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The rise of eSports has ushered in a new and unprecedented era for the gamers who play eSports professionally, also known as pro gamers. What used to be a casual pastime or hobby has now turned into a legitimate career path with the potential of earning some serious money. In a relatively short period, pro gamers can go from playing video games in their parents’ basement, to playing competitively in sold-out arenas in front of thousands of fans. But how much money do pro gamers make?
The highest paid gamers make more than $1 million annually, but the top pro league the salaries typically range from $50,000 to $350,000. However, that amount is significantly different for less well-known leagues. There are many ways that professional gamers can make a living, and it’s not just from prize winnings. These include the following:
- eSports team salary
- Twitch subscriptions
- Twitch donations
- Ad revenue
- Affiliate marketing
eSports earnings are plentiful but hard to track
When it comes to understanding exactly how much money pro gamers make, it’s essential first to know that a lot of figures related to earnings like salaries, sponsorships, streaming ad revenue, and more is not public record. The only thing associated with eSports that is publicly shared is the prize winnings that players earn for winning competitions like tournaments and leagues. It’s pretty easy to find out how much pro gamers receive for winning as these figures are either published directly on the competition website or on www.esportsearnings.com.
Other professional sports like football, basketball, and baseball all publish players salaries and bonuses. Contracts, for the most part, are not private and details of how much a player makes are easily discoverable. However, with eSports, it’s an entirely different situation. So while we can figure out bits and pieces of what pro gamers make, it’s hard to find the total and accurate full picture. In this article, we’ve done our best by putting together a ton of research and numbers to give you a better view of exactly how much pro gamers can make.
Okay, so how much money do pro gamers make?
Glad you asked, so let’s start with diving into the various ways that eSports pro gamers try to secure the bag. Their income sources are similar to that of traditional pro athletes, who have salaries, sponsorships deals, etc.. However, pro gamers also can make money in additional areas that pro athletes typically can’t, including streaming ad revenue and Twitch subscriptions.
Some of the top money in eSports is earned through winning competitions. It’s no secret that pro gamers can score some serious cash in various tournaments and leagues around the world. Typically, the higher up a team finishes in a competition, the more the team wins. According to www.esportsearnings.com, in 2017 alone, pro gamers collected $113,834,986.30 in prize money. One of the top players, KuroKy took home over $2.4 million just by himself in 2017! And the top game in terms of highest payout of prize earnings was Dota 2 with $38 million. This was just about double the payout for the next closest game, CS:GO, which had $19.2 million. That’s a TON of money!
The top tournaments and leagues dish out quite impressive prize earnings to teams who not only win but even those who participate. For example, the 2018 International, which is the Dota 2 Championships, had a total prize pool of $25.4 million, giving out prize money all the way to the team that places in 18th place. While the first place team got $11.1 million in prize money, the eighteenth place team earned $63,000. That $63k is still a significant amount of money and is more than what most average people bring home in a year with a full-time job. So teams don’t necessarily have to place first to bring back some serious cash.
These are no doubt some vast numbers, but not all pro gamers will make millions from winning tournaments and leagues. It’s true that there is a ton of money to be made through competing in tournaments and leagues, but the ones who get the biggest payouts are the elite pro gamers, like KuroKy, Faker, and Miracle. However, with over 17,000 active eSports gamers last year, the average prize earnings per player was $6,517.89. That’s entirely different from the numbers we threw out above, which are well into the millions. You can see the significant discrepancy between prize earnings that the top of the pack elite eSports gamers earn and what most other gamers make. It makes sense though, as this trend is also seen in other professional sports. For example, LeBron James and Kevin Durant, both elite NBA players, earn substantially more than a rookie just starting their first year in professional basketball.
The good news for all eSports pros is that the prize money amounts just keep getting higher and higher every year. Back in 2011, when eSports was really just in the beginning stages of popularity, the total prize earnings for the year was only $10.2 million. Only seven years later, that amount is now 11x more and is expected to keep climbing. Even the average earnings per player have doubled from $3k to $6k in that same timeframe. If eSports keeps growing at the same rate, we should expect to see these numbers continue to skyrocket over the next five to ten years.
