Prize pools at esports tournaments have risen to record-break heights this year thanks to larger sponsorship deals and soaring viewership figures. Yet a small handful of teams has dominated the scene and hoarded most of the cash. These are the big earners of 2019 in terms of prize money:
Prize money at The International reached a cool $34.3 million this year and that made it the most lucrative tournament in esports history. The world’s leading teams headed to Shanghai to battle for glory as the world watched on. Team OG were the defending champions after a stunning victory in 2018 and they were among the favourites to triumph in the esports betting markets at Unikrn.
They lived up to that status by cruising through the group stage with a 6-2-0 record. OG took 14 points, which was the most of any team at the tournament, and that teed up a showdown with Newbee in the upper bracket. They swatted their rivals aside in convincing fashion and then beat Evil Geniuses and PSG.LGD to surge into the Grand Final.
It pitted them against 2017 champions Team Liquid and the winner would become the first team to ever clinch The International twice. Liquid edged the first game, but then OG won three in a row to seize the title. It saw them claim a record first prize pool of $15.6 million, which was shared evenly between the five members of the team. It means that N0tail, JerAx, ana, Ceb and Topson are now the five highest-earning esports stars of all time, and OG is easily the top earning team of 2019.
TL actually struggled in the group stage at The International 2019 and they could only finish seventh. That saw them drop into the lower bracket, but they beat Fnatic, Team Predator, and Royal Never Give Up to surge into Round 4. Evil Geniuses dropped down and TL beat them 2-0 to set up a Round 5 clash with Team Secret. Once against they won 2-0 and they went into the lower bracket final, where they locked horns with PSG.LGD. KuroKy and co were underdogs, but they picked up a stunning 2-1 triumph to set up that final showdown with OG.
TL were ultimately disappointed to take the silver medal, but that earned them a pretty hefty consolation prize of $4.6 million. TL’s Dota 2 team has excelled for years, but its CS:GO team has really shot to prominence in 2019. Since signing Stewie2K they have been sensational and they knocked Danish powerhouse Astralis off the top of the world rankings earlier this year. They then scooped a $1 million bonus for winning the Intel Grand Slam and they have secured a number of high-profile victories throughout the year.
Liquid’s League of Legends team also went all the way to the final of the Mid-Season Invitational after dominating their domestic league. They have won the LCS Spring and Summer Playoffs this year and they are among the favourites to win the LoL World Championship in November. TL is also getting into every esport imaginable, from Apex Legends to Auto Chess. It remains the highest-earning esports franchise of all time, narrowly ahead of OG, but it could pull further away by the end of the year.
It has been a sensational year for G2 Esports. The G2 Rainbow Six Siege team has long been the dominant force within that esport and they cemented their legendary status by romping to victory at the $2 million Six Invitation 2019 in February. Fabian, Goga, jOONAS, Kankoraketti and Pengu were on fire throughout the tournament and they swept Team Empire aside in the Grand Final to seize the $800,000 top prize. R6S is becoming increasingly popular among esports fans and prize pools are creeping up, so the team could enjoy plenty more fame and fortune going forwards.
G2’s LoL team is also in terrific form and they cleaned up at the Mid-Season Invitational. That made them the first European team since Fnatic in 2011 to win a major international LoL tournament and they walked away with the $400,000 first prize. They won a magnificent semi-final 3-2 against highly-rated Korean outfit SK Telecom T1, a multiple world champion. That led to a Grand Final against TL, and G2 wiped the floor with them, prevailing 3-0 in the fastest international best-of-five series in LoL history. G2’s CS:GO team has also enjoyed some success this year, and it is now among the top 25 highest earning esports franchises of all time.
Arena of Valor has shot to prominence as an esport this year due to the strength of mobile gaming. Tencent created the game after its subsidiary, Riot Games, said it could not adapt LoL for mobile. It instantly won over legions of fans in Taiwan, China and Korea and it has quickly become a major esport. After The International 2019 and the Fortnite World Cup, Arena of Valor’s Honor of Kings World Champion Cup is the most lucrative esports tournament of the year so far, outstripping anything within CS:GO, LoL, Overwatch, RS6 and Call of Duty.
It also has a pretty intriguing approach to dishing out the prize money, as the winner took home an impressive $1.9 million, while the runner-up earned just $73,000. The tournament took place in China and it saw local teams eStar Pro and Rogue Warriors face off in the Grand Final.
eStar Pro, a team that switched to Arena of Valor after Heroes of the Storm crashed and burned, won the big match and seized the top prize. They also won the $1.3 million King Pro League Spring 2019 tournament in Chengdu and Shanghai, although prize money was distributed a little more evenly there and their first prize winnings were $435,000. They are among the highest earners of 2019, despite not competing in major esports like Dota 2, LoL and CS:GO, and the future looks bright for them as long as Arena of Valor continues to flourish.