Video gaming is now a full-time profession for hundreds of people across the world and the leading lights have become multimillionaire superstars. The esports scene has exploded in popularity over the past few years and the prize money on offer has soared accordingly. These are the top five most lucrative games for pro players so far in 2019:
Epic Games has pumped $100 million into prize pools at Fortnite tournaments this year in a bid to see off competition from rival battle royale titles. That makes it easily the most lucrative esport of the year for pro gamers, and Epic’s strategy appears to have worked. Leading players quickly abandoned Apex Legends and PUBG and returned to hardcore Fortnite sessions when they learned of the money on offer.
More than 40 million people entered qualifying for the Fornite World Cup, and Epic gave away £1 million per week at the various regional heats. It culminated with the World Cup Finals in New York this summer, and a 16-year-old American player called Bugha earned $3 million for winning the singles tournament. Second placed psalm was given $1.8 million and third placed EpikWhale took home $1.2 million. Doubles winners Aquav2 and Nyhrox also shared $3 million, and more than $30 million was handed out to competitors at the event.
The Fortnite World Cup gained widespread mainstream media coverage across the world, and it should have inspired many more teenagers and young adults to try to follow in Bugha’s footsteps. Epic has not yet revealed its plans for 2020, but it still hosting tournaments and giving away large sums until the end of this year, and we should expect a significant investment next year too.
This multiplayer online battle arena game is the most lucrative esport of all time and it has given $216.3 million to players over the years. That is largely down to The International, which reached $34.3 million in prize money this year. It eclipsed the Fortnite World Cup and ensured that The International 2019 is the richest esports tournament in history.
The Grand Final pitted defending champions OG, who were favourites in the esports betting at Unikrn, against 2017 champions Team Liquid. OG prevailed with a 3-1 victory. The five team members – N0tail, JerAx, ana, Ceb and Topson – shared the first prize of $15.6 million between them. They are now the five richest esports stars of all time, based on prize money alone. In fact, the top 11 in the chart are all Dota 2 players, before you reach Bugha at 12.
Dota 2 also hosted the EPICENTER Major, the MDL Disneyland Paris Major and the Chongqing Major earlier this year, and each came with a prize purse of $1 million. There have been many more $300,000 tournaments over the course of 2019, ensuring that Dota 2 remains an extremely lucrative pursuit for the top gamers.
Yet The International is the main event, as it follows a compendium model whereby players buy battle passes throughout the summer and a portion of that money is diverted into the prize money for the big tournament. It has led to a steady increase over the years, and prize money shot up by 35% in 2019, so who knows how large it will be in 2020.
Magic: The Gathering Arena
The popular table top game was recently dragged into the modern era with a digital edition and developer Wizards of the Coast stumped up $10 million for a professional scene in 2019. It recruited the world’s 32 best players, handed each an annual salary of $75,000 and offered them the opportunity to win prizes at tournaments throughout the year.
It began in style with a special $1 million MTG Arena Mythic Invitational event at PAX East in Boston on March 28–31. The invitational showcased players in the Magic Pro League and they battled against challengers. Italy’s Andrea Mengucci walked off with the top prize of $250,000. We have also seen the $750,000 Mythic Championship III in 2019, and there are many more exciting events around the corner.
“My experience at PAX East during the Mythic Invitational was superb, and I don’t only say that because I won,” said Mengucci in a subsequent interview. “Lots of my teammates also told me how that event was one of the best experiences of their life Magic-wise. Magic is the best game you can find. It has infinite varieties with many different formats. It’s challenging with sets being released every three months. There is some luck involved so that you’re able to win even against the best players in the world, but it also has a lot of skill involved so you can always find a game of Magic challenging.”
Arena of Valor
This mobile multiplayer online battle arena game from League of Legends owner Tencent has surged into the upper echelons of the esports world in 2019. It is extremely popular among gamers in China, Taiwan and Korea, and it displayed its potential as a competitive sport when it was featured at the Asian Games 2018. A bustling calendar of lucrative tournaments has emerged this year and it has made some gamers very wealthy.
It has already given out $11.4 million, making it the 11th richest esport of all time, ahead of classics like StarCraft: Brood War, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, Rainbow Six Siege and Rocket League. The leading tournament so far was the $2.2 million Honor of Kings World Champion Cup 2019, which saw Chinese collective eStar Pro walk off with the $1.9 million firs prize. They also emerged victorious at the $1.3 million King Pro League Spring 2019, making them one of the highest-earning teams of the year and vindicating their decision to abandon the flagging Heroes of the Storm scene.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is just about clinging onto its status as the second most lucrative esport of all time, although Fortnite looks set to leapfrog it soon. There is a great deal of interest in the professional CS:GO circuit and players can earn decent salaries, bolstered by sponsorship deals, but prize money is currently lagging behind rival esports.
The highest paying tournament of the year so far is the $1 million IEM Katowice Major, which saw Danish outfit Astralis walk off with the top prize of $500,000. There is another Major taking place soon in Berlin, and that will also carry $1 million in prize money. Teams can also seize a $1 million bonus by completing the Intel Grand Slam, a feat that Team Liquid achieved earlier this year.
There are also plenty of minor tournaments throughout the year: ESL Cologne had a prize purse of $300,000, while the BLAST Pro Series events all had $250,00 to give out. It means that CS:GO players are by no means paupers – the five members of Astralis all have more than $1 million in career earnings, and TL superstar Stewie2K is not far behind – but they are not as lavishly compensated as their Dota 2 counterparts.