In 2020, 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 the last 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 seem to be slowing down. That growth in viewership has gone hand in hand with a massive increase in prize money on offer.
In 2019 alone, more than $215 million was awarded across more than 4,600 tournaments. That’s compared to just $13.8 million recorded by tracking website Esports Earnings in 2012.
Nearly a quarter of the 2019 total was awarded at the ninth edition of Valve’s annual Dota 2 event, The International. A whopping $34.3 million was shared across the 18 participating teams, with eventual champions OG netting a total of $15.6 million.
Of course, these sums have inflated the overall top earners—in fact, the top 11 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.
Johan “N0tail” Sundstein – $6.9 million (Dota 2)
The Danish Dota 2 veteran became the top earner in all of esports in 2019 after leading OG to victory at The International for the second year in a row. But even aside from his impressive payday at TI8 and TI9, N0Tail enjoyed incredible success alongside both OG and Team Secret prior to TI, which sets him at the top of this list.
Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf – $3.1 million (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 developer of the building frenzy, children-friendly bonanza invested millions of dollars into funding tournaments for the game—and one player, in particular, came out on top. Sentinels Bugha’s dominant performance at the Fortnite World Cup pushed the player into esports supremacy in 2019, earning himself an astonishing $3 million.
Andreas “Xyp9x” Højsleth – $1.8 million (CS:GO)
Danish clutch master and Astralis support Andreas “Xyp9x” Højsleth won his fourth Valve Major with the proclaimed greatest team of all time in 2019. Xyp9x played a big part in the team’s rise to fame, curing them of their notorious choking, cleaning up their act, and pushing them to the top of the standings in modern-day Counter-Strike.
Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok – $1.3 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, T1. The 23-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.
Feg – $1 million (Shadowverse)
Making a second appearance at the Shadowverse World Grand Prix in 2018, Japanese representative feg proved himself on the big stage and earned the right to call himself a champion. The somewhat unknown entity entered the digital card game tournament as the underdog, but instead of toppling under the pressure, he won the whole thing.
Cho “Maru” Seong Ju – $850,000 (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 bolstered his earnings by taking home the victory at the World Electronic Sports Games event in 2018. He’s recently had a quick spurt of successive wins and looks to contend for the No. 1 title.
Damon “Karma” Barlow – $810,000 (Call of Duty)
The North American Call of Duty phenom was 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 won more than a dozen tournaments over the course of his seven-year career. That success has earned him more than $800,000 in winnings.
Park “Loki” Jeong Yeong – $702,000 (PUBG)
The 21-year-old South Korean PUBG player has gone on a tear over the last couple of years. He secured multiple top-three finishes, won the PUBG Global Invitational 2018, and dominated in the MET Asia Series in 2019.
Tony “Lethul” Campbell – $667,000 (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.
Lee “Jaedong” Jae-Dong – $642,000 (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.