From tentative beginnings, eSports have grown in popularity. The top game on the regular calendar is Dota 2, with League of Legends, CSGO, and the Fortnite World Cup providing other distractions for fans of combining professional sports with video games. It's also no surprise that esports betting has become huge as a result. Although still in its early days, the highest earning eSports players today are millionaires, and here are ten competitors with the healthiest bank balances.
The other players on this list have been dominated by Europe, with a sprinkling of the USA. But Miracle- represents a break from that, and is the leading Dota 2 player from Jordan and someone who frequently pops up at esports betting casinos.
Miracle- has shown remarkable consistency since emerging onto the eSports scene in 2015, making at least six figures in every full year to date. The standout year for this Jordanian elite came in 2017, when he was part of Team Liquid's T|17 winning side, netting himself half his career winnings ($2.4m) in that year alone. He's one of five Team Liquid players to earn over $3.5m while playing for the side.
However, Miracle- has also played for various other teams and earned $114k as a Nigma team member, and over $611k while playing for OG.
There were other categories competing at the Fortnite World Cup, including a Creative Cup and Pro-Am competition (both with smaller but still substantial prizes compared to the solo event). There was a doubles category as well, with the same combined top prize (and slightly higher for 2nd and 3rd places) as the singles tournament.
European pairing Nyhrox and Aqua were the doubles team to beat the world. Nyhrox (real name Emil Bergquist Pedersen) is Norway's number one eSports player, and was paired up with Austria's David Wang (also the leading player in his home country) in a European partnership that saw off rivals from around the world.
For both men (and those who placed some esports betting wagers) this huge payday has formed the vast majority of their career winnings to date, their tournament triumph propelling them into the upper echelons of the highest earning eSports players. Nyhrox made around 98% of his total eSports winnings from the Fortnite World Cup, with Aqua making around 81%. Just the year before, 2018, Aqua had made a mere $171 from playing eSports, and the year after the tournament he made over $107,000, suggesting that this is far from a flash in the pan for the Austrian World Champion.
Playing and watching (and, increasingly, betting on at sites like Betway) eSports has been on the up for a while now. This was supercharged by the global pandemic but was rising as a trend anyway, mostly through increasing audience numbers yielding greater prize money, that drove up competition and thereby encouraged player participation (in short, a virtuous circle). Mostly this has occurred through regular competitions held frequently, but one of the most significant special events that garnered a lot of media attention and proved highly lucrative for some players was the Fortnite World Cup.
Held in 2019, the prize money for this special event was nothing if not generous. To put it into context, the amount given to the overall solo tournament winner was more than the winner of that year's Wimbledon Grand Slam tennis tournament. How much? A tasty $3,000,000, from a total tournament pool significantly ahead of the next best thing.
With that much on the line, interest was high, and it was the American player Kyle Giersdorf (known under the ID Bugha) who ended up going all the way and scooping the top prize. Not surprisingly, this contributed the majority of his earnings to date (around $3.15m) and secured him everlasting fame as the first ever Fortnite solo world champion. Indeed, that fame proved handy shortly after his win, as some nefarious plank called the SWAT team on him, only for one of the officers to recognize Giersdorf and realize it was a maliciously false call.
Germany's leading eSports player is KuroKy, (or Kuro Takhasomi as he's known in the real world). His first eSports winnings came way back in 2008 ($123), and since 2012 he's been playing every year. Six figures sums were his for four years in a row, showing impressive consistency, until 2017 when he won T|17 (The International 7) and with it almost half his career prize money. KuroKy's winnings soared from $362k in 2016 to $2.4m in 2017.
Although he's never quite reached that much annual income since, this German player made very healthy six figure winnings in 2018 and 2019. During his Dota career, KuroKy has made hundreds of thousands of dollars with both Natus Vincere and Team Secret, but his greatest success has come with Team Liquid. It was as part of Team Liquid that he claimed victory in T|17, and he's won the second highest amount with the team, just narrowly behind Bulgarian player MinD_ContRoL. He's earned more than $5.2m.
France's highest earning eSports player is Sébastien Debs, better known under the name Ceb. Having amassed over $5.5m during his career, which goes back to 2011, Ceb is a Dota 2 exclusive player, and has been a member of multiple teams. His earliest earnings (2011) were just a few hundred dollars, but (like so many others) 2018 and 2019 were golden years for this OG team member, responsible for over 95% of his winnings, more than $5.4m.
