For years now, professional gaming has been huge. Players and teams earn hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars in contracts and sponsorships from companies such as Red Bull, who treat their e-Sports athletes just as they would any other athlete on their roster. The pro-gamers have fans, and even groupies. Games such as League of Legends, Dota 2, and Call of Duty have leagues and tournaments that pay out huge bucks in winnings to the best players in the world.
A recent Dota 2 tournament, The International 2014, boasted the highest prize pool of any e-Sports tournament in history - $10.9 million - where the top team won $5 million split amongst five players. Many people who used to spend all their time playing online games in their dorm rooms and mom’s basements are probably kicking themselves after reading numbers like that. It’s every kids’ dream to make money playing video games, and here are the top 15 people who are actually doing it and making the most.
15 Lee “Flash” Young-Ho - $495,000
Lee Young-Ho, better name by his alias “Flash,” is a South Korean professional StarCraft player. South Korea boasts the most winners in StarCraft than any other country in the world. In fact, when StarCraft II was released, 40% of shipments (or 4.5 million units) were sold in South Korea.
Young-Ho quickly established himself as a child e-Sport prodigy after joining team KT Rolster in 2007 at the young age of 14. He achieved fourth place in the 2007 Daum OnGameNet Starleague that year, and he had the longest reign as #1 ranked player on the KeSPA Ranking system. He also has the highest win-lose ratio of any player in the world, at 71.74%
In StarCraft, he plays Terran. He is widely considered to be the best StarCraft player of all time, and at the age of 22 he has amassed $495,000 in winnings playing Starcraft: Brood War and StarCraft II.
14 Kurtis “Aui_2000“ Ling - $498,000
Kurtis Ling, better known as “Aui_2000,” is the highest-earning Canadian pro-gamer in history, having won nearly half a million dollars playing Dota 2, the stand-alone sequel to Defense of the Ancients (DotA), an arena mod for Warcraft III. The game was developed by Valve Corporation, and is available exclusively on the content-delivery platform, Steam. It is the most popular game on Steam, with daily peaks of over 800,000 concurrent players.
Kurtis plays as a support for the team Evil Geniuses, one of the oldest North American professional gaming organizations. Recently, on February 9, 2015, Evil Geniuses won the Dota 2 Asia Championships (DAC 2015), in Shanghai, China. With an overall prize pool of over $3 million, the team won $1.28 million, and Kurtis earned a cool $257,000 cut - winning over 50% of his overall winnings in a single tournament, and boosting him to the top 15 highest e-Sports earners of all time.
13 Xie “Super” Junhao - $532,000
Xie “Super” Junhao is a second-generation Chinese Dota 2 player who plays for the team Vici Gaming. The 22-year-old has made a name for himself in a short time, having been playing professionally since 2011. In 2014, Vici Gaming placed 2nd in The International 2014, the largest Dota 2 tournament in the world. With a prize pool of $10.9 million - an increase of $5 million the expected amount - The International 2014 boasted the biggest prize pool in e-Sports history.
Vici Gaming’s 2nd place earned the team $1.475 million, and Xie got $295,000 in one fell swoop. In 2014 alone, Xie won a total of $380,745, or 71.5% of his overall earnings. He’s off to a good start in 2015, too, with team Vici recently taking 2nd place behind Evil Geniuses in the DAC 2015 tournament, giving Xie another $74,000.
12 Peter “ppd” Dager - $577,000
Peter “ppd” Dager is a 23-year-old American player, and is currently the captain of team Evil Geniuses. The last two years for Peter have been some of the best that anyone could ask for in e-Sports. Peter has won 99% of his money - or $572,000 - playing Dota 2. In 2014, Peter won $313,000 from 19 tournaments, including $207,000 when Evil Geniuses placed 3rd in The International 2014.
He hasn’t slowed down one bit in 2015, either. It’s only February, and Peter has already amassed $258,000 from just two tournaments! The majority of that ($256,000) comes from when Evil Geniuses placed 1st in DAC 2015, and the team split the $1.28 million pot. For having only been playing professionally since 2012, you can’t really ask for a better start or career than Peter’s.
11 Lee “Jaedong” Jae Dong - $578,000
Lee Jae Dong, or just “Jaedong,” is widely considered as the greatest Zerg player in StarCraft: Brood War’s 13-year-long history of professional play. He is also one of a handful of players who managed to achieve great success in its sequel, StarCraft II, as well. At the end of 2013, Lee beat American Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel’s record for earning the most game prize money, winning $489,000 total. Wendel held that record for 13 years. Lee clinched the title after finishing 2nd at the StarCraft II 2013 World Championship Series (his fifth time as runner-up), and has since then upped his total winnings to $578,000.