In eSports, a salary is the annual amount of money given to pro gamers on a pro eSports team. To put it simply, professional teams will pay their players a certain amount of money in exchange for their play. It’s the same thing you see in other professional sports, where a team signs players and pays those players to compete against other teams. The amount that teams pay their players in salaries varies quite a bit, even between players on the same team. The one certain thing is that the most elite players get paid the highest salaries.
Currently, there is a significant lack of transparency in eSports in regards to salary. It’s very rare for teams to publish the amount that they pay players. This makes it extremely difficult for pro gamers to determine what constitutes fair compensation. Some teams and leagues, however, have shared bits and pieces that help us determine an estimated salary earnings range. For example, back in 2015, one eSports team, called Ember, decided to release precisely how much they paid their players publicly. Their players made a base salary range of $57,000 to $65,000 per year.
On top of that, they gave bonus incentives that ranged from $10,000 to $27,000. So total earnings that they paid their players was between $70,000 and $92,000 per year. This was back in 2015, which is now a few years ago, so we know these salary figures have increased since then. The Overwatch League currently advertises on their website that the pro players in their league start out with a $50,000 minimum base salary. In addition to this, they also receive health care, retirement savings plans and get housing provided to them at no cost during the season.
In May of 2018, Forbes released an article in which the Head of North American Esports at Riot Games shared that the average starting North America League of Legends Championship Series (NA LCS) player salary is now over $320,000. This is way higher than the player minimum they shared with Business Insider earlier in 2018, which was a $12,500 minimum per player for the 28-match season. It’s also more than the average reported salary of $105,385, which was collected by ESPN via a survey from NA LCS players in 2017. An interview with OpTic Gaming’s League of Legends Manager, Romain Bigeard, confirmed that the average League of Legends salary in North America was $150,000 in 2017 and has grown to $327,000 in 2018.
Another extremely lucrative form of earning money for pro gamers comes from their Twitch subscriptions. Twitch is a live-streaming video platform and has become very popular over the years by the gaming industry. Thousands of gamers ‘go live’ each day, streaming their own gameplay to millions of viewers who watch on Twitch. A ton of top pro gamers, such as Ninja, have a robust following on Twitch and earn a huge chunk of change from the video streaming platform.
So how exactly do gamers make money on Twitch subscriptions? To put it simply, Twitch pays them for their subscribers. In order to start earning money, however, gamers must first apply to become a verified Twitch Partner, which is not an easy task. The streamer must have an average concurrent viewership of 500+ people and broadcast at least three times a week. That’s a pretty difficult thing to do, and most streamers will not meet this minimum criterion. However, once a gamer earns the distinction of being a Twitch Partner, they can take advantage of getting paid for subscribers who subscribe to their specific channel or stream. That subscription fee costs $4.99 per month and gives subscribers perks like seeing their Twitch username on the streamer’s livestream, access to subscriber-only chatting, and using emoticons in chat.
Twitch pays streamers for each of their subscribers, which is a model that significantly benefits those gamers who stream on Twitch. The payment starts off on a 50/50 split. So, Twitch will take 50% of the subscription cost and the gamer will get the other 50%. That means a streamer will earn roughly $2.50 for each of their subscribers! And trust us, that adds up quickly. If you have 1000 subscribers a month, you should expect to earn $2,500 from Twitch. If you bump that up to 100,000 subscribers, you’ll receive $250,000 a month!
And if you become an elite streamer like Ninja, who shattered just about every Twitch record you can think of by streaming his gameplay of Fortnite, you can expect to earn even more than the 50/50 split. Twitch will give a 60/40 split so that streamers earn a whopping $3.00 per subscriber per month. Or in Ninja’s case, he makes $3.50 per subscriber, which is the highest we’ve ever seen on Twitch. This means that he earns roughly $875,000 per month from his Twitch subscriptions alone, which adds up to over $10.5 million a year! WOW!
Now we know Ninja is at the top of the top. He is the most subscribed to gamer on Twitch, but just think of all the possibilities. Even if you only have 1000 subscribers a month, you can still earn a few thousand dollars just by streaming your gameplay on this extremely popular video streaming platform.