In 2020 he took a temporary break to help other players on the team to develop, prior to returning to active duty. Ceb is one of the five biggest beasts in the OG jungle, all of whom have made more than $5m, and is not the only player to take a break to help out others or rest and recharge his batteries. His early career was slightly faltering, not due to lack of talent but simply trying to find the right fit with a team (and sort out rostering issues). The majority of his winnings and the largest number of matches he's played have come with OG.
He's one of the best Dota 2 players in the world, but that still only makes him number two in his native Finland. Topias Taavitsainen, better known as Topson, has accumulated earnings, at the time of writing, of $5.48m in just 29 tournament appearances.
Topson's huge success was not something that could have been predicted early on. His first foray into eSports was when he was 16, in 2014, when he made $188. Then he took a few years off, before making $880 in 2017. And then things went crazy, and his income exploded. Topson became part of team OG during its fantastic 2018 and 2019 results, and helped it achieve such epic success that he went from making less than a thousand dollars in 2017 to making over $2m in 2018 and over $3m in 2019. That's quite the pay rise and one that's usually only seen when the best casino sites sponsor players.
Topson's played a single tournament for the Finnish National Team, and entered some competitions as an independent, but most of his appearances and the vast majority of his winnings have been as part of team OG. He's the fifth of five players to make more than $5m playing for this amazing team, and one of two Finns (the other being JerAx) who helped it to some stunning successes.
The third entry on the all times earning list hasn't been around for nearly as long as those ahead of him. Ana (known in real life as Anathan Pham), started to play as a 16 year old, and Australia's highest earning eSports player had just four stellar years during which he amassed over $6m in winnings before going inactive. In every single year, ana made at least six figures, which is astonishing given how even the two players ahead of him started far more modestly. Almost 90% of ana's income came in 2018-19, when he won over $5.3m.
As with N0tail and JerAx, ana is a Dota 2 player, and while League of Legends and CSGO are also popular it's no coincidence that the top earnings ranks are dominated by players of a single game. It may also not come as a surprise by now to discover that most of ana's earnings came as part of the juggernaut team OG.
The 2018 income figure is particularly amazing given he took an extended break and became inactive for part of the year. The team wasn't quite the same without him but returned to winning ways when ana became an active player once more. At the time of writing, he's taking another extended break although many Australian online casino fans believe he'll return once more later in 2021.
Federer has Nadal and Djokovic, Holmes has Moriarty, Senna had Prost, and N0tail has his own rivals (more about the most exciting sports rivalries here), and the main competition for the golden crown of being the highest earning eSports player came from JerAx. He's retired recently, but still sits just behind N0tail on the all times earnings list, which goes to show just how much he accomplished.
JerAx, the Finnish number one and global number two in terms of earnings, made $6.47m during his career, with more than four-fifths of that coming in two multi-million years (2018 and 2019). Like N0tail, he played for various teams, such as the Finnish National Team, and Team Liquid, but more than $6m of his prize money came as part of OG. As on the all time list, he was the second highest earning eSports player in the team behind N0tail and a hair ahead of ana.
In January 2020, JerAx retired from playing Dota 2 professionally. The grinding necessary as a pro coupled with decreasing motivation appear to be the primary reasons for this talented player's retirement. During his career highlights included winning a pair of DPC Majors and two TIs.
The Fortnite World Cup had the biggest prize pool in an eSports tournament to date, and made millionaires out of multiple players overnight. But on the all-time earnings list it's N0tail, a Dota 2 pro, who leads the way on esportsearnings.com/players. This Danish star, real name Johan Sundstein, has just under $7m career winnings at the time of writing ($6.97m) and is one of only three players to have earnt more than $6m.
Sundstein has been playing on a professional basis for more than a decade, racking up relatively modest sums from 2010-12 before rapidly increasing his income. In 2013 he made over $24,000, and in the following years his eSports winnings increase to over $79,000, then in excess of $349,000. In 2018 and 2019, N0tail had combined profits of more than $5.4m, two stunning annual results that contributed more than three-quarters of his career winnings.
He's played for half a dozen teams during his career, including major names like Fnatic, Team Secret, and Cloud9. But the lion's share of his money has come from OG, with which he made more than 96% (over $6.7m) of his winnings.
These are some of the highest earning eSports players in the world, at the time of writing. Many of whom have played in the wildest eSports matches, and have earned enough in a single tournament than most people will see in a lifetime. The continual rise in popularity is likely to lead to ever-higher prize funds, so expect the numbers on the all times earning list to increase at a rapid rate. Resilience to COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns has been helpful for eSports recently, but the real key to success is that the natural ceiling of interest hasn't been reached yet, and some believe it could end up becoming one of the world's leading sports.