Breaking Down eSports Tournament Earnings in 5 Charts

With the North America LCS Summer Finals this past weekend in Madison Square Garden, I thought it'd be interesting to get a more complete sense of where the money within global eSports tournaments is flowing. 

To that end, I put together some charts using, a 'community-driven competitive gaming resource based on freely available public information'. From the data, it's clear that Riot and Valve see much differently when it comes to business strategy around eSports tournaments - a point echoed by Will Judd of Acer eSport, who explained:

Riot intends to make a whole sports franchise out of LoL, where it owns everything — all the tournaments, all the teams, all the players, all the managers and coaches — whereas Valve is more open, offering one marquee tournament and otherwise concentrating its efforts on the game itself.

Here's what I found.

There is a power law-like distribution in eSports earnings by country

eSports is widely hailed in the media as a global phenomenon. As one recent article put it, "in recent years...several countries in the Baltics and surrounding region have started to contest the Asia hegemony" in eSports. Yet visualizing the numbers on total earnings per country over time illuminates the wide disparity between China, Korea and the US - which each claim over $27M in total prize money earned by players - and everyone else.

Dividing total prize money per country by number of players represented, we see Pakistan emerge with the highest ratio ($410k/player) - though largely due to a single player - Sumail 'Suma1L' Hassan - who was the subject of a big Bloomberg Businessweek feature in July. Macau, which counts the second-highest ratio ($240k/player), is a similar story, with one player (Liang 'DDC' Faming) representing nearly all of the earnings.

Dota 2 takes 60% of total dollars from top 100 tournament prize pools

Of the top 100 tournaments by prize pool to date, Dota 2 made up 24 of them including all of the top 4 - not surprising given its status as the most lucrative eSports title for professionals with a myriad of sponsored tournaments throughout the year. League of Legends (LoL), which is by far the most popular eSports game with at least 67M monthly players, made up 21 of the top 100 tournaments, with StarCraft II rounding out the top three.

Together, those 24 Dota 2 tournaments represent over $43M in total prize money. But the numbers hide the fact that $18.4M of the total came at The International 2015, $10.9M at TI 2014, $2.9M at TI 2013 and $1.6M each at TI 2011 and 2012. The chart below speaks to the overshadowing of TI within Dota 2, which raked in at least $50M in 2015 for Valve off sales of Compendiums alone. How much of that Valve actually made in profit remains unclear though lack of direct profitability is a point I've heard echoed by people at large corporates interested in making a bigger splash in eSports.

57 of top 100 eSports players by earnings play Dota 2

The chart below highlights the top 100 eSports players as ranked by total earnings and sorted by highest paying game. The highest paying game for the first 29 players by total earnings was Dota 2, representing nearly $30M in total player earnings. The top 100 eSports players based on the data ranges from nearly $2M to under $250k (Purple = Dota 2 players).

In total, 57 of the top 100 eSports players count Dota 2 as their highest paying game, with StarCraft II taking second with just 12 of the players representing just over $4M in total player earnings. 

It's been a year since Amazon spent $970M to acquire Twitch, but the world of eSports has already evolved drastically since - and continues to at a rapid pace. As that happens, these numbers are sure to change incredibly over time as tournaments get bigger, more players around the world turn into formidable stars, and those today add to their winnings. Perhaps more interesting to watch will be whether Valve and/or Riot change business philosophies around eSports events over time - and how other huge looming players proceed.

Additional Note: I've compiled a list of 30+ eSports startups on Twitter that I am actively tracking. If you have any suggestions or additions, please be sure to ping me @mlcwong.