In the world of competitive esports, it pays to game. In some cases, it pays millions of dollars. Back in 1998 when esports was still getting off the ground, there were fewer than 10 official tournaments worldwide that paid out a total of $131,700. Last year there were nearly 4000 esports tournaments across the globe and more than $159 million in prize money was awarded throughout the year.
The esports industry has blown up and there are more places to make money gaming than ever before. Still, certain games dominate the tournament scene and pay out more cash than any others as a result. These are the biggest games in esports with the biggest prize pools ever.
Before there was Dota 2 there was Defense of the Ancients, a Warcraft III mod that found immense popularity after its launch in 2003. The original DotA was a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) that pitted teams of five against one another in an effort to destroy the other teams “ancient,” or base.
DotA was a sensation in the late 2000s, which led game developer Valve to begin work on a standalone sequel, Dota 2. The beta was released in 2011 and instantly became one of the biggest games in esports. After the official launch in 2013, Dota 2 paid out more prize money than any video game for five straight years.
As of June 2019, $180 million in Dota 2 prize money has been awarded to 2980 players. No other game comes close to Dota 2’s esports dominance, and 46 of 50 highest paid gamers ever made their riches off Dota 2. The biggest tournament in gaming is The International, the annual clash between the best Dota 2 players in the world. In 2018, The International featured a $25 million prize pool, with more than $11 million going to the winning team.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Global Offensive, the fourth game in the Counter-Strike series, launched to mixed reviews in 2012. The original Counter Strike and Counter-Strike: Source were beloved by fans of the series, and at first many hesitated to make the shift to CS:GO.
Since it was released, however, Valve has made constant updates and changes to ensure their game is one of the premier first-person shooters available. Fans flocked to CS:GO over time, and it quickly became one of the most popular competitive games on the market. By 2013 it cracked the top five of competitive prize boards, and it has been the second biggest game in esports every year since 2016.
To date, CS:GO has more competitive players than any other game in the world. Overall, more than $77 million in CS:GO winnings has been handed out since 2012.
League of Legends
League has been a staple of the esports community since 2009 and remains one of the biggest games today. The game was partly modeled after Defense of the Ancients, and is similarly a 5v5 MOBA.
LoL has helped popularize mainstream esports, as it’s typically featured in college esports programs and daily fantasy esports competitions. While it’s not as high profile among gamers as Dota 2 or CS:GO, its arguably more widely known than either game.
League of Legends players have taken home $68 million dollars in competitive tournaments since the game’s launch. Each year the best players in the world come together for the LoL World Championship, which featured a $6.45 million prize pool last year.
Although it’s one of the newest games on the competitive esports scene, Fortnite has quickly become one of the most popular and profitable. Released in 2017, Fortnite has gained steam thanks to its simplicity and fast pace and has become a hit on Twitch as well. As a result, it’s become an internet phenomenon.
See also: The Beginner’s Guide to Twitch Streaming.
Fortnite is a battle royale game, meaning that players compete against one another to be the last one standing. Games feature 100 players and can be played solo, duo, or in squads of four. While competitive Fortnite struggled to gain traction at first, it now dominates esports. In 2017 there were no Fortnite tournaments, but so far in 2019 there have been 174 tournaments that have paid out more than $14 million, making it by far the biggest game in the world.
In total, Fortnite prize money to date is more than $34 million. While it has a long way to go to climb up the esports leaderboard, Fortnite’s wild popularity and rapid rise mean it could crack the top three in the next few years.
The original StarCraft was one of the first officially recognized competitive games, with tournaments as early as 1998. StarCraft II debuted in 2010, and while its popularity has somewhat waned in recent years, it remains one of the biggest competitive games in the world.
The 2018 Starcraft II World Championship featured a $700,000 pot, and first place was awarded $280,000. Overall across more than 5,000 tournaments, StarCraft II competitive players have collectively won more than $30 million.
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