Twitch donations & tipping
On top of subscription payments, Twitch also allows streamers to collect donations from their followers and subscribers. Yes, this is precisely what it sounds like. Anyone on Twitch can go on to a streamer’s channel and donate any amount of money they’d like to the streamer. It’s like a Go Fund Me account for Twitch streamers, except without the noble cause or heartbreaking story.
And if you think that donations are pretty rare, think again. Ninja confirmed he receives donations every few seconds. Although we don’t have any accurate estimates for exactly how much in donation funds he receives, we can fairly confidently say it’s at least a few thousand dollars each month (and that’s a conservative guess). In 2017, Streamlabs confirmed that tipping (donations) totaled over $101 million for the entire year. And in Q2 of 2018, $36 million tips were processed, which is the record for a single quarter and was a 45% increase from Q2 of 2017. That is a TON of extra money that pro gamers can earn just for streaming. Their followers are a loyal group of individuals, and they often show their support by donating cash. It’s certainly not a bad way to earn some extra funds per month if you’re a gamer!
Ad revenue definitely has the highest potential in terms of money earned. It can be the single most significant source of income for pro gamers if they play all their cards right. In a nutshell, gamers can make money from ad revenue by ‘hosting’ ads on their channels or streams. Ads get played while viewers watch a streamer’s channel, and the stream gets paid a certain amount for that ad to be played. It sure seems easy! Well, for the most part, it’s a straightforward concept, but the amount one earns differs tremendously. The first thing to note is that there are two leading platforms in which gamers can make ad revenue.
The first of the two is YouTube, the world’s most popular video platform, which sees over 1 billion hours of YouTube videos watched per day. To earn money from ads on YouTube, you must apply to be part of the YouTube Partner Program, which will allow you to monetize your channel. However, to be approved for the YouTube Partner Program, your channel must have a minimum of 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch-time over the past 12 months. Once you get accepted into the program, you can start to monetize!
But exactly how much does one earn from YouTube? This is the million dollar question. And to be honest, the answer is it depends. YouTube pays its creators (aka those who are in the YouTube Partner Program) a certain amount per 1000 views. This amount varies from $0.25 to $10.00 per 1000 views but will depend on a variety of factors like country, type of video, price of ads, etc. So if a gamer has a YouTube channel that receives 100,000 views a month, and they earn $5.00 per 1000 views, they will make roughly $500 per month. And if you use Ninja as an easy example again, that number goes up astronomically. He gets over 200 million views a month, and let’s assume he gets an average of $7.00 per 1000 views. This means he would earn about $1.4 million a month from YouTube ad revenue alone. Quite impressive!
Unfortunately, there’s no official statistics or data that has been published that gives us an idea of a base or average amount that creators get paid per thousand views.
The second platform that allows gamers to monetize is, of course, Twitch. We’ve already talked about Twitch subscriptions and donations earlier in this article, but the video streaming platform also pays streamers ad revenue that runs on their streams and channels. Similar to YouTube, Twitch also pays streamers per 1000 views. However, only those in the verified Twitch Partner program are able to monetize. At first, streamers can expect to earn anywhere from $0.70 to $1.40 per 1000 views. As your viewership and tenure grow, this number only goes up. Some of the top streams will earn in the $1.00 to $2.50 range. The cost per 1000 views will also vary depending on the time of year. For example, this cost shoots up during the holidays when companies are throwing advertising dollars out to try and increase revenue over the holiday season.
Let’s look at an example to calculate out earning potential for ad revenue on Twitch. Take a streamer who runs three ads via commercials per hour and streams 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, for a total of 75 ads in a week. Let’s say 2000 viewers saw those 75 ads and the streamer receives an average of $1.00 per 1000 views. This means that streamer would get about $150 per week, for a total of $600 per month from Twitch ad revenue. Now take a more popular streamer, who runs 75 ads a week, and gets 20,000 views and an average of $2.00 per 1000 views. They would get around $3000 per week or $12,000 per month!
