In 2021, 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 stunning 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 $235 million was awarded across more than 5,400 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 from the 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. Aside from his impressive payday at TI8 and TI9, though, N0tail enjoyed success with long spells at OG and Fnatic prior to TI, which sets him at the top of this list.
Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf – $3.2 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.
Epic, 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.
Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen – $1.9 million (CS:GO)
Danish frag master Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen won his fourth Valve Major with one of the greatest CS:GO teams of all time in 2019. Dupreeh played a big part in Astralis’ rise to fame, cleaning up their act, and helping them push to the top of the standings in 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 rosters of T1’s three world titles. The 24-year-old won the world championship in his debut season and he’s still regarded as the greatest player to ever compete in League.
Ian “C6” Porter – $1.2 million (Call of Duty)
The North American Call of Duty star C6 has remained at the top of his game for years. Winning three world championships and 37 major tournaments over the course of his career, C6 has earned more than $1 million in winnings.
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. Feg entered the digital card game tournament as the underdog, but instead of crumbling under the pressure, went on to win the whole thing.
Joona “Serral” Sotala – $911,000 (Starcraft 2)
Asserting his dominance in the world of SC2, Finnish-born Serral has quickly risen up to become one of the game’s most successful players in terms of prize winnings. Serral bolstered his earnings by being the first non-Korean player in history to win the $280,000 StarCraft II World Championship Series in 2018.
Park “Loki” Jeong Yeong – $705,000 (PUBG)
The 22-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.
Bradley “Frosty” Bergstrom – $685,000 (Halo)
The Halo player from North America has performed consistently across four of the franchise’s titles, with the lion’s share of success coming in Halo 5: Guardians. This includes his victory at the 2016 Halo World Championship, where Frosty and CLG took home $1 million.
To add to his prize winnings, Frosty also competed in Call of Duty last year, winning three events with the Florida Mutineers. The player has since switched back to Halo, however.
Lee “Flash” Young Ho – $669,000 (Starcraft: Brood War)
Starcraft: Brood War is regarded as one of the most prestigious figures 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. Flash was one of them, however.
The Terran player succeeded in setting an entirely new benchmark for how to perform with the race and grew to become the main rival of Lee “Jaedong” Jae Dong, Brood War’s top star.