Gaming is a huge business all around the globe, and not just for the faceless corporations who relentlessly churn out the reality-distorting games that keep the youth (and many of the adults) of the world equal parts doughy and antisocial. They're also big business for the gamers themselves.
Long gone are the days when people were derided for their gaming lifestyles (with the sort of cliches that we just employed in the latter paragraph!). Today, gamers are practically rock stars in some parts of the world. And like rock stars, these days gamers can make serious money trading on the skills they have accumulated over thousands of hours spent toiling away in their parents' basements. Some of the most popular Youtube channels in the world showcase video walkthroughs for action and horror games - accomplished gamers can make a living by doing what essentially amounts to tutoring less skilled gamers. But the real money is in full-on, high-stakes gaming competitions. With millions of dollars on the line and thousands of competitors duking it out to claim top prize, gaming competitions have quickly become the pinnacle of the gaming universe toward which gamers all over the world strive, good hygiene and social lives be damned.
But not all gamers are made equal, and certain countries are better represented in international gaming competitions than others. The following list counts down the top 15 gaming countries in the world, according to total prize money earned since esports became lucrative and current as of the 2013-2014 season. And so, in the immortal words of a sociopathic computer hellbent on destroying teenage Matthew Broderick (look it up), we ask the only question that matters: "Shall we play a game?"
15 Malaysia - $1.24 million
Gaming in Malaysia, as in much of the developing world, is a booming industry. Though it's last place on this list, gamers in the country nonetheless managed to earn an impressive $1.2 million dollars in the past year.
The lion's share of this sum was raked in by just two gamers, Hock Chuan Wong and Yee Fung Chai, who combined won more than $750,000 playing Dota 2, an online multiplayer battle game set in the Warcraft universe. Wong and Chai have since become celebrities of sort, capitalizing on their fame with endorsement deals and appearances at gaming conventions.
14 The Netherlands - $1.3 million
The Netherlands boasts the sixth largest gaming market in Europe, despite being one of the continent's smallest countries. The Dutch love their video games; the country's population is slightly larger than the state of Illinois but it sports over 330 game development companies.
In competitions, the Dutch are led by three star gamers: Manuel Schenkhuizen, Sander Kaasjager, and Weh Sing Yuen. Schenkhuizen is the country's alpha player, earning over $330, 000 last year playing Warcraft III. Kaasjager and Sing Yuen earned $234,000 playing Painkiller and $186,000 playing Dota 2, respectively.
13 Poland - $1.7 million
Poland is home to some of the gaming industry's biggest up-and-coming stars, including superstar Maciej Krzykowski, a.k.a. av3k. Gaming in Poland has taken off of late, with 9 players earning more that $50,000 in competitions in the past year alone. While StarCraft II has grown in popularity recently, the majority of Polish competitive gamers play Counter-Strike, the first-person shooter classic, and League of Legends, a multiplayer battle arena game.
12 The United Kingdom - $1.8 million
The United Kingdom is an interesting entry on this list in that, despite collectively raking in more than $1.8 million dollars, no competitor earned more than $75,000. Why? Because the competition is so evenly matched that no one gamer can gain the upper hand against his or her competitors. This egalitarian approach to gaming likely stems from the nation's overall love of the medium: the UK is the largest video game market in Europe and the third largest in the world.
In addition to being remarkably even-matched, the UK's competitive gamers play one of the most diverse lineups of games in international competition. The top 10 earners made their money in no less than 7 different games. In comparison, the next most diverse country on this list, Russia, had only 4 different games. Say what you will about their dental care and their obsessively boiled "food", but those Brits sure know their way around a joystick.
11 Denmark - $2.03 Million
The tiny Scandinavian country of barely 5 million inhabitants supports 140 video game development companies. Needless to say, the Danish are crazy about their video games. Last year, Danes earned more than $2 million in international gaming competitions, but, like the British above, earnings were spread out more or less evenly among the country's elite gamers.
Danny Sørensen was the only competitor to walk away with six-figure winnings, earning $113,000 playing Counter-Strike, the game of choice for most of Denmark's players.
10 Taiwan - $2.04 Million
Taiwan is one of the fastest-growing gaming destinations in the world and the country has produced a handful of gaming superstars in the past few years, including Bo Wei Cheng, June Tsan Wang, Sung Kuan-Po, Hui Chung Chen, and Chia Cheng Yang. Each of the players mentioned above won six-figure jackpots in the last year alone and all but one of them (Yang) were playing League of Legends, the multiplayer battle arena game popular in these types of competitions.
9 France - $2.54 Million
France is known for many things: philosophers, wine, cheese, and bread probably come to mind. But what might come as a surprise to non-Francophiles is just how much the French love their video games.
Frenchmen like Ilyes Satouri, Yoan Merlo, and Paul Boyer have taken the gaming world by storm in recent years. Satouri earned a quarter of a million dollars last year playing StarCraft II. Merlo won more than $175,000 playing WarCraft III and Boyer made his small fortune of $112,ooo playing - you guessed it - League of Legends. It seems we can add gaming to the list of things the French excel at, right alongside cooking and making American tourists hate themselves.
8 Russia - $2.59 Million
Unlike France, we're not going to make any jokes about Russia here because,well, we're a little afraid. But there's no harm in lauding the country's inhabitants and their undeniable gaming prowess.