Twitch also gives streamers a fair amount of control with their ads. Streamers can choose when to run ads, how often they run, the length of the ads, etc. They can also select the type of ads to run, either pre-roll, mid-roll or post-roll. It’s nice that streamers have this flexibility and can control exactly when and how ads are run on their streams.
Overall, ad revenue from both YouTube and Twitch can bring in some serious money for gamers who have huge followings online. It’s an excellent way for pro gamers to earn money while doing the thing they love and are passionate about, which is playing video games!
In addition to ad revenue from video streaming platforms like YouTube and Twitch, pro gamers can make an insane amount of money from something called affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketing is a form of advertising, in which someone is rewarded for making a successful referral to purchase a product or service. It’s extremely popular these days and can be found in almost all industries and niches. And gaming is no exception. Pro gamers can do affiliate marketing for just about anything related to gaming. And they are uniquely positioned to find a lot of success in affiliate marketing because of their large and passionate base of followers. Still confused with how it works? We’ll give you an example.
The easiest way for gamers to earn through affiliate marketing is to suggest theirs follows purchase specific products or services that they recommend. So let’s say an extremely popular gamer recommends on his latest YouTube video that his followers should buy the newest model of the Secretlab Omega gaming chair. He posts a unique link in the description of his YouTube video and also has a text overlay come up on top of the video. Each viewer who clicks that unique link and purchases that chair is considered a conversion in the world of advertising. And that gamer will get paid for each conversion, or successful purchase, he brings to that gaming chair company, called Secretlab. Essentially, in this case, Secretlab is paying the pro gamer for each successful purchase of their gaming chair that he directly caused.
Gaming chairs aren’t the only thing pro gamers can promote through affiliate marketing. All other hardware and gaming equipment, games and software, and even gaming related services are included in affiliate marketing. The key is that the pro gamers have to be signed up through a particular affiliate program. For example, Amazon has their affiliate program in which gamers can promote almost ANY item on Amazon and earn a fixed rate back on the purchase price. For physical video games and game consoles, you can receive 1% back. For digital video games, you can earn 2% back. And for PCs and PC accessories and components, you’ll get 2.5% back. Headphones can even get you 6% back. You can check out the full list here. The affiliate marketing possibilities are endless in gaming!
The key to this type of advertising is tracking. As long as gamers have a place to post a unique link or banner ad for an affiliate offer, they can earn money through affiliate marketing. Gamers can post links on their social media accounts, Twitch streams, YouTube channels, own websites, and more. Unfortunately, gamers won’t earn money if a follower goes into a physical retail store and buys a game or accessory. In affiliate marketing, pretty much everything has to be done online so it can accurately be traced back to the source where the referral came from. Overall, affiliate marketing can be extremely lucrative for gamers to take advantage of and they’d be silly if they didn’t take advantage of it! Since they already have decent sized followings, it’s a relatively easy way for them to score some extra cash.
Another big part of pro gamers’ income is from sponsorship deals. These deals can be extremely lucrative for gamers as they can become the face of a brand or product. Sponsorships are a great way for a company to earn respect, interest, and popularity within the world of gaming. Especially for companies who sell a product to the “gamer” audience. It’s common for companies that sell computer hardware, accessories, video games, phones, websites, food, drinks, and more to engage in sponsorship deals with top eSports pros. And at the same time, it’s a great way for gamers to earn extra money or free gear. Companies who wish to sponsor a pro gamer are typically looking for gamers who are top influencers. This means that a pro gamer will have to have an excellent reputation and a large following on YouTube, Twitch, or social media even to be considered for a sponsorship.
The exact details of sponsorships vary from deal to deal. Usually, a pro gamer will receive something in return for promoting the company who is sponsoring them. So in some cases, this could be the pro gamer wearing or using whatever products that the company sells. For example, SteelSeries is a company who produces premium headsets for gaming. If they were to partner with a pro gamer in a sponsorship deal, they would probably give the gamer a few pairs of headsets that they could use while playing both in practice and competitively. This could give SteelSeries some serious exposure to all the viewers and followers who watch that pro gamer in tournaments and leagues, or on Twitch or YouTube, or on social media. Companies can also sponsor teams, leagues, or tournaments in addition to individual players. For example, Audi, the German carmaker, is a sponsor of Astralis, a pro team who plays CounterStrike: Global Offensive. That sponsorship deal is worth $750,000. The Overwatch League has several sponsors including HP, Intel, and T-Mobile.
