How much do esports players earn: Prize money up to $3 million, salaries up to $35,000 per month

How much do esports players earn: Prize money up to $3 million, salaries up to $35,000 per month

The global esports industry continues to thrive even during quarantine, but it heavily relies on investments. Approximately 90% of tournament prize pools go to players, while teams earn revenue through sponsors and media rights. However, their expenses often exceed their income.

According to Deloitte’s calculations, the global esports industry attracted $4.5 billion in investments in 2018, with 56% of them coming from venture capital funds. The motivation behind these investments is clear: the video game industry consistently experiences growth in all directions. According to the Global Esports Market Report 2020 by Newzoo, in 2019, the global esports audience reached 454 million people (a 22% increase from the previous year), and the industry generated $950.6 million in revenue (a 10% increase). Two-thirds of the industry’s revenue comes from media rights and sponsorships. More and more brands are becoming interested in esports.

For example, in 2019, Nike became the exclusive apparel provider for the Chinese League of Legends: a multi-year contract valued in the tens of millions of dollars. The brewing company Anheuser-Busch InBev announced a partnership with the Overwatch League, and Louis Vuitton, in collaboration with game publisher Riot Games, created a trophy case for the League of Legends World Championship. In 2020, according to Newzoo analysts’ forecasts, global esports revenue was expected to exceed $1 billion, and the audience was projected to approach the half-billion mark. Forbes delves into the workings of the esports economy.


In esports, unlike football and other team disciplines, 80-90% of tournament prize money goes to the players rather than the clubs. Typically, the winnings are divided proportionally among team members, with the captain sometimes receiving a slightly larger share. In addition, a small percentage of the prize money is paid to the coach and analyst (up to 5% each). “Each game has its own business model to motivate players,” says Sergey Glamazda, the general manager of esports club.

In Dota 2, the entire tournament structure is focused on one big event: teams play and earn points throughout the season to qualify for The International with a prize pool exceeding $34 million. The champion receives 45.5% of this amount, which means that each of the five players on the winning team can earn around $3 million. In CS:GO, the emphasis is on regular tournaments of approximately the same level, with prize pools up to $1 million and occasionally up to $2 million. However, in this discipline, the players’ base salaries are higher.” For example, in 2019, the Finnish Dota 2 player Jesse “JerAx” Vainikka became the highest-earning player with prize money of $3,163,536. His teammate from OG, French player Sébastien “Ceb” Debs, earned the same amount.

This was the best result of the 2019 season worldwide. Among Russians, the highest prize earnings in 2019 ($305,465) were collected by Ivan “ubah” Kapustin, who represents the American club FaZe Clan in the game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. The historical leader in total prize money across different disciplines is the American esports club Team Liquid. Since its founding in 2000, its players have earned $35.1 million. In 2019, Forbes estimated the club’s revenue at $24 million and ranked it third in the list of the most valuable esports franchises, with an estimated value of $320 million.

Prize money

The main income for esports athletes comes from prize money. The largest sums are awarded at major championships where the best teams in the world compete. If we consider Dota 2, without a doubt, the most coveted tournament is The International. It holds the record for the largest prize pool.

In 2023, the winners of The International received $1.4 million or 130 million rubles for first place, as reported by “Sport-Express.” Here is the list of winners for that year:

  1. Team Spirit (Russia) – $1.4 million
  2. Gaimin Gladiators (Europe) – $377,000
  3. LGD Gaming (China) – $251,000

Other Russian teams – BetBoom Team,, and 9Pandas – earned $102,000, $78,000, and $62,000 respectively.

It is important to note that in esports, unlike football and other team disciplines, 80-90% of the prize money goes to the players rather than the organizations.

How to gain a foothold in eSports

According to Wikipedia, starting from 2018, the Russian National Research University ITMO introduced a scholarship for talented esports players amounting to 10,000 rubles per month. To be eligible for the scholarship, applicants needed to score more than 250 points in the Unified State Exam (Russian national exam), enroll in a state-funded program at ITMO, and submit an esports portfolio for a competition organized by the student sports club “Kronverkskie Barsy.”