Last year, Ruskies earned over two and a half million dollars in international gaming competitions, with standout Dmitriy Kupriyanov winning nearly 10% of his country's total all by himself. His game of choice is Dota 2, but one guess as to what game the majority of Russian competitors choose to play? The correct answer is League of Legends. Honestly, you should have seen that coming.
7 Ukraine - $3.11 Million
Honestly, we're not trying to make any underhanded political statements by placing Ukraine ahead of Russia on this list. The fact of the matter is the Ukrainians have the Russians' number when it comes to gaming, but just barely. The Ukrainians cleaned up last year to the tune of $3.1 million.
Leading the pack for the Ukes were Danil Ishutin ($588,517.85) and Oleksandr Dashkevych ($586,123.76), who combined to win nearly as much as the entire country of Malaysia. Their game of choice was Dota 2, which is popular with most gaming Ukrainians. Other games with significant numbers of participants include Counter-Strike and the Craft brothers, both War and Star.
6 Canada - $3.11 Million
O, Canada! World-famous for its maple syrup, moose, and moose covered in maple syrup. But America, Jr. is so much more than angry ungulates and sticky breakfast condiments. The country is objectively one of the nicest places on the planet and its citizens are known for being almost comedically genial to even the most boorish foreigners (read: common Americans).
Another aspect of Canadian culture not widely disseminated is its citizens' gaming mastery. Canadians won more than$3.1 million last year playing games like Dota 2, Call of Duty, StarCraft II, and, of course, League of Legends. Artour Babaev, the country's top earner, grossed more than $300,000 playing Dota 2.
5 Germany - $3.71 Million
What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Germany? That's right, weird adult entertainment. But the Germans also excel at gaming, amassing over $3.7 in competitions last year.
Like the rest of the world, the Germans made most of their money playing essentially the same set of games as the rest of the world. You've got your Dotas, your various Crafts, your Strikes, your Legends. By far, the most successful gaming Teuton is Kuro Takhasomi, who banked over $312,ooo last year playing Frogger. Ha! Just checking to see if you're paying attention. He was playing Dota 2.
4 Sweden - $8.34 Million
Now we're starting to get into the big boys - and not just because the Swedes are atypically gargantuan. Sweden is one of the most technologically advanced countries on earth, so it stands to reason that its citizens would be such adept gamers. Last year, both Sweden and Germany fielded roughly 750 competitors in international gaming competitions, and the Swedes more than doubled the earnings of their Bavarian counterparts.
To get an idea of how good Sweden has become at gaming, the top 20 players in the county last year all cleared $100,000 in winnings. Jonathan Berg led the way with $401,000, but his compatriots were hot on his heels. Joakim Akterhall, Henrik Ahnberg, the awesomely named Gustav Magnusson, and Jerry Lundqvist each earned more than $380,000. In a twist that no one could have possibly foreseen, all of the top-earning Swedes were playing Dota 2.
3 The United States - $15.47 Million
The United States, or as it's more commonly known around the world, "That country invading us", is a gaming powerhouse. The country's best gamers collectively raked in more than $15 million last year (though, to be fair, they also fielded more competitors than any other country by a wide margin). In a way, it makes sense. Gamers in general are notorious for their poor nutrition, subsiding mainly on junk food and Mountain Dew. It just so happens that Mountain Dew is the official beverage of America (don't look that up). Ipso facto, enough Americans were already being fueled by Doritos and what can best be described as the urine of a diabetic elderly alien that the transition to gaming was practically second nature.
A shocking 34 Americans won more than $100,000 in gaming competitions last year, playing a fairly diverse array of games, including Dota 2, Halo 4, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, and Madden NFL 13. The top-earning Yank, Johnathan Wendel, made more than $450,000 playing Painkiller.
2 China - $16.98 Million
If the United States' collective winnings total of $15 million was impressive, China's $16.9 million cume is downright staggering. Granted, the difference is relatively small, but when you consider that China posted a greater total with only a quarter of the participants, it's pretty amazing. Also, the Chinese are the first ones on this list that have an individual player who earned more than $1 million. In fact, the Chinese are so good at gaming, they have five players who won seven-figure sums! Zhihao Chen, Wang Jiao,Zhaohui Wang, Pan Zhang, and Ning Zhang all banked more than a million bucks playing Dota 2, which is by far China's most popular game.
And China is only just beginning to realize its dominance. Its economy is rapidly developing and as more and more of its 1.3 billion citizens take to gaming as both pastime and profession, it's only a matter of time before this list essentially becomes a battle for second place.
1 South Korea - $23.86 Million
South Korea is the undisputed gaming capital of the world. Professional gamers in South Korea are cultural icons, much as NFL stars are in America or ice farmers are in Canada. Gaming culture is pervasive in the land that brought us kimchi (thanks, Korea!) and "Gangnam Style" (dammit, Korea!). Major gaming tournaments are televised on national television and watched religiously by millions of fans. They get so into gaming in South Korea that people have literally died in the middle of a game, presumably in the quest for the nerdiest epitaph ever.
Last year the South Koreans banked nearly $24 million. Though no one individual even came near the $1,000,000 jackpot won by the five aforementioned Chinese gamers, there were an astonishing 55 Korean competitors who won more than $100,000. Most of them were playing some form of Craft, either Star or War. There was also a sizable portion playing League of Legends. The country's top earner was Jae Dong Lee, who amassed over $560,000 playing StarCraft: Brood War.