Esports prize pools have grown significantly in the past few years. What’s interesting is that these prize pools are now rivaling some of the largest prize pools in traditional sports. Below we take a look into how esports prize pools compare to traditional sports, and how they’ve grown.
The compensation for esports athletes most closely mimics that of sports like golf & tennis (prize pools + sponsorships) vs basketball, hockey, football, soccer, and baseball (high annual salary contracts). The major individual sports like golf and tennis may not have large (or any) salaries, but they have significant endorsement deals and compete for large prize pools.
In the chart below, you will see the top 10 events, by prize pools, across all sports. Out of these ten, two of the top prize pools were in esports: The International 2018 (Dota 2) and League of Legends World Championship.
What I found most interesting is that in just 2010, the total esports prize pool across almost all events in every tracked title totaled about $3M. In 2018, the total for prize pools in esports was $155.9M. One of the biggest drivers is the large prize pool of The International (Dota 2 World Finals) which hit $25.5M in 2018.
In 2018, Dota 2 had combined prize pools of $41.26M — 1375% higher than the total amount of esports prize pools in 2010.
These prize pools for individual events in esports are impressive, especially when compared to much more established sports like golf and tennis. Here is a comparison for The Masters (golf), The US Open (tennis), and The International (Dota 2):
Credit: Esports Earnings, CBS Sports, USOpen.org
Just for context, the first Master’s event was in 1934, the first US Open (tennis) was in 1881, The International inaugural event was in 2011. The International (Dota2) has gone from 8% of the US Open prize pool to 48% of it in just 8 years.
The CAGR over the last eight years looks like this:
The International: 41.35%
US Open: 10.58%
The Masters: 4.06%
Dota 2 isn’t the only esports title with an exorbitant prize pool. In 2018 the top 10 titles, based on prize pools, eclipsed $130M. What actually makes Dota 2 even more interesting is that the majority of the The International prize pool is crowdfunded. In 2018, the base prize pool was $1.6M. On top of that, $23.9M was crowdfunded by the community (i.e. donated by enthusiasts and fans).
Esports prize pools continue to grow for the competitive scene of video games, currently mimicking the earnings of professional golfers and tennis players. This might not be the case in 10 years as high salary and multi-year contracts might become more common. However, today the professional esports athlete relies on tournament winnings, streaming, and sponsorship deals for their income. With this trajectory, esports prize pools and athlete compensation may quickly compete with the top traditional sports athletes in the not-so-distant future.