The scholarship of 10,000 rubles is awarded to five students who excel in the following disciplines:

  • CS:GO
  • Dota 2
  • Hearthstone
  • FIFA
  • Overwatch
  • League of Legends
  • Tekken 7
  • Eternal
  • World of Tanks
  • World of Warships
  • World of Warplanes

However, this is just the beginning. According to the Russian portal Forbes, real esports superstars earn no less than $35,000 per month, although they are relatively few in number. Top-level players can expect to earn $10,000 to $15,000, while newcomers may earn $2,000 to $5,000 per month. In younger organizations, the pay is lower, around $500 to $1,000. This is how young players in their twenties become millionaires.

Top 5 Most Influential People in Esports Forbes Ranking

  1. Roman Ramzes Kushnarev
    20 years
    Player, Dota 2
    Company/organization: Evil Geniuses
    Money: 20 points / Influence (according to Forbes): 37.3 points / Experts: 27.9 points
    Final score: 85.2
  2. Alexander S1mple Kostylev
    22 years
    Player, CS:GO
    Company/organization: Na’Vi
    Money: 6.2 points / Influence (according to Forbes): 40 points / Experts: 37.8 points
    Final score: 84.0
  3. Vitaly V1lat Volochai
    33 years
    Esports commentator
    Company/Organization: Maincast
    Money: 8.6 points / Influence (according to Forbes): 32 points / Experts: 40 points
    Final score: 80.6
  4. Alexander Kokhanovsky
    36 years
    Founder of Na’Vi, DreamTeam, co-founder of ESforce Holding
    Company/organization: Na’Vi, DreamTeam
    Money: 7.7 points / Influence (according to Forbes): 34.7 points / Experts: 37.6 points
    Final score: 80.0
  5. Alisher Usmanov
    66 years old
    Investor, ESforce Holding
    Company/organization: ESforce Holding
    Money: 20 points / Influence (according to Forbes): 26.7 points / Experts: 32.7 points
    Final score: 79.3

10 largest tournaments by prize money

It’s surprising, but this list doesn’t only consist of The International tournaments in Dota 2. The prize pools of championships in other disciplines are also quite substantial:

TournamentPrize Pool
1. Dota 2: The International 10$40 million
2. Dota 2: The International 9$34.3 million
3. Fortnite: World Cup Finals 2019$30.4 million
4. Dota 2: The International 8$25.5 million
5. Dota 2: The International 7$24.7 million
6. Dota 2: The International 6$20.7 million
7. Dota 2: The International 5$18.4 million
8. Dota 2: The International 4$10.9 million
9. Honor of Kings: World Champion Cup 2021$7.7 million
10. PUBG: Global Invitational.S 2021$7.1 million

Salaries and transfers

The maximum salary for a player in esports is $35,000 per month. Such earnings are only received by superstars, and there are few of them in the world. Top-level players can expect $10,000 to $15,000, while beginners earn around $2,000 to $5,000 per month. In young organizations, salaries are lower, ranging from $500 to $1,000. However, there are currently no salary or transfer restrictions in the main esports disciplines.

Each game has its publisher, says Evgeny Zolotarev, the general manager of Natus Vincere esports club. And in terms of status, this organization is like FIFA in football. But each publisher has its own business approach. For example, Valve (Dota 2 and CS:GO) does not regulate the system at all: tournament organizers directly negotiate with teams and players. The ecosystems of Rainbow Six (publisher – Ubisoft) and League of Legends (Riot Games) are structured differently: everything is strictly regulated, all negotiations go through the publisher, including notifications of interest in a player, contract expiration, and so on.

In September 2019, the American club Evil Geniuses paid $75,000 to the Russian organization for the transfer of Roman “RAMZEs” Kushnarev, the most successful Russian esports player in history. For the global Dota 2 transfer market, $75,000 is a reasonable price for a good player, while payments of up to $150,000 are very rare and only for superstars. In CS:GO, prices are higher. A player in the top 30 can cost between $250,000 to $500,000 or more.

Player prices in CS:GO are unreasonably high,” says Zolotarev. “Especially when compared to the clubs’ income. But at the same time, this discipline monetizes better than others, hence the demand. Plus, CS:GO has grown significantly during the quarantine period. The game is understandable even to unprepared users. This increases both the player base and the audience of viewers.

