In 2019, esports stars are hardly strapped for cash. While pro gamers were fighting for minuscule 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 2018 alone, more than $156 million was awarded across more than 3,500 tournaments. That’s compared to just $13.8 million recorded by tracking website Esports Earnings in 2012.
Nearly a quarter of the 2018 total was awarded at the seventh edition of Valve’s annual Dota 2 event, The International. A whopping $25.5 million was shared across the 18 participating teams, with eventual champions OG netting a total of $11.2 million.
Of course, these sums have inflated the overall top earners—in fact, the top 39 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, from the current leading games to the top titles of years past.
Kuro “KuroKy” Takhasomi – $4.2 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 joining Liquid—which sets him at the top of this list.
Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok – $1.8 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 22-year-old not only won the world championship in his debut season, but he’s still regarded as the greatest player to ever compete in League of Legends.
Andreas “Xyp9x” Højsleth – $1.4 million (Counter-Strike: Global Offensive)
Danish clutch master Andreas “Xyp9x” Højsleth has just won his third Valve Major with the proclaimed greatest team of all time, Astralis. Xyp9x played a big part in taking out Finnish underdogs ENCE Esports at the IEM Katowice Major 2019, earning him the MVP title. The team were originally notorious for choking on the big stage, but have since cleaned up their act and become a force to be reckoned with in Counter-Strike.
Damon “Karma” Barlow – $728,000 (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 one of the only two-time consecutive CoD world champions, he’s won more than a dozen tournaments throughout his seven-year career. That success has earned him more than $700,000 in winnings.
Cho “Maru” Seong Ju – $698,000 (Starcraft 2)
Asserting his dominance in the world of SC2, Maru has quickly risen up to become the game’s most successful player in terms of prize winnings. Beating out names like Park “Dark” Ryung Woo and Joona “Serral” Sotala, Maru quickly bolstered his earnings by taking home the victory at the World Electronic Sports Games event last year. He’s recently had a quick spurt of successive wins and looks to contend for the No. 1 title.
Lee “Jaedong” Jae-Dong – $637,000 (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.
Tony “Lethul” Campbell – $578,000 (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 CLG took home $1 million.
Dominique “SonicFox” McLean – $525,000 (Mortal Kombat X)
Dominique “SonicFox” McLean completely shocked the world in 2016 after winning every major Mortal Kombat X tournament in that year. After winning both seasons of ESL’s Mortal Kombat X Pro League, the 21-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.
Timothy “Bizzle” Miller – $501,000 (Fortnite)
Fortnite exploded in 2018. It quickly became one of the most played games in the world and it was only a matter of time before esports followed suit. The developers of the building frenzy, children-friendly bonanza invested millions of dollars into funding tournaments for the game—and one player in particular has come out on top. Ghost Gaming’s Bizzle went on a spur of back-to-back top three finishes in the Fortnite Summer and Fall Skirmish Series in 2018 and racked up over $500,000.
Jang “Moon” Jae Ho – $490,000 (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, Moon became known to his fans as “the fifth race” for his ability to seemingly transcend the game and any competition.