#10: World of Tanks
Number of recorded tournaments (since 2011): 43
Prize money awarded (since 2011): $2,690,496
Wargaming's juggernaut title World of Tanks continues to grow in popularity and shows no signs of slowing down. The game is played by millions of players worldwide, and currently holds the Guinness World Record for "Most players online simultaneously on one MOG (Multiplayer Online Game) server" with 190,541 concurrent players. This team based vehicular combat shooter currently supports up to 15 players per team, although at competitive level this is usually restricted to 7 or 8 players per team. As tanks tend to move and fire rather slowly (as they do in real life), careful tactics and teamwork need to be applied if a team is going to come out on top for the win. Each member of the team typically selects different tanks that each play a different role on the battlefield, from damage sponges to spotters to long range artillery to glass cannons. Victory is achieved either by capturing the enemy team's base, or destroying all of the enemy's tanks.
Most of the game's playerbase (and therefore most of the tournament winnings) is situated in eastern Europe in the countries of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, but the game is gradually becoming more and more popular in other areas of Europe, China, the Americas and South East Asia, especially as the game expands to consoles and mobile.
Wargaming sponsored tournaments have had prize pools of up to $300,000, and often exceed $100,000.
Being free to play, World of Tanks is really easy to get into, and is also very accessible for new players. It's a game that relies on careful strategy, skill and teamwork rather than fast reflexes and high APM. So if that appeals to you and you want to give it a crack yourself there's really nothing stopping you!
Number of recorded tournaments (since 2014): 309
Prize money awarded (since 2014): $3,611,665
Blizzard's entry into the MOBA genre Heroes of the Storm is a new kid on the block, and is the youngest game on this list. Initially beginning as a Starcraft II mod called Blizzard DOTA, it eventually started to be developed as a full game rather than a mod. A legal battle between Blizzard and Valve resulted in Valve retaining the rights to the "Dota" trademark (even though it originated as a mod for a Blizzard game) and Blizzard renamed the project to Blizzard All-Stars. It would eventually be renamed again to Heroes of the Storm before release.
Despite its young age, it's still managed an impressive number of tournaments with prize money to match that started even before the game had officially been fully released. This game brings together characters from almost all of Blizzard's popular IPs and offers a different take on MOBAs that its competitors do not. Blizzard however choose not to call it a "MOBA", instead calling it an "online hero brawler". One element that sets it apart from many other MOBAs is that experience points are distributed evenly throughout the whole team, putting a greater emphasis on teamwork. The game also is notable for featuring a mechanic that allows the heroes to ride various animals.
The game only continues to grow competitively, and Blizzard continues to listen to their playerbase when making changes and updates to the game. Competitively speaking, China has the biggest scene for the game and has taken the most tournament winnings, followed by South Korea, USA, Taiwan and Europe.
Blizzard sponsored tournaments have had prize pools of up to $500,000, with third party tournaments regularly reaching $100,000.
Like many games on this list, it's free to play, so if you're interested in playing it, then you might as well!
Number of recorded tournaments (since 2002): 775
Prize money awarded (since 2002): $4,060,260
Another Blizzard game makes this list with Warcraft III, an RTS game that believe it or not is still played competitively, albeit not anywhere near as often as it used to be with most players moving onto newer titles. Regardless, the game remained popular with many fans of the Warcraft universe even once World of Warcraft was released, particularly those that didn't like the MMO direction. It differed from its predecessors and other Blizzard titles by focusing on hero units with an RPG-like leveling system. The original Defense of the Ancients: All Stars was a mod created using the game's map editor, that then went on to spawn the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) genre.
It should be no surprise that South Korea lead the way with the most prize money won, although are very closely followed by China, with then a fair amount of daylight between them and European countries like Germany and Netherlands.
At its peak, Blizzard sponsored tournaments hit prize pools of up to $40,000, although some third party tournaments even as recently as a couple of years ago were around $100,000.
The game is very much past its prime now, which means you should be able to find it along with its expansion pretty cheap these days if you've never played it and wanted to check it out.
