By Greg Dempsey
November 12, 2018
Esportsearnings.com has been around for a long time. It’s hard to ignore it since it pops up whenever someone Googles esports tournaments. The site catalogs every single esports game and every single tournament that awards esports earnings, creating a single, aggregate location where people can freely look up monetary data for games and their tournaments.
It’s not flashy by any means, but it’s served its purpose for several years now. Every year, the esports landscape changes drastically, and so too does the esports economy.
Let’s take a look at some of the data. As games, players, and tournaments are constantly shifting on the Esports Earnings leaderboards, this is a good time to analyze before the data gets skewed by huge releases like Smash Brothers Ultimate, Battlefield V, and Anthem.
Don’t expect anyone to dethrone Team Liquid for years to come, as they have a nearly $4,000,000 lead above the number two team (Evil Geniuses). With a whopping 1404 tournaments under their belt and the only four-digit tournament number in the top 100, no one can eclipse their sheer influence and weight.
The two “skew teams” are Team OG and Wings Gaming. OG has around $17,000,000 from 49 tournaments, while Wings Gaming has claimed $10,000,000 from just 22 tournaments. It’s hard to call them breakout superstars compared to titans like Fnatic and EG because the majority of their winnings are from Dota 2 Internationals.
(Note: The International skewing results is a common theme of esports aggregate data, which carries its own connotations. Valve is a juggernaut when it comes to prize money, and they have already stated their willingness to continue with their next game, Artifact. With millions of dollars up for grabs, no other gaming tournament or company sponsor can come close.)
The biggest tournaments of 2018 were mostly what you’d expect. League of Legends, Dota 2, the Overwatch League, and a smattering of CS:GO made the list.
The surprise factor lies with Halo 5, now on life support years after release. Kudos to 343 and Microsoft for continuing to support what has become a niche shooter compared to Overwatch, CS:GO and the royale genre.
The larger surprise is the complete lack of Hearthstone. The assumption here is that most of Hearthstone’s revenue comes from streaming and publicity, with very little happening in the competitive pro scene, but it seems to be a little deeper than that. Card games, in general, tend to have very low prize pools, even the biggest ones, like Magic: The Gathering and Pokémon. If Valve puts up massive prize pools for Artifact, as they do for Dota 2, other companies will fall behind in the esports scene as pros migrate to the game with more financial backing.
While the uber-popular Fortnite has since toppled PUBG, it’s also surprising to see not a single top-100 tournament during its 2018 fame. This might be because of bad timing, as its peak “fad” popularity was early 2018. Bigger releases and other royale shooters quickly overshadowed it. If we haven’t seen a top-100 esports earnings PUBG by now, we probably won’t see one in 2019, even with upcoming console content.
The top 100 has seen players flex in and out due to Dota 2 International winnings, LCS winnings, and CS:GO major winnings. Overwatch players, have yet to break into this bracket.
KuroKy (pictured right), a German Dota 2 player, sits at number one for highest overall esports earnings of all time and has repeatedly placed in the International tournaments over the years. At only 25 years old, he has already won over 4 million dollars from his lifetime esports career. The number two spot is N0tail, a 25-year old from Denmark. His number one finish in the 2018 International skyrocketed his career, even though he has placed first in several European majors (such as The Frankfurt, Manila, and Kiev majors).
The top 61 earners are all Dota 2 players, besides Faker, the League of Legends mid-lane master. Faker, unfortunately, has yet to report esports earnings from previous years. He had over $200,000 in 2015, closed 2016 with over $400,000, but hasn’t broken five figures from tournament winnings in 2018.
Karma and Crimsix, two Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare mains, hold 95 and 96. Go figure.
The 100 to 200 bracket are where things get interesting. Hearthstone is starting to creep up on the old vanguards. Especially notable are Warcraft 3’s Moon and StarCraft’s Flash. This is also where we start to see Call of Duty players, Halo players, and fighting game players.
More specifically, a single fighting game player. SonicFox is the highest-earning fighting game player of all time, only being $30k shy of $500,000 in lifetime esports earnings. He hasn’t been competing for long, but he is a hugely dominant force in his genre. You might know him as the winner of Dragonball FighterZ at Evo 2018 and being the best Mortal Kombat X and Injustice player before that. (Skullgirls, too, but hey, who’s counting?)
The leaderboard for top earning games can be found here.
The top 20 are exactly what you’d expect, with more fun data appearing further down the list. Smash Bros Melee vastly outperforms Smash Bros Ultimate (fair, considering its age), Heroes of Newerth (now defunct) manages to stay above games like Rocket League. Asia-restricted games like CrossFire can still beat out heavy hitters, like FIFA.
Mobile games pop-in around #40, with Arena of Valor, Clash Royale, and Vainglory. They currently have 10-20 events per year but would certainly see growth with more tournaments.
Warcraft 3 continues to drop lower and lower. Eventually, it will phase out of the top-earning spot (even though it still holds an impressive 5 million). FIFA 18 manages to stay at 29, even though it’s difficult for yearly release sports games to attain (and maintain) high numbers on their own. Perhaps sites like these should start collecting data by franchise instead of by installment.
The data is clear. Anyone who wants to make real money in competitive esports should be focusing on Dota 2. Valve has set a precedent for massive prize pools and other companies, like Epic Games, are just starting to catch up. From the data, we can also determine that Team Liquid is quite possibly the best (or at least most successful) team in the business.
Also, don’t expect a bright future from competitive PUBG. Fortnite will be the reigning king of battle royale for the foreseeable future.