While he isn’t #1 in earnings anymore, Lee’s career - which began professionally in 2006 - has been hugely successful. The South Korean won the 2006 Rookie of the Year Award at the 2nd Annual Korea e-Sports Awards, he won his first major tournament in 2007, and he spent a total of 16 months as the number one ranked player in Korea (where all the StarCraft players are located). All of this, and he’s only 25 (or 26 in Korean age).
10 Saahil “UNiVeRsE" Arora - $581,000
Saahil “UNiVeRsE” Arora is an American Dota 2 player who is currently the offlaner (a position in the game) for Evil Geniuses. Saahil has become a fixture in the North American DotA scene, and has competed in all four of Valve’s yearly Dota 2 championships, The International. According to E-Sports Earnings, a site that tracks pro-gaming tournaments and winnings, Saahil has won more money than any other North American player in the world, and is #9 worldwide.
Saahil has played professionally since 2011, although his best years were undoubtedly 2014, and now 2015. He won $312,000 from 18 tournaments in 2014, including $207,000 when Evil Geniuses placed 3rd in The International 2014. He has so far won $258,000 in 2015, from two tournaments, $256,000 of that coming from Evil Genius’ DAC 2015 1st-place win.
9 Oleksandr “XBOCT” Dashkevych - $601,000
Oleksandr “XBOCT” Dashkevych is the second-highest earning Ukrainian e-Sports player in the world. The only Ukrainian who has earned more than him is fellow teammate Danil “Dendi” Ishutin. Oleksandr and Danil both play on the same team, Natus Vincere, also known as Na’Vi. Na’Vi shot to fame when they won The International 2011 tournament, and gained a $1 million cut of the $1.6 million prize pool. Oleksandr got $200,000 of that, and that single tournament is still his largest single prize to date. Since joining the professional e-Sports scene in 2011, Oleksandr has had steady earnings, winning almost $204,000 in 2011, and then over $150,000 in both 2013 and 2014.
8 Danil “Dendi” Ishutin - $604,000
Danil Ishutin, or “Dendi,” is a 25-year-old Ukrainian Dota 2 player for Natus Vincere. He is often regarded as one of the most creative players in the game, and is renowned amongst fans and peers for his unorthodox and unconventional play style. Danil started off playing the original Defense of the Ancients in 2008, until he was hired by Na’Vi in 2011 after rumors of a “million dollar tournament” for Dota 2 became a reality.
Natus Vincere would go on to win that $1 million first place pot at The International 2011, giving Danil a cut of $200,000. Na’Vi ranked 2nd in both The International 2012 and 2013, giving Danil a further $50,000 and $126,000 prizes, respectively. His team dipped to 7th-8th in The International 2014, but because of the huge prize pool, he still made out with over $103,000.
7 Clement “Puppey” Ivanov - $667,000
According to E-Sports Earnings, the Estonian 24-year-old Clement “Puppey” Ivanov is the highest-earning non-Chinese player in the world. He was the team captain for Natus Vincere (Na’Vi), and alongside fellow players “XBOCT” and “Dendi,” they round out the top sixth, seventh, and eighth place earners in the world.
Clement helped team Na’Vi to victory in The International 2011, and 2nd place in both The International 2012 and 2013. On August 20, 2014, Clement parted ways with Na’Vi, and was announced as the captain of Team Secret on the 27th. With Team Secret, he placed 3rd in the DAC 2015 tournament.
6 Jang “Moon” Jae Ho - $443,000 in winnings, $500,000 contract
Most professional e-Sports players who are part of a team have big contracts and sponsorships beyond just their tournament winnings. The contract amount is hard to pinpoint for most players, because they don’t publicly display them, but that is not so for Jang “Moon” Jae Ho. Besides being #21 in the world as far as career earnings, in 2009, it was announced that the South Korean had signed a $500,000 contract deal with the Korean WeMade FOX Warcraft III team. At the time it was a record-setting deal.
Jang is the highest-earning Warcraft III player of all time, with $454,000 in career winnings playing the game. His career began all the way back in 2003, and in 2014 he retired. He was a five-time Warcraft III World Champion, won three televised national South Korean leagues, and was known as a legendary Night Elf player.