Number of recorded tournaments (since 2013): 449
Prize money awarded (since 2013): $4,228,215
Blizzard makes this list yet again with another relatively new IP for them, and that's the card battle game Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. In simplest terms, players take turns to deal down cards to try to beat the other player's deck, very similar to the general idea behind real life card battle games such as Magic: The Gathering (although the rules of Hearthstone are obviously very different). A main difference between Hearthstone and other card games however is that there is no trading going on - instead the player can choose to effectively destroy a card or cards that then provides a resource to craft new cards.
Competitive players latched onto the game, perhaps due to its easy to learn, hard to master gameplay, and it is now played in many tournaments worldwide. China however leads the way in total prize money earned by a country mile, followed by the USA, South Korea and Germany.
Prize pools at Blizzard sponsored tournaments have been as high as $250,000.
This is another free to play game, and given that the game is still fairly young and has a strong focus on accessibility, it should be the perfect game to try your hand at (pun intended).
Number of recorded tournaments (since 2013): 57
Prize money awarded (since 2013): $5,398,267
SMITE, like other titles in this list is a MOBA, the genre that just seems to continue to increase in popularity year after year. However, SMITE differs from most games in the genre by playing not in a top down view but rather a third person view. This gives the player a unique perspective of the action that's going on in the game, and it seems this struck a chord with gamers too as they have flocked to the game, and competitively speaking it's growing from strength to strength.
The USA leads the way in tournament winnings by an extremely large margin, in fact they make up almost half of the total prize money won. The next most prolific countries are Sweden, the UK and Canada.
One tournament prize pool for SMITE incredibly eclipsed $2.5 million, and another reached $1 million, which is pretty insane when you think about it, considering it comes from High-Rez Studios who were previously not a developer known for creating competitive games (though they certainly are now).
Yet again, this is a free to play title, so if the usual style of MOBAs isn't to your taste, you should definitely give it a go. You might like what you see.
Number of recorded tournaments (since 1998): 350
Prize money awarded (since 1998): $6,726,061
Starcraft: Brood War is still considered the pinnacle of RTS (Real Time Strategy) games by many gamers. The game was never really intended by Blizzard to become an eSports phenomenon but South Korea in particular grabbed onto it and never let go, making it arguably the world's first professional eSport. Despite the game's age (it's the oldest game on this list by a long shot) and despite the release of games like Warcraft III and Starcraft II during its tenure, it's still played competitively and if anything has seen a bit of a resurgence in the last year or two. Starcraft and its Brood War expansion feature three unique races and incredibly balanced gameplay that rewards players both mechanically and strategically.
South Korea unsurprisingly dominates the competitive scene, taking home almost all of the tournament winnings ever handed out for the game. In this country there are three TV channels dedicated to the game and players are treated as celebrities in the same way as professional athletes are treated in western countries. Spectators were regularly filling large arenas to watch matches before it was ever a thing overseas.
Tournament prize pots regularly exceeded $120,000, and when you consider that this was during the first decade of the century when eSports itself was in its infancy, that's a large amount of money on the line.
Although the game has well and truly had its heyday, there is still a dedicated community for it, so it's never too late to try it out, and you should be able to pick up a copy with spare change. Just be aware that it has a fairly high learning curve and will take a lot of getting used to if you are more tuned to how modern games are played.
Number of recorded tournaments (since 2010): 3587
Prize money awarded (since 2010): $18,820,588
Blizzard makes a 5th entry in this list with Starcraft II, the game that is hands down the biggest non-team based eSport in the world. Building off the success of the original game, Starcraft II again features 3 races but with a heavy focus on competitive multiplayer. The balance team are continually making updates and changes to the game based on community feedback and it has garnered critical acclaim over the years. While there is still a hardcore community around the original game, most players made the transition over to Starcraft II when it was released.