In the spring of 2019, the Ukrainian club NaVi paid just under $300,000 for the CS:GO player Kirill “Boombl4″ Mikhailov from Winstrike. This is a record transfer fee for the CIS region. However, there have been a few deals worldwide that reached $1 million.

In esports, there is no common regulator for all disciplines,” explains Sergey Glamazda. “Only game developers, who own the intellectual property, decide whether transfer rules are needed or not. Currently, Valve does not see the need for strict restrictions. If the finances allow it, a club can acquire any player at any point in the season. Publishers support competition and interest by regularly changing some game mechanics every 2-3 weeks. It’s like constantly changing the weight of the ball in football – even a superstar doesn’t adapt immediately. Therefore, a transfer in esports is not always a guarantee of future victories. Each player adapts to game changes at a different pace and with varying productivity.

Club income

The economic efficiency of esports still has room for improvement: 95% of esports teams spend more money than they earn. Many organizations have investors, often venture funds, backing them. These clubs operate based on valuation, focusing not so much on immediate profitability or self-sustainability, but rather on increasing their turnover and investing in infrastructure. Their goal is to increase the value of their assets. The revenue structure of an esports club differs from that of a football club, explains Zolotarev. For example, sponsors contribute about 60% of NaVi’s revenue, while media rights account for only 10-15%.

The rest comes from merchandise, league payments, and prize money. Implementing financial Fair Play in esports is impossible because there are many publishers. Even if one of them decides on restrictions, it would be challenging to create a specific discipline report for a club. This is because sponsors usually come to an organization represented by teams in multiple games. The minimum partnership contract with a top esports club costs $100,000 to $200,000, while title sponsorship can cost over $1 million.

Computer and related equipment manufacturers have always been typical sponsors of esports, says Glamazda. Nowadays, brands of everyday consumer goods are becoming more frequent partners, and the number of deals is increasing. Modern esports is a very understandable asset for advertisers who are targeting a young audience in the digital space. Plus, brands value emotions, and esports guarantees that. Tournament broadcasts also solve the problem of ad-blocking on the internet.

Club expenses

Around half of the expenses of an esports club consist of player salaries. 20-25% goes towards office maintenance and marketing, while an additional 10-20% is allocated to travel expenses, equipment, rent, and other related costs. Player transfer expenses can vary depending on the club’s situation, the market, and other circumstances but typically don’t exceed 15%. For example, in 2019, the revenue of the esports club NaVi, one of the most popular in the world, amounted to $6 million. Major American teams that heavily invest in infrastructure, such as building 3000 square meter training facilities, can generate gross income of $20 million or more.

In 2020, we planned to reach a turnover of $8 million, says Zolotarev. However, due to the pandemic, it is difficult to predict the financial outcome. Yes, esports viewership is increasing, and clubs are partly reducing expenses. But many tournaments have been canceled or postponed. Teams cannot play online across continents, so organizers are forced to split competitions into regional ones, which in turn affects prize distribution.

Furthermore, sponsors are unsure about what to do: whether to wait for the return of traditional sports or explore other options. And there’s no guarantee that they will turn to esports. After all, we currently can’t offer any offline activations.

The income of an eSports player depends greatly on the discipline, region and club

Yes, it’s not that simple. Let’s delve into it using a few popular games as examples: Dota 2, CS:GO, and League of Legends:

Dota 2

Valve’s MOBA is highly popular in the CIS region. Due to various factors, there are significantly more players in Dota 2 than in League of Legends in our countries, and this also affects the overall revenue of the region and the amount of money in esports players’ paychecks. It all depends on which team a player ends up in and what conditions they have.

For example, the players of’s golden roster earned around $8,000-10,000 per month just from their contracts with the club. However, this is not their only source of income, excluding prize money. Esports players can enter into partnership agreements with various brands and even represent them as ambassadors. Roman “RAMZES666” Kushnarev, a former player, actively promotes Head & Shoulders, while Alexey “Solo” Berezin represents Gillette. And imagine this, both esports players even appeared in the same brand advertisement, emphasizing the importance of self-confidence, clean hair, and a shaved chin for winning tournaments!

