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%
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
9 Oleksandr “XBOCT” Dashkevych - $601,000
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2 Team Newbee - $5.88 million collectively
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.
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