Two decades ago, making a good living from designing or manufacturing computers and video games was risky business. Now, people are cashing in just playing them while building a lucrative and relatively stable career - video games aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. The question as to whether gaming or 'esports' is a legitimate sport or not is currently hotly debated: Just this week ESPN boss John Skipper weighed in, claiming it was a 'competition' not a 'sport', more akin to chess than 'real sports' like baseball.
And yet, professional gamers are, more and more often, walking away with payouts akin to those of sports stars. The notion of the stereotypical gamer - overweight, thirty-something, hunched over his Alienware laptop, or maybe a geeky teenager yelling obscenities into his X-Box headset - has been all but obliterated as pro gamers becoming increasingly public figures, and increasingly cool.
Gamer culture has changed significantly with consoles like the X-Box, PS4, and a variety of handheld devices. 'Gamers' now encompass people from all walks of life, from students to young professionals to senior citizens. Games like World of Warcraft for the PC have attracted millions of players from every background, females included. One of the biggest changes in gaming culture is the advent of electronic sports, or esports, tournaments, where players can compete against each other on a local, national, and international level. But they don’t do it for free: With more than 20 international leagues that include a range of games from Rock Band to Modern Warefare 2, gamers can compete at the highest levels for significant cash rewards. Top gamers can even make up to $500,000 in the span of their careers.
Females are now serious players on the gaming landscape as they rise to the top of some of the highest earning professional leagues. Female gamers are good for business: The more females competing in high-profile leagues, the more corporate sponsors and marketers support the diversification, and prize money can even correspondingly increase. Not only are female gamers a whole new market to exploit, they also attract more male gamers who are “interested in getting to that female gamer,” at least according to Paul Brewer, marketing and operations manager of WCG.
According to original data compiled by esportsearnings.com, the top 10 female professional gamers are some of the best gamers in the world and they're also some of the highest earning. The following list presents the top 10 female gamers with their prize winnings in American dollars.
10 Alice 'Ali' Lew - $8K
Alice “ali” Lew has won about $8,000 in five tournaments. Part of the SK-Ladies Counter Strike Team, she has helped beat every fierce competitor in the game Counter-Strike. In her first tournament in 2006, she won $800. But only two years later she competed again to win almost $4,000. With five tournaments under her belt, there's no telling how far to the top she'll go and how many thousands of dollars she'll potentially earn.
9 Alana 'Ms. X' Reid - $10K
Alana “Ms.X” Reid is a Canadian who, in only one tournament in 2005, took home a whopping $10,000 when she crushed the competition in the game Quake III Arena. She was only the runner-up, but her win is nothing short of impressive in both her skill and the money she earned.
8 Livia 'Lifje' Teernstra - $14K
In two tournaments, Livia “Liefje” Teernstra played the games Quake and Unreal Tournament in a New Zealand competition. She then moved to Europe where she dominated a competition playing the game Dead or Alive 4. She took third place in both tournaments and $14,000.
7 Jamie 'Missy' Pereyda - $15K
Jamie “Missy” Pereyda one-ups Alana Reid who, also in just one tournament, took the championship prize of $15,000. She destroyed her fellow gamers at California’s Ms. QuakeCon Quake III competition.
6 Rumay 'Hafu' Wang - $16K
Millions of people all over the world wish they could be Rumay “Hafu” Wang: a World of Warcraft world champion. In only 4 tournaments playing the legendary PC role-playing game, she won more than $14,000. However, since then, she has moved on to another game, Bloodline Champions, where she has made an additional $2,000 in one tournament for a total of $16,000.
5 Vanessa Arteaga - $20K
Dead or Alive 4 supergamer Vanessa Arteaga took home the bulk of her winnings as the championship prize winner in 2008. The cash prize was $15,000. One year before, she was the champion again in one tournament for the same game that awarded her $5,000. Not a bad payout for playing video games, although it’s safe to assume the competition was extraordinary.
4 Sarah "Sarah Lou" Harrison - $50K
The only Brit on the list, Sarah “Sarah Lou” Harrison has taken home one of the biggest prizes in the big league gaming world. In 2008, she played one tournament for Dead or Alive 4 and came out at the top. Thanks to her skill, a strong team and countless hours of practise, she won the tournament and took home $50,000 in winnings. In an interview with DOA World, Sarah Lou said she originally got into the game because "the game play was clean, smooth and easy to pick up if playing against another beginner."
3 Marjorie "Kasumi Chan" Bartell - $55K
Competing in the same game as Sarah Lou, Marjorie “Kasumi Chan” Bartell was able to sweep the competition under the rug when she came out as champion and $50,000 richer. One year before that, she earned herself a runner-up spot for Dead or Alive 4 and won $5,000 for a total of $55,000 in her gaming career.
2 Sasha "Scarlett" Hostyn - $102K
Number two in the list of the top 10 female professional gamers is Canadian Sasha ‘Scarlett’ Hostyn, one of the most prolific and highly competitive female gamers in the world. She perfected her skills on StarCraft II and was dedicated to practising which has certainly paid off — not only in terms of renown in the gaming community, but very literally in a healthy amount of cash prizes. In about 30 tournaments since 2011, she has won over $100,000 playing StarCraft II. She is known as one of the best StarCraft II players in the world.
1 Katherine "Mystique" Gunn - $122K
Dead or Alive 4 is a popular game with big money tournaments, and it’s certainly Katherine “Mystik” Gunn’s forte. In only three years of competitive play of both Dead or Alive 4 and Halo: Reach, Gunn blasted fellow competitors. In 2007, she won a runner-up prize and took home $15,000. In 2008, she placed third for prize winnings of $7,000. But everything changed for Gunn in 2010 as she hit the limit and became the highest paid female gamer. She played Halo: Reach against some of the best players in the world and became a champion. The rewards were huge: More than just fame, Gunn earned an incredible $100,000. In her relatively short career, Gunn has made a total of $122,000.