The biggest prize money winners in esports history
In 2018, top esports players are now massive stars. While pro gamers were fighting for miniscule amounts of money and peripherals just a decade or so ago, today’s players at the highest level fight for millions of dollars each year.
In this decade, thanks in large part to the popularization of Twitch, fans have started tuning into esports events at a prodigious rate. The growth has been impressive for each consecutive year since, and it doesn’t look to be slowing down. That growth in viewership has gone hand in hand with a massive increase in prize money on offer.
In 2017 alone, more than $110 million was awarded across more than 3000 tournaments. That's compared to just $13.8 million recorded by tracking website Esports Earnings in 2012.
Nearly a quarter of the 2017 total was awarded at the seventh edition Valve’s annual Dota 2 event The International. A whopping $24.7 million was shared across the 18 participating teams, with eventual champions Team Liquid netting a total of $10.8 million.
Of course, these sums have inflated the overall top earners—in fact the top 38 entries on Esports Earnings are Dota 2 players. But it's not just Dota that has enjoyed this massive growth.
Here are the players with the biggest prize money totals in esports history per game, from the current leading games to the top titles of years gone by.
Kuro "KuroKy" Takhasomi - $3.5 million (Dota 2)
The German Dota 2 veteran became the top earner in all of esports in 2017 after leading Team Liquid to victory at The International 7. But even aside from his impressive $2.1 million payday at TI7, KuroKy enjoyed incredible success alongside both Na`Vi and Team Secret prior to his joining Liquid—which sets him at the top of this list.
Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok - $1.1 million (League of Legends)
The most celebrated pro gamer of all time, Faker is the one constant on the three-time World championship winning roster SK Telecom T1. The 21-year-old not only won the world championship in his debut season, but is still regarded as the greatest player to ever compete in League of Legends.
Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo - $748,000 (Counter-Strike: Global Offensive)
Brazilian in-game leader Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo turned a rag tag group of Brazilian players into world champions. Having won two Valve Majors with two different organizations, FalleN has become revered as not only one of the game’s best in-game leaders, but also one of its best snipers.
Damon “Karma” Barlow - $647,000 (Call of Duty)
The North American Call of Duty-phenom is the only player in the franchise’s history to win three separate world championships. Aside from being the only two-time consecutive CoD world champion, he has won more than a dozen tournaments throughout his six-year-long career. That success has earned him more than $600,000 in winnings.
Lee “Jaedong” Jae-Dong - $627,000 (Starcraft: Brood War)
Starcraft: Brood War is regarded as one of the most prestigious, and longest-standing examples of the first era of esports. Played almost exclusively in Korea, the level of competition rose to such a degree that it was rare to see new players rise up and dominate the old guard. But Jaedong was one of them.
The Zerg player succeeded in setting an entirely new benchmark for how to perform with the race, and grew to become the main rival of Brood War’s top star Lee “Flash” Young Ho.
Lee “Rogue” Byung Ryul - $546,000 (Starcraft 2)
Asserting his dominance in the world of SC2, Rogue has quickly risen up to become the game’s most successful player ever in terms of prize winnings. Beating out names like Jang “MC” Min-Chul and Kim “sOs” Yoo Jin, Rogue won the absolutely stacked IEM World Championship XII event on March 4 this year—which sent him to the top of the table for the RTS title.
Tony “Lethul” Campbell - $529,000 (Halo)
The Halo player from North America has performed consistently across four of the franchise’s titles, with most of his success coming in Halo 5: Guardians. This includes his victory at the 2016 Halo World Championship, where Lethul and his Counter Logic Gaming team took home $1 million.
Jang "Moon" Jae Ho - $504,000 (Warcraft 3)
Warcraft 3 enjoyed a period of several years as one of the world’s most prestigious esports titles in the early 2000s. While the game spawned a number of legends, particularly from Europe and China, Moon from South Korea eventually became the game’s most successful player in history. Playing the Night Elf race seemingly to perfection, the Moon became known to his fans as “the fifth race” for his ability to seemingly transcend the game and any competition.
Jonathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel - $456,000 (Quake 3, Painkiller)
The original esports superstar, Jonathan “fatal1ty” Wendel set the standard for what a competitive FPS player should look like. Winning titles across multiple titles like Quake 3, Painkiller, Call of Duty, and DOOM 3—his impact on the early days of esports is impossible to discard.
Dominique "SonicFox" McLean - $449,000 (Mortal Kombat X)
Dominique “SonicFox” McLean completely shocked the world in 2016 after winning every major Mortal Kombat X tournament in the year. After winning both seasons of ESL’s Mortal Kombat X Pro League, the 20-year-old proceeded to take home EVO and his third ESL title in 2017, cementing him as the most successful fighting game player in history in terms of prize money.