But not all clubs can afford to pay each player $7,000-8,000. It all depends on the budget, the number of sponsorship contracts, or the amount of investment. itself became very wealthy after significant investments from USM Holding by Alisher Usmanov, estimated at $100 million. However, becoming a wealthy Dota player is possible even without all of that. It is enough to win The International and secure oneself for the rest of their days. Yesterday in Bucharest, the members of Team Spirit from Russia raised the Aegis over their heads, and soon they will receive around $18.2 million in their accounts.

However, it’s important to consider that the final amount will be different. The largest portion will be taken by taxes, approximately 30%. A certain percentage will go to the organization (the volume depends on the agreements in the paperwork), and a small portion (but well-deserved) will go to the team’s supporting staff: coach, analyst, manager, content creators. In total, each player will receive around 150-160 million rubles, but these are very rough estimates.

To summarize, the income of Dota 2 players consists of winnings from major championships, salaries from the club, and various sponsorship contracts.


The situation with the popular Valve shooter is roughly the same, but here a esports player’s income depends entirely on their position in the HLTV rankings. What is it?

HLTV has been around for 19 years. It provides news about CS:GO esports and collects statistics from tournaments, then generates average player and team rankings. Due to the authority of the resource, a player’s potential earnings are determined by their position in the HLTV rankings.

Of course, not all clubs fully adhere to the conditions set by the HLTV rankings, but many do. If a player or team shows good results and approaches the top, they may attract the interest of wealthy organizations looking to enter the discipline. Scouts from major teams often spend a significant amount of time on HLTV.

What about the numbers? For example, in 2017, players in CS:GO earned around $5,000. Currently, the rates are presumably slightly higher, but that’s for the CIS region. In the USA and Europe, sponsorship revenues are significantly higher, resulting in much higher salaries for local esports players. In that same 2017, European organizations could pay players $15,000 or even $20,000. In 2020, the fairly wealthy American club Cloud9 allocated $25,000 to $30,000 to its CS:GO players.

And the benefits from sponsorships and various advertising integrations haven’t gone away either. Popular players can earn a lot of money from contracts with major brands. Many of them don’t just squander their money on luxury items and skins, but actively invest or build businesses.

For example, legendary CS:GO player Daniil “Zeus” Teslenko founded his own pizzeria in Ukraine, specializing in Chicago-style pizza. And every fan of the discipline knows the legendary story of Mikhail “Dosia” Stolyarov and his car wash, where he lost a million rubles. Yes, success in esports doesn’t guarantee success in entrepreneurship.

To sum it up, the earnings of CS:GO players are made up of the same components as in Dota 2, but it all depends entirely on the HLTV rankings. Try to imagine how much Natus Vincere players earn, considering the overall state of the club and their position on the list (hint: they’re in first place).

League of Legends

The situation with Riot Games’ MOBA is a bit more complicated. Here, a esports player’s salary and overall income depend entirely on the region’s success on the international stage. And when it comes to the CIS region, it’s safe to say things aren’t going well. Our teams haven’t shown worthy results at MSI and Worlds since 2016 when Albus Nox Luna shined with the legendary Kirill “Likkrit” Malofeyev.

Currently, the region is in decline. There are few esports players, and the rosters consist of only a handful of clubs, and even they don’t invest much money into them. Even Gambit Esports, for whom “League of Legends” has always been a key discipline, has left it and disbanded its roster. But that’s only about the CIS! In Europe, the USA, and Asia, League of Legends is a super popular discipline, so the local players are very wealthy. There are many clubs that love League of Legends, love the viewership it brings, and all of this contributes positively to the esports players’ earnings.

As of 2017, in the USA, the numbers started at $10,000 per month, and in Europe, it was around $5,000. Considering the growth of the discipline, the overall viewership, and the influx of new sponsors, the figures are significantly higher now.

The wealthiest “LoLers” are the Chinese and Koreans. Popular players there are on par with k-pop stars or movie actors, and their incomes reflect that. The sums of some contracts amount to millions of dollars. For example, three-time world champion Faker has become the face of a local ice cream brand.

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