Of course, the fine details of sponsorships are never revealed. The exact amount of money can vary drastically from deal to deal. While we are certain that eSports sponsorships are not as high as other traditional sports like the NFL and NBA, they are still worth quite a bit. We estimate somewhere in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. And that number will keep increasing as eSports are pro gamers are seeing widespread popularity. And even if gamers don’t earn actual cash from a sponsorship deal, they can get a lot of other perks, gear, and more that adds up to a large number. Either way, sponsorships definitely add to the total income that pro gamers can rack up every year!
We wouldn’t be providing the full picture of what pro eSports gamers can earn if we left out the other suite of benefits they can receive outside of actual money. In addition to all the areas of income we described above, pro gamers also can receive some awesome benefits. These benefits include the following:
- Paid housing: some eSports leagues or teams will actually pay for their pro gamers to live together in a house or apartment. This means that the gamers don’t have to pay rent or mortgages themselves, and usually, they are put up in lovely living arrangements!
- Office space: most pro gamers who play for an official team or league will have an office space, where they can go in and practice and train with their teammates. The office space will usually look a bit different from your usual office. It is optimized for playing video games and has state of the art equipment and gear.
- Healthcare: some pro gamers will receive full health benefits from their employing team or league. This is huge as health care, in the United States especially, can be extremely expensive. Being covered with a full health plan gives gamers a sense of relief and also reduces out of pocket costs for things like doctor visits, dental cleanings, prescription eyeglasses, and any emergency or urgent care.
- Retirement savings plan: we’ve even heard that some pro teams and leagues offer retirement savings plans to their pro gamers. This is a huge perk for gamers who wish to start planning out their retirement and putting money away for later on in life after they retire.
- Food: in some cases, certain pro teams will pay for professional chefs to cook meals for their gamers. This is an excellent perk as it cuts out food costs, which can quickly and easily add up. On top of that, it also ensures pro gamers are eating healthy and nutritious meals to help keep their minds and physique in good shape.
- Physical training: it’s also not unusual for pro gamers to get free gym memberships and access to personal trainers to help keep them in good physical shape. Although some would argue that pro gamers don’t need to be physically fit, this is actually a myth. The best eSports gamers are in good physical shape and health as this keeps them energized, well rested, and mentally strong.
This gives you a good idea of all of the other benefits that pro gamers can receive in addition to their cash earning opportunities. These additional benefits very quickly add up and can save pro gamers some serious money over time. Think about how much money you would save if you didn’t have to pay for food or meals for just one week. That adds up right?! And if you combine these other benefits, it starts to add up. So while these benefits might not sound like they are worth that much, think again! Because when you add them together, you can see all the money pro gamers can save!
Pro gamers have incredibly high earning potential
If you still don’t think pro gaming is an actual career, think again! This article has walked you through all the various forms of income and savings that professional eSports gamers can make just by doing what they do best! Gaming is a business, and pro gamers are professional athletes who get compensated as such. On top of the standard ways of making money through salaries and prize winnings, pro gamers also have a world of opportunities in terms of other ways to make money. Twitch and YouTube are platforms that are literally paying top gamers for subscriptions and ad revenue.
On top of that, the loyal gaming fans are donating and tipping pro gamers at an all-time high amount. Plus, just like any other celebrity or pro athlete, pro gamers are scoring some sweet sponsorship deals with top brands and companies who want to influence the gaming audience. And to put the cherry on top of everything, some pro teams and leagues are giving their players some top-notch benefits, including free housing, premier office spaces, full health benefits, retirement savings plans, free food, physical training and gym memberships, and more.
You should hopefully see by now that eSports has turned a hobby into a legitimate career and has given pro gamers access to some serious income and benefits. And if by now you feeling like you need to be a part of the eSports industry, check out our articles on how to become a pro eSports gamer in 8 steps and our 10 best tips to get a job in eSports.