5 Lee “NaDa” Yun-Yeol - $302,000 in winnings, $690,000 contract
Lee “NaDa” Yun-Yeol, aka “NaDa,” is one of the most celebrated and successful StarCraft players of all time. He is best known for signing an unprecedented contract in 2007: a three-year $690,000 contract worth $690,000. So even though his nine-year winnings of $302,000 place him at just 49th on the all-time earnings board, that contract alone puts him way over most others.
The 28-year-old South Korean was called the “Genius Terran” for his excellent macro-management and innovative strategies in StarCraft. He played StarCraft II for a while, but he retired in 2012 to fulfill his mandatory military obligations in South Korea.
4 Matt “NaDeSHoT” Haag - $186,000 in winnings, $700,000 annually from streaming/sponsors
American pro-gamer Matt “NaDeSHoT” Haag is 115th overall in terms of total career earnings, but thanks to a 2014 article by the New York Times, readers got a chance to see how much money this guy really makes. Matt, perhaps the highest-paid Call of Duty professional in the world, is the co-owner and captain of the OpTic Gaming Team. He is also a Red Bull e-Sports athlete - garnering the same attention and pampering as Red Bull’s non-e-Sports athletes.
What makes Mr. Haag most of his money is his 1.5 million YouTube subscribers, and his lucrative contract to live-stream his daily game sessions. The owner of Team EnVyUs (OpTics chief rival), Mike Rufail, says that “If you’re talking about YouTube and fan outreach, [Haag] is the No. 1 player by far. But it terms of raw talent, he’s a top 15 player - I wouldn’t put him in that top three or four guys.” Nonetheless, the report goes on to say that Matt was on track to make $700,000 from streaming and his YouTube channel alone, in 2014.
3 Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel - $455,000 in winnings, plus company sales
No top-earning e-Sports list would be complete without Johnathan “Fatal1ty" Wendel. The American gamer and entrepreneur is considered the world’s first prominent and accomplished pro-gamer and poster-child. He has been successful in a number of first-person shooter games, including Quake III Arena, Unreal Tournament 2003, and Painkiller. Before retiring in 2006, Wendel won a total of 12 world championship titles and four player of the year awards.
He was awarded the first ever Lifetime Achievement Awards by eSports, and was inducted into the International Video Game Hall of Game in August 2010. He held a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest-career earnings by an e-Sports player ($454,919) until the end of 2013, when pro-gamer Lee “Jaedong” Jae Dong broke his record. The 33-year-old is now #23 on the list.
On top of his earnings, Wendel started his own business, Fatal1ty, Inc., which sells branded mouse pads, and other gaming products such as motherboards, energy snacks, sound cards, headphones, and power supplies. The company sells millions of dollars worth of products each year.
2 Team Newbee - $5.88 million collectively
Chinese team Newbee consists of five players: Jiao “Banana” Wang, Chen “Hao” Zhihao, Wang “SanSheng” Zhaohui, Zhang “Mu” Pen, and Zhang “xiao8“ Ning. In 2014, the team made international headlines after winning first place in the Dota 2 tournament, The International 2014, and winning the highest prize pool in e-Sports history. The $10.9 million prize pool gave team Newbee $5,000,000 - a split of $1 million each - which instantly catapulted all five of the members into the top five spots of career pro-gamer earnings of all time, according to E-Sports Earnings. After the top five (between $1.145 and $1.192 million), the sixth place earner (Clement “Puppey” Ivanov) has won a far-and-away $667,000.
1 Carlos “Ocelote” Rodriguez - $820,000 - $950,000 annually
Carlos “Ocelote” Rodriguez is a Spanish League of Legends player who is identified with the European team, SK Gaming. He is also a former professional World of Warcraft player. Carlos has been described as the “David Beckham of e-Sports" because of his branding, and because he’s well-spoken and good looking.
A 2013 interview by the Daily Dot put Carlos in the international spotlight. As he told the newspaper, “...only the merchandising income is half a million euros a year easy. That’s like 70 percent of the total, since I have to add my salary I earn in tournaments, the streaming of my games, and what I get from personal sponsors. In total I earn between €600,000 and €700,000 annually.” That translates to between $820,000 and $950,000 per year.
SK Gaming is far from dominant, too, and his actual winnings probably account for the smallest percentage of his total annual earnings. Clearly, you don’t have to be the best player playing for the best team to make some serious cash in e-Sports.