Surprising nobody, South Korea is the dominant country yet again, claiming more than double the amount of prize money than all other countries combined. South Korea is so synonymous with Starcraft II that anyone from anywhere else in the world is known as a "foreigner" in the scene. Up until recently, the South Koreans have been attending and winning many overseas tournaments in addition to their own high profile tournaments such as GSL and Pro League, but in 2016 Blizzard has made efforts to put a stop to that, putting strict residency rules in place for their WCS seasons. Despite the dominance of the South Koreans, many European countries such as France, Sweden and Germany are growing ever stronger and have produced players that have been able to take the South Koreans head on. The game has a good foothold in China too.
Blizzard sponsored tournaments have had prize pools up to and including $250,000. South Korean tournaments have up to $185,000 on the line. The sheer amount of competitive matches going on in Starcraft II is crazy...there has been almost 2 tournaments PER DAY on average since the game launched.
Unlike the majority of games on this list, Starcraft II is not free to play, instead being a traditional "pay once, get the game" deal. There is however a free starter edition you can try out if you're interested in getting into the scene. Mechanically speaking, it's perhaps not quite as challenging to get your head around as the original game, but it still has a steep learning curve and requires a lot of dedication to get good at.
Number of recorded tournaments (since 2000): 571 (CS), 196 (CS: S), 1471 (CS: GO)
Prize money awarded (since 2000): $10,764,492 (CS), $2,395,963 (CS: S), $13,142,892 (CS: GO)
For the purposes of this list, I've grouped the original Counter-Strike, its remaster Counter-Strike: Source and its main follow up Counter-Strike: Global Offensive as one entry (Counter-Strike: Condition Zero was not popular as an eSport so is not included here). Originally starting as a mod for Half-Life, Counter-Strike turned into a full-blown game and has been a staple in eSports for a very long time, enjoying a remaster in Valve's Source engine following the release of Half-Life 2. For a long time it was the most popular first person shooter in eSports (eclipsed eventually by CS: GO) and pits a team of terrorists against a team of counter-terrorists to see who is able to complete the mission objective or eliminate the other team first.
Sweden has been the dominant force in Counter-Strike for quite a while now and has won more than double the prize money of their next nearest rivals Germany, USA and Denmark. Prize pots for CS tournaments regularly exceeded $120,000.
Most players of the original game have since moved onto Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, but it wasn't an immediate transition. In fact many players were dissatisfied with the game initially and returned to the original. Valve however stepped up to the plate and made numerous updates to the game that introduced new gameplay mechanics, new maps and host of other features, which eventually enticed the CS community to make the perpetual move over to CS: GO.
As with the original, Sweden is again the country that has the most tournament winnings for CS: GO by a significant margin, followed by France, Denmark, USA and Poland.
Valve sponsored tournaments of CS: GO have capped prize pots of $250,000, which has attracted criticism from players and fans alike, claiming Valve are showing favouritism towards their other competitive games. There was however a MLG tournament in early 2016 with a $1 million prize pool attached to it.
FPS (First Person Shooter) games are typically a little easier to get into and start playing than something like a RTS or MOBA, so if you'd rather do some running and gunning then CS or CS: GO may be for you. Despite constant rumours, CS: GO has not gone free to play (and likely never will) but it is pretty cheap on Steam if for some reason you've never played it.
Number of recorded tournaments (since 2010): 1706
Prize money awarded (since 2010): $28,691,533
Riot's foray into competitive games (and their only major title to date) is League of Legends. If the original Defense of the Ancients mod in Warcraft III was what started the whole MOBA thing, then it was League of Legends that cemented the genre as something that was not only here to stay but something to be taken very seriously especially when it comes to eSports. It was the first MOBA that was actually built as a full, complete game. At its peak, this was the most played PC game in North America and Europe by number of hours played, and had over 67 million people playing the game every month. In this MOBA, you play the role of a summoner who selects a champion to control, that gradually levels up and becomes more powerful as the game progresses. It's a team based game however, so you join forces with a bunch of other players with the ultimate goal being to destroy the opposing team's base.
