2019 was an incredible year for esports as the ecosystem continued to expand, hosting over 4,000 tournaments while paying out over $211M USD in prize money. The $211M awarded thus far in 2019 is a 29% jump from the previous year’s $163M.
Records were set in 2019. The International 2019, Dota 2’s championship tournament, dolled out a touch more than $34M in prize money, which was the most ever in esports history. The crowd-funded prize pool of The International beat Epic Games’ Fortnite, who ran two tournaments in tandem that saw each over $30M awarded.
This year saw the “big four” keep a steady pace as breaking into the top 10 looked to be a chore. However, the list did see three game titles move into the top 10 and a new No. 1.
Here now are the top 10 games in the esports space as it relates to the amount of prize money paid out in 2019*–according to esportsearnings.com.
No. 10 – Rainbow Six Siege – $4.10M (2018: No. 14, $1.9M)
The first-person tactical shooter published by Ubisoft and based on the Tom Clancy novels of the same name sees itself in the top 10 for the first time as prize pools almost doubled in the pro league going from $162K to $292K in 2019. However, the tournament doing the heavy lifting was the Six Invitational that took place from February 11-17 in Montreal that had a prize pool of $2M.
Rainbow Six has made significant strides in esports popularity going from 24th on the list of prize pool money given out in 2016 to a respectable No. 9 as of this writing.
No. 9 – Arena of Valor – $5.80M (2018: No. 8, $5.1M)
Another year, another top 10 finish for Arena of Valor, the 5v5 multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) by Tencent.
The mobile game has seen real growth in terms of large prize pool tournaments. The King Pro League Spring Tournament sported a $1.3M prize pool and the Honor of Kings World Championship Cup dished out over $2M this past year.
Despite the mobile game being extremely popular in Southeast Asia, it does not do well with western gamers. Earlier this year, there were rumors that Tencent would pull its support for the game in North America and Europe due to having a lower player count than the other regions. Thus far, this isn’t the case, but it is something to keep an eye on in 2020.
No. 8 – Call of Duty – $6.51M* (2018: No. 25, $640K)
Credit: Activision BlizzardThe Call of Duty World League was a traveling tournament with leagues in the United States, Europe, and Asia that saw prize money distributed at each stop according to how a team finis
While this made sure that teams were getting paid, the big money came from the CWL Championship and its pool of $2M and the CWL Pro League Finals and its $1.2M in cash distribution.
However, with the new franchised Call of Duty League being launched by Activision Blizzard this year and its $6M prize pool, this title could rocket up the rankings in 2020.
* Total winnings were derived by combining Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.
No. 7 – Magic: The Gathering – $8.89M (2018: No. 42, $200K)
2019 saw the release of Magic: The Gathering Arena – a digital version of the 25-year-old card game with modern visual and free-to-play design, as well as a major overhaul of Magic’s competitive structure. For the first time ever, Wizards of the Coast and its parent Hasbro committed multiple millions of dollars to competitive Magic, incorporating the digital product into the same tournament structure as its flagship tabletop competitions, as well as launching an Arena-focused league.
Along with this new format and infusion of cash to the scene, Arena significantly boosted Magic’s esports viewership on Twitch. With the support of a major toy manufacturer and a more watchable digital product, the future of Magic esports looks brighter than ever.
*Note – Magic is unique among esports in that its competitive structure shares an ecosystem with an identical physical game, meaning that the same players compete across both digital and tabletop competitions, qualifying for one type of tournament off of the results of the other. As such, separating the prize money awarded by Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro for Arena from the physical card game would not provide an accurate picture of the companies’ esports strategy. Therefore, this ranking reflects the total prize money Wizards of the Coast awarded across all versions of Magic in 2019.
No. 6 – League of Legends – $9.02M (2018: No. 4, $14.5M)
The first of the “big four” to make the list, League of Legends continues to thrive. Even with a prize pool that ranked third lowest in Legends history–the most being $6.4M in 2018–the title only sees a slight drop in the rankings from last year’s No. 4 spot.
The League of Legends World Championship 2019 set a Twitch record for peak viewership at 1.7M viewers despite the finals being in Paris where North American audiences would have to wake up at 4 AM to watch.
In fact, after looking at the numbers, this game looks to be gaining players, not losing them as Riot continues to build out the League of Legends universe with concepts such as Riot Forge, Riot’s new division, that will work with third-party developers to design and create games that enhance and expand the League of Legends universe.
