There’s always been a debate in the sporting world about whether sports stars get paid too much. For the most part it’s just fans misdirecting their frustration that the overpaid team owner is trying to shortchange the actual talent, but it’s still a topic that comes up frequently.
While the debate tends to be focused on sports such as baseball and soccer, there’s a decent chance it will be coming to esports in the near future. In fact, sometimes esports stars see their net worth skyrocketing in a short space of time due to the industry’s dependence on fast-moving, lucrative sponsorship deals.
But which esports stars have earned the most? That’s actually unknown as most player contracts with top organizations remain secret and the line between esports and influencer is blurry as personalities like Tyler “Ninja” Blevins bounce in and out of competition. The one thing that’s measurable is prize pool winnings. Here are some of the top earners in this category and how they made it to the top.
No player has done better financially based strictly on competition than Dota 2 star Johan “N0tail” Sundstein. The current captain of OG has earned close to $7 million in his career, which puts him far ahead of anyone else. The vast majority of his income comes from being a two-time The International champion, but even before that he was highly decorated after winning four majors alongside longtime teammate Tal “Fly” Aizik.
Jesse “JerAx” Vainikka was alongside N0tail for both of those TI championships and two of the majors. That has seen him earn roughly $6.5 million in prize pool winnings over the years. He’s second only to N0tail in this regard, but the remainder of the top five is actually made up of the other members of the two-time championship squad with Anathan “ana” Pham, Sébastien “Ceb” Debs, and Topias Miikka “Topson” Taavitsainen with career winnings between $5.5 million and $6 million.
This League of Legends esports superstar certainly isn’t faking it when it comes to wealth. Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok is the most decorated player in League of Legends and arguably overall in esports. He’s a three-time world champion and has been a force in Korea for the better part of a decade. For those who participate in esports betting, Faker tends to be the driving force behind his team in a way that few others are.
Faker has earned over $1.5 million in prize pool winnings, but he’s likely significantly more wealthy than even N0tail. He’s reportedly been earning a multi-million dollar salary for years.
Ian “C6” Porter is a huge name in the North American esports world, and for good reason. This Call of Duty player has given it his all in recent years, and has earned the cash to reflect that with over $1.3 million in prize pool winnings. That comes from being a three-time world championship, establishing him as something of a kingmaker in the realm of CoD with championships for compLexity Gaming, OpTic Gaming, and the Dallas Empire.
It’s impossible to talk about esports achievements without discussing StarCraft. Korea is synonymous with the game’s competitive scene, and the standings mostly reflect that with Cho “Maru” Sung Choo and Lee “Rogue” Byung Ryul. Surprisingly, the third-highest earner is Joona “Serral” Sotala from Finland. Largely thanks to a big win at the 2018 World Championship series, he’s now secured close to $1 million in prize money.
Ultimately, there’s no denying that esports can provide its participants with a very lucrative career opportunity. Making money is a big part of the appeal of esports for many people and it’s easy to see why. The path is a difficult one as esports suffers from extreme income disparity, but those at the top can become set for life.