Fans have long fawned over the big contracts of traditional sports stars, as players such as LeBron James and Cristiano Ronaldo rake in tens of millions of dollars. Esports hasn’t hit that level quite yet, but lots of esports stars have made more money before age 30 than others will earn in their entire life.
Who are the richest esports stars, and how much money have they made? And how have they made their fortunes in gaming to this point?
Discussing the finances of esports players largely revolves around prize pool payouts, and when it comes to prize pool payouts there’s nowhere bigger than Dota 2’s biggest event, The International.
This run started with four Valve-sponsored major victories worth over $200,000 each. Though success at The International famously eluded N0tail and OG for years, the team exorcised those demons and defied a number of different superstitions by winning both TI8 and TI9.
On paper, winning TI8 added over $2 million to N0tail’s bank account while TI9 added over $3 million. That check from TI9 currently stands as the largest payout to an individual player for an esports tournament performance. N0tail’s career prize pool winnings total nearly $7 million as of this writing.
Alongside N0tail, the TI-winning OG lineup are the all-time top-earning esports players:
Behind OG in prize pool winnings is the Team Liquid roster that won The International 2017. The squad played together for years and enjoyed great success throughout. Though the roster isn’t fully intact at this point, the team fills out the rest of the top 10.
The trouble when it comes to calculating the richest esports players is that outside of prize pool earnings, very little is made public in regards to how much money changes hands between teams and players. Each esports title varies wildly in terms of how much top players make in salary, and some games have things like signing bonuses, incentives, and even stock options.
That makes it somewhat hard to accurately peg who the richest and highest-paid players in esports truly are.
The normal salary of a top player varies game by game. In Dota 2, players can become wealthy strictly through prize pool winnings but that comes at the expense of a stable salary in most cases. In fact, most of Dota 2’s successful teams over the last few years haven’t even been a part of a traditional multi-game esports organization. That becomes doubly troublesome in Dota 2 as this means coaches, managers, and other support staff are paid for by the players out of pocket.
In other titles, salaries paid by teams are the primary source of income for pro players. Though salaries are often very low in pro gaming, League of Legends in particular sees certain players paid seven figures each year. Because of that, there’s a very strong chance that League of Legends’ top stars make considerably more than those of Dota 2.
The prize pool winnings of League of Legends star Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok are relatively humble in comparison to those of top Dota 2 players, totaling $1.4 million over a career that includes three world championships and nine LCK titles. While that’s not an astronomical sum, there’s a chance that Faker is quietly esports’ all-time top earner.
Faker’s salaries have long been a topic of discussion and while neither Faker nor his longtime team T1 have given an exact figure on how much he makes, but Faker stated that he turned down a $10 million annual salary offer from an unnamed Chinese team as well as other big offers from North America. Whether Faker was being honest is unknown, but he is likely making well over a million dollars each year and also received partial ownership of the T1 organization in his most recent contract with the team.
On top of this, Faker has other sources of income including possible brand deals and sponsorships separate from T1. The most notable example of this was his recent deal with Lotte to have his face adorn ice cream cones.
The end result likely sees him standing at or near the top of esports’ top earners. Unfortunately, an exact estimate of his net worth cannot be reliably made.
Astralis has stood atop the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive scene in every regard. The team has four majors, three ESL Pro League titles, and a host of other achievements to its name. So naturally, the team has long stood atop the esports earning charts in terms of prize pool earnings.
Astralis’ core of Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz, Andreas “Xyp9x” Højsleth, and Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen has had an edge over its other two starters in Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander and Emil “Magisk” Reif, but those five are still the envy of the rest of the scene with their prize pool earnings being between $1.3 million and $1.8 million.
As with League of Legends, the trouble when it comes to estimating the net worth of CSGO pros is that salary details are often scarce.
In 2016, Xyp9x told HLTV he was making a salary of $9,000 a month, which would come to over $100,000 per year. That number has likely increased several times over due to the ballooning CSGO esports market. Cloud9 recently announced the signing of Alex “ALEX” McMeekin and revealed that his salary is worth $550,000 annually. Odds are that the Astralis squad’s members are making quite a bit more than that these days.
Epic Games wanted to establish Fortnite esports as a big deal by throwing around tens of millions of dollars at the Fortnite World Cup in 2019. The biggest winner of that event was solos champion Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf.
At just 16 years old, Bugha became one of esports’ top earners by winning the $3 million top prize attached to the event. For a time, that single performance landed him a spot inside the top 10 of the esports earnings charts alongside Dota 2’s best.
Fortnite’s highest earners almost exclusively came up through the Fortnite World Cup. Behind Bugha in Fortnite prize pool winnings is World Cup solos runner-up Harrison “psalm” Chang, followed by duos champions David “aqua” Wang and Emil “nyhrox” Bergquist.
That said, Fortnite’s true richest star didn’t actually make his fortune through winning tournaments.
Tyler “Ninja” Blevins likely has the largest bank account of any Fortnite pro, and possibly anyone else in competitive gaming. Ninja officially got his start in esports through Halo 3 and raked in some decent cash in the early years of Fortnite esports while also notching wins in smaller events for other battle royales. But the money he made from all those events pales in comparison to what he makes from streaming.
Ninja reportedly received a $30 million payout from Microsoft to cancel his Mixer contract as the studio moved to close. That alone likely makes him worth way more than anyone else in esports, but he adds a number of lucrative sponsorships, brand deals, and appearances alongside the money he made on Twitch before and after Mixer.
Streaming doesn’t technically count as esports, but when it comes to financial success in gaming, the discussion begins and ends with Ninja at this point.
Valorant is currently poised to become the next major esports title, but how is the game shaping up when it comes to money? At the moment, it’s shaping up pretty slowly.
Valorant prize pools have been quite small to date, with the largest events topping out at $50,000. Salaries likely aren’t particularly high either, due to a surplus of talent as players rush in from other esports titles including CSGO, Fortnite, Overwatch, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and more.
Whether this will change depends on how quickly Valorant grows and what form its esports scene takes over time. For the moment, it is developing similarly to CSGO where there are few barriers to entry for both tournament organizers and esports organizations. Once Valorant grows past a certain point, odds are that Riot could raise the barriers for entry and create a league-based system similar to that of League of Legends.
Should that occur, and should organizations increase their commitment to Valorant, it will likely grow the net worth of its pro players as well.