And just this last October, while celebrating League of Legends tenth anniversary, Riot made a slew of announcements including the fact they are working on an animated TV series and an action RPG set in the League of Legends universe.
The biggest announcement, however, is that Riot is creating a mobile version for both League of Legends and Teamfight Tactics, likely drawing more players into the Riot ecosystem. The developer has already confirmed esports support for Teamfight Tactics in 2020, so even if the League of Legends prize pool does not grow, Riot’s overall esports support is trending upward.
No. 5 – Overwatch – $9.11M (2018: No. 6, $6.6M)
The second of the “big four” entries into this year’s top 10 sees Blizzard’s Overwatch remain in the No. 6 for two straight years.
Blizzard added $200K per stage in 2019 and more than doubled the 2018 playoff money to $3.5M in 2019. But where the infusion occurred this year was in the Contenders League ecosystem, which is basically the minor-league system of the top-tier Overwatch League.
Millions of dollars were invested into the Contenders League in 2019. In China, Seasons One and Two saw $500K in payouts, while the North American League, South American League, and the European League saw a combined payout of $1.6M.
This is the last year you will see Overwatch on the list as the league has moved on to Overwatch 2, Blizzard’s next iteration of the title.
No. 4 – PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS – $12.71M (2018: No. 5, $7.7M)
The battle royale genre games did not disappoint in 2019 as they continue to engage the gaming and esports community. 2019 saw the PUBG Corporation, a subsidiary of South Korean video game company Krafton Game Union, put together the PUBG Global Championship with a prize pool of $5.9M.
The PUBG Global Championship was the final event of the 2019 World Championship, that witnessed 32 of the best teams in the world compete for the largest share of that $5.9M. The finals took place at the Oakland Arena in Oakland, California.
2020 looks to be even more interesting as the league just announced that it will include three major live events to go along with its Global Championship.
No. 3 – Counter-Strike: Global Offensive – $21.1M (2018: No. 2, $22.6M)
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive drops a single slot and about $3M in prize money as the third entry of our “big four” continues to be a stalwart in the esports tournament ecosystem.
One of the reasons for the one spot drop in the rankings has to do with the fact that there were 220 less tournaments offered up in 2019 than in 2018 at 612 and 832, respectively.
The premiere tournaments were all roughly around the same prize money distribution as last year, but having 220 less tournaments than the previous year will naturally remove some money from the ecosystem.
The CS:GO ecosystem appears to be in a good place, however, despite the building criticism of a game with somewhat graphic content (blood splatter) and where one of the two sides is trying to detonate a bomb.
Those things do not seem to be a deterrent to teams entering the scene as organizations such as GEN.G, OG, and others have joined the ranks of esports organizations with CS:GO squads.
No. 2 – Dota 2 – $46.7M (2018: No. 1, $41.4M)
The last of the “big four” holds the record for the largest prize pool for a single event in esports history at over $34M has been toppled from the top spot despite seeing a nearly 13% increase in total prize pool year-over-year. The last of the “big four” on the list, Dota 2 had its best year yet in terms of viewership with TI9 being the most watched event in Dota’s history. By merely winning TI9, all five members of OG, the team that won, catapulted to the top of the all-time earnings list of esports players, yet the title could not hang on to its crown.
Being the way that the esports ecosystem tends to work in these times, the Valve-published powerhouse was only usurped from the top spot in the rankings because of one upstart’s marketing campaign that included infusing its esports ecosystem with more money than any title has ever seen in a single year.
No. 1 – Fortnite – $64.42M (2018: No. 3, $20M)
2019 was no competition for Epic Games’ Fortnite. When the developer announced last May that it would be committing $100M in cash prizes, just about every esports organization around the world started a Fortnite team, and rightfully so.
Every team was looking to get a share of the $30M in prize money that Epic had promised to pay by holding four different tournaments over the course of four days at New York’s Arthur Ashe Stadium. The event, which went from July 26-28, saw 16-year-old Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf take home $3M by winning the solos event.
In addition to the World Cup, Epic dished out millions for a wide array of tournaments including the World Cup qualifiers, the Fortnite Champion Series, various Skirmish Series and Twitchcon events, and more.
As if being No. 1 by over $17M this year wasn’t already enough, Fortnite just completed its $15M Winter Royale Duos event that finished in late December, indicating that the large prize pools won’t be stopping any time soon.
*Note – While most figures were collected from Esports Earnings as of Dec. 19, the total for Magic: The Gathering was provided directly by Wizards of the Coast due to a lack of available data for the game on Esports Earnings.
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