South Korea leads the total tournament winnings by almost double what China has achieved who currently sit in 2nd place. Interestingly, China are almost double the winnings of 3rd placed Taiwan, who are themselves almost double the winnings of USA who sit in 4th. Like Starcraft, the game has become somewhat of an institution in South Korea and matches are broadcast on TV during prime time.
Riot sponsored tournaments have exceeded $2 million in prize pools and even 3rd party tournaments regularly have more than $250,000 on offer.
While League of Legends occupies the number #2 spot on this list, at the rate it is going it is set to take the number #1 position eventually, especially if it continues to grow its active playerbase. LoL is currently 2nd only to CS: GO in number of active professional players. Riot also continues to push eSports forward by effectively paying the top professional players salaries, and by regularly running sponsored tournaments throughout the year. LoL also boasts the largest viewership worldwide of any eSport. It doesn't quite have the money to match the game in the number #1 spot though just yet.
Once again this game is free to play, and with a community so large you shouldn't have any problems finding assistance if you really want to learn the intricacies of it. So what are you waiting for?
#1: Dota 2
Number of recorded tournaments (since 2011): 606
Prize money awarded (since 2011): $60,421,437
Seeing how popular Defense of the Ancients: All Stars was as a Warcraft III mod, Valve quickly hired the creator of the mod along with acquiring the IP (much like how they did with Counter-Strike) who then got to work on a fully-fledged sequel. The game was an instant hit on release that has been competing neck and neck with League of Legends ever since. The basic gameplay is very similar between the two games; the player who is working as part of a 5-man team controls a hero with special powers, that levels up and becomes stronger as the game progresses, with the objective being to destroy the other team's base. Dota 2 is noted as having a somewhat steeper learning curve than its competitors, however. The game wasn't fully released until 2013, but tournaments based on the beta had already been happening for some time by then. In 2015, the game received a facelift and became the first game to utilise Valve's new Source 2 engine.
China is the country that leads the way with tournament winnings by a massive margin, accounting for more than a third of the total prize money handed out for the game in its brief history. They are followed by USA, Sweden, Canada and Ukraine.
The prize pools on offer at Dota 2 tournaments are staggering. In 2015 they set the record for the largest prize pool ever in the history of eSports at Valve's annual world championship tournament called "The International" with a jaw dropping $18.5 million on the line, and even the previous year's tournament was no slouch with a prize pool of almost $11 million. In fact, every year this tournament has been run (going back to 2011) the total prize money has been more than $1.5 million. In addition to this, smaller 3rd party tournaments regularly exceed $300,000. These numbers are just completely mind boggling.
Despite the kind of money that's up for grabs though, many of the game's players aren't happy with the current state of the scene, as Valve has taken a "hands off" approach and let the smaller tournaments take care of themselves, vowing not to take the path that Riot have opted to go down. This has created a lottery for the players as to whether the tournament will actually be well organised, and uncertainty in what tournaments are available to compete in between the major Valve sponsored ones. This no doubt contributes to Dota 2 having significantly less active professional players and less viewers overall than LoL. If LoL ever overtakes Dota 2 as the number #1 eSport, this will be the reason why.
Like its competitors, the game is free to play, so if you've ever wanted to jump into it and see what all of the fuss is about, now is as good a time as any!
So there is is, The Top 10 Most Lucrative eSports Games (for 2016). As I mentioned, this list is accurate at the time of writing in May 2016 - so if you're reading this some time in the future, please keep that in mind :) Once again I've put a lot of research and work into this list (all of my sources are credited in the introduction) and if you have any constructive feedback please feel free to send it through or discuss it on the forums.
I did promise in the introduction that I would provide a list of honourable mentions that didn't quite make the cut into the top 10, so here they are in no particular order:
Super Smash Bros. Melee
Halo 5: Guardians
Heroes of Newerth
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Street Fighter IV (vanilla + Super + Super Arcade Edition + Ultra)
I hope you found this list informative, and even if you didn't learn anything, you were at least entertained.
Thanks for reading!
List by White_Pointer (05/06/2016)
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