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It's in the (career) game

Since the first esports competition was held at Stanford University in 1972, competitive gaming has evolved beyond recognition. Esports is a rapidly growing, lucrative market with a worldwide audience size of around 495 million. In 2020, the global esports market was valued at over $950 million and is estimated to grow to almost $1.6 billion in 2023.

Here at Uswitch, we’ve analysed the top 200 highest-earning esports players to find out what makes this relatively new industry so popular.

Big stakes, big wages

One thing that all top earning esports players have in common is big tournament wins!

China is home to the highest-earning male esports players in the world (21%), followed by the US (15%) and the Republic of Korea (12%).

The current total prize money earned by the top 41 male Chinese players is £41,812,063 combined. On average each Chinese player has earned £1,019,806. In 2019 the national average annual salary in China was about 90,501 yuan, which is equivalent to £10,373. Therefore, the average Chinese person would have to work more than 98 years to earn the same amount as a top Chinese esports player.

The top 30 male American esports players share a combined total prize money, so far, of £26,198,268, working out on average £873,276 per player. Whilst this is a reflection of years of combined tournament income, it is double the yearly salary of the President of the USA. The top Korean players on average have individually earned £552,982 through esports competitions which is more than 7 times the annual salary of a surgeon based in Korea (110 million KWR/£74,879) and 12 times that of a Primary School Principal (67.64 million KWR/£46,057).

The most common age amongst the top 200 earning esports males is 25, with average tournament earnings of £13m. Based on the legal UK working age of 16, each player would have had to have earned £126,041 annually to match their average total individual winnings. In comparison, the UK gross median annual pay for a full-time male employee aged 25 is £25,920. The top UK players, Wolfiez, Mongraal and BenjyFishy, ages 16 have a combined wealth of £1.9m. Wolfiez has earned 1m, earning on average £33,722 for winning a tournament, 152% more than the £13,360 gross median annual pay of a full-time employed 18 year old UK male. Mongraal just has to win one tournament (average tournament winning of £8,327) to earn 62% of his 18-21 year old male UK peers’ salary. 

However, the career span of an esports player is especially short. TaZ is the oldest esports player to make it onto the highest earnings list at 34 years old. Only 14% of the top 200 males are in their 30s, whilst 72% are in their 20s.

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The gender gap in esports

36% of the top earning male and female esports players overall come from North America, with 52% of the top female players belonging to North America. 43% of the top 200 female esports players are from the United States. Sharing a combined total prize money of £1,207,711 amongst 85 female players means that the average individual prize money per player is only £14,208. The top 85 female American esports players are earning on average individually just 2% of the average individual total earnings of 30 male American esports players.

34% of all the top earning female and male players come from countries within Asia. Combining both the top men and women players, the total prize money earned is £84,871,880. On average the top Asian male players have earned £945,865 individually, compared to £15,330 for the top female Asian players. Currently, China and Korea make up 25% of the total share of worldwide esports market revenue in 2019 whilst North American accounts for 37%.

Europe comes in third place for top esports players, with 27% of all top male and female players identifying as European. Despite Europe having fewer top esports players overall, seven of the top ten male world ranking players are European and have a combined total prize money of £28,821,985 ($37,923,665). This is almost three times England Captain, Harry Kane’s annual Tottenham Hotspur F.C £10.4 million salary.

Overall, the top 200 earning male esports players have earned a combined £205,376,849 in tournament wins. In comparison, the top 200 earning female esports players have earned a combined £2,939,866. Women have earned roughly 1% of their male counterparts in tournament winnings.

The top earning male esports players have individually earned on average £1,026,884. Individually male players have earned almost one third of the combined earnings of the top 200 female esports players (£2,939,866). On average, the top 200 earning female esports players have individually earned £14,699, only 1% of the male average. The top male esports players have earned on average almost 70 times more than their female colleagues. 

The top earning male player, N0tail, has earned £5,277,685 over his career so far. This is almost more than double the total combined tournament wealth of all the top 200 female esports players (£2,939,866).

Horoscopes

Gemini-born gamers are the most successful esports players. 10% of the top 200 earning male esports players are Gemini, the most reported star sign.

Gemini players in the top 200 earning players have earned a combined wealth of £21,157,866 ($27,839,297). In comparison to famous Gemini, that’s almost double Spider-man star, Tom Holland’s, net worth ($15 million) and almost half of Lord of the Rings legend, Sir Ian McKellen’s, net worth ($60 million). 

Sagittarius players are the least successful, earning only 4.84% of the total earnings. However, sagittarius players have still earned an average £904,414 in tournament winnings. 

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Methodology

Uswitch analysed Esport Earnings' publicly listed league tables for the top 200 highest overall earning male and female esports players. Information is correct as of 5th November 2020. Additionally, Uswitch analysed the top 100 players under the age of 18. Information is correct as of 23rd November 2020. The figures account for tournament prize money only. Additional income, such as sponsorship, has not been included.

Statement from Esports Earnings site: "This list represents the top players in esports who won the most prize money based on information published on the internet. Sources include news articles, forum posts, live report threads, interviews, official statements, reliable databases, VODs and other publicly-accessable sources that preserve "historical" information."

Exchanges rates were calculated between the 16th to 19th November 2020 using the XE Currency Converter at a rate of 1 USD = 0.76 GBP and 1 USD = 0.84 EUR.

Sources:

Esports Earnings

Statista - eSports market revenue worldwide from 2018 to 2023 report; Median annual earnings in Canada; Average annual salary of an employee in China by region report; Estimate of global market revenue of esports by region report; Gross median annual pay for employees in the United Kingdom (UK) 2020, by age and gender

Creatrip citing Korea Employment Information Service (KEIS)

Celebrity Net Worth and Spotrac