Esports has come a long way since its “some nerdy kids playing video games” phase to become a legitimate career choice. Esports tournaments attract players from around the world, leagues bring in huge sponsorships, and competitions are broadcasted on TV, just like conventional sports events. The industry brings in $950 million a year, and it’ll just continue growing.
Pro gamers, or e-athletes as they’re often called, are no longer competing for PC peripherals, a pack of energy drinks, and a diploma with “Conglaturation!!!” written in a pixel font. For many esports players, this is now a source of steady income, and, thanks to some very high-profile tournaments, some of them are even millionaires.
Who are the gamers who earn the most in the world of esports right now? Let’s find out!
Johan “N0tail” Sundstein (Dota 2)
The global esports leaderboard, at least when it comes to earnings, is dominated by Dota players. This is thanks to The International, the official Valve-sponsored tournament that gathers the 16 best Dota 2 teams in the world. It’s also the biggest esports tournament ever organized, with this year’s edition promising a $40 million prize pool.
As for the 27-year-old Sundstein, he has been living from his Dota winnings since 2010, after switching from Heroes of Newerth. While his earnings have been on a steady upswing, the two wins that brought him the most cash were at The International in 2018 and in 2019, when he was the captain of the OG team.
Jesse “JerAx” Vainikka (Dota 2)
Next on our list of the highest-earning e-athletes is another Dota 2 player and N0tail’s teammate, JerAx, who was also part of the OG crew during its winning streak. His career started in 2013 with a win at an online SK Gaming Trophy tournament. Vainikka won $200 at that event, which is peanuts compared to his current winnings.
This Dota 2 player has had quite a winning streak throughout the years. His team won at The Boston Major 2016 and Kyiv Major 2017, both winnings adding neat $200,000 to his overall income. His earnings so far are just shy of $6.5 million. Of course, the upcoming International 2021 could easily change that.
Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf (Fortnite)
Giersdorf was just 17 when he became a millionaire, all thanks to Fortnite. This young e-athlete made headlines in 2019 when he won the Fortnite World Cup. Not only was he the first winner of the first global Fortnite tournament, but he also became the youngest esports millionaire.
The prize was $3 million, the biggest prize ever awarded within the battle royale genre. That was also the biggest win a player has ever made in a solo tournament. So, yes, it’s obvious why the whole world has been talking about this young Fortnite prodigy and the number one US esports player.
Peter “Dupreeh” Rasmussen (CS:GO)
Yet another Danish gamer among the top players of competitive video games is Peter “Dupreeh” Rasmussen. This 28-year-old is the highest earner among Counter-Strike: Global Offensive players. His first-ever prize was a humble $25 at a Go4CS:GO online tournament in 2012. Turns out those 25 bucks were more than enough to kick off an amazing esports career.
Dupreeh was drafted by Astralis in 2016 where he earned the biggest chunk of his wealth. With 160 tournament appearances and $1.9 million in prize money alone, Rasmussen is the wealthiest CS:GO player and one of the top 50 earners in esports.
Ian “C6” Porter (Call of Duty)
A former Halo player, Ian “C6” Porter switched to Call of Duty during the Black Ops 2 era and never looked back. His Call of Duty career started with Complexity Gaming and a win at Machinima Frag Cup IV. Porter’s first big win was at the 2014 Call of Duty Championship, where his team won a $400,000 prize.
Today, C6 plays for Optic Gaming, which he joined during the Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare era. So far, he has participated in 160 tournaments and earned a total of $1.3 million. Not only is he the best ranked CoD player, but also the highest earner within the console esports ecosystem.
Lee “Faker” Sang Hyeok (League of Legends)
If you were to ask a League of Legends fan who’s the best player of all time, it’s very likely they’d respond with one name – Faker. Lee Sang Hyeok, a South Korean player, is a mid-laner for SK Telecom T1. He’s famous for his head-on playstyle and spectacular plays.
In the esports scene since he was 17, Sang Hyeok has been winning OGN Championships with his team for some time now, culminating with a victory at LoL Season 3 World Championship that brought them a $200,000 prize. Over the years, his winnings surpassed $1.2 million and earned him the title of the number one gamer in South Korea.
Peng “Fly” Yunfei (Arena of Valor)
Mobile gaming is a world in itself. This is also true of mobile esports, and among them, Arena of Valor is a unique phenomenon. This is a game almost exclusively played in China. It attracts millions of players, and some of them, like Peng Yunfei, earn quite a living from playing competitively.
Fly has been competing for just three years. His first recorded victory was at Honor of Kings Champion Summer 2018, where he won approximately $67,000. During the 2020/2021 season, when most tournaments were canceled, this player secured the top place on global leaderboards with a total of $832,923 in prize money, his latest win earning him $649,000.
Dominique “SonicFox” McLean (Fighting games)
Famous for his fursona of blue anthropomorphic fox and an incredible prowess in various fighting games, Dominique McLean is currently the biggest name in the fighting game community. Even before he turned 18, he was earning a decent change playing Mortal Kombat, Injustice: Gods Among Us and Dead or Alive.
SonicFox’s biggest win was at Injustice 2 Pro Series, where he earned $120,000 at the grand finals event playing as Red Hood and Captain Cold. With four tournament wins in 2021 at Mortal Kombat 11, Skullgirls, and Guilty Gear Strive, his earnings are nearing $700,000 and have secured him first place on the US fighting game leaderboards.
Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn (Starcraft II)
This Canadian Starcraft player is one of the many female esports players. Hostyn’s career started in 2011 with a back-to-back win at the Iron Lady Champion Cup. Those humble beginnings propelled her esports career, and she continued winning at Red Bull Battlegrounds, WCS America, and various online tournaments.
Today, Hostyn is ranked as the 12th best esports athlete in Canada. With an enviable record of 229 played tournaments and over $400,000 in prize money, she’s also one of the most successful Starcraft 2 players in North America.