortnite esports events in 2018-2019. Events like Summer and Fall Skirmishes were among the beneficiaries of such funds. These events follow different structures and feature a mix of popular streamers and pro players.
Tfue is one of the most popular streamers in the game. He has also won the Fall Skirmish grand prize of $400,000. His stream has probably made him about that much as well, if not a lot more.
He is undoubtedly one of the best players in the game. That’s even before winning the Fall Skirmish. As Fortnite continues to expand and the esports scene receives a better structure, it is the only game that could possibly challenge Dota 2’s dominance at the top of the prize pool leaderboards.