What Is Esports? How Big Is It? How Much Money Can You Win?

At the time of writing this article, the prize pool for the yearly Dota 2 tournament known as The International has exceeded 30 million dollars. It is sitting at $30,784,430, to be precise. How do I know this? Because I contributed to the pool by purchasing a Battle Pass, which is like a digital goody bag that you can level up by spending real-world money.

In exchange, you get in-game items such as exclusive hero skins, emote packs, voice lines, new terrains, and much more. But why do people choose to spend money on a game that offers you all the important stuff for free? None of these items have any value outside of making your character look prettier and adding some level of personalization.

They don’t give you any gameplay benefits, and you already have all the heroes unlocked as soon as you download the game. So exactly why does the Dota 2 player base volunteer to give Valve their money? They do it to support what they consider the single most entertaining esports scene in the world.

As much as we enjoy playing the game ourselves, nothing beats the excitement of watching the best of the best duke it out on the big stage. Deafening cheers of fans in the arena, sweeping lights, giant screens, ecstatic commentary, and mindboggling plays- it is very much like watching the Superbowl or NBA. Except, it is much more exciting than real sports to gamers.

Now you might be asking, what is esports? Esports is a form of organized, multiplayer video game competition. You will find both single-player (1 v 1) as well as team-based games, and there may or may not be a live audience depending on the type of tournament (online or LAN).

All that’s great. But this article isn’t about Dota 2 alone; we want to give you a perspective on esports as a whole. Is it a legitimate sport? Naysayers will tell you that esports are simply nerds clicking buttons in front of a computer. And we agree that by the traditional definition, sports has to involve some form of physical activity. But there are more similarities between esports and traditional sports than you think.

For instance, esports players train just as hard as real athletes. They dedicate several years of their life towards achieving one single goal- being the best in the world. They aren’t your average gamers who just sit down at the desk and mindlessly press buttons. To become a professional gamer, you must develop a specific set of skills.

Perseverance, hard work, determination, and focus- all these qualities can be found in the best esports pros. So whether you choose to call them “e-athletes” or “competitive gamers, nobody can deny the fact that they put in the effort to become the best at their job. Just like “real” athletes, these guys have coaches, managers, fitness instructors, dieticians, etc.

The biggest esports organizations are constructing giant facilities to house and train their players. In an industry that is predicted to exceed $1 billion dollars by the end of 2019, nobody will leave any stone unturned to make sure that they stay on top of the game. Colleges and Universities are launching esports initiatives, offering scholarships and access to top-end hardware for players.

Celebrities and retired athletes invest in esports organizations, while football clubs such as FC Schalke and Manchester City have their own FIFA gaming teams. The French football giant Paris Saint Germain has entered into a partnership with Chinese Dota 2 org “LGD” to create one of the most well-funded and star-studded squads. You even have car companies like Mercedes, Audi, and Nissan getting into the esports scene by sponsoring major teams and tournaments organizers (like ESL).

How Big Is Esports Now?

There are two key metrics we can use to give you an idea of just how large the esports industry has become. Those two metrics are viewership numbers and prize money. Sure, you also have other components such as sponsorships, salaries, etc., but those are harder to track since companies don’t disclose such data to the public.

Let us take League of Legends, which is the world’s most popular MOBA. A MOBA or Multiplayer Online Battle Arena is essentially an action RTS where the player controls just one character instead of a giant army like in StarCraft. This champion or hero has unique abilities and special traits that make it a good fit against other characters, and most MOBAs generally pit two teams of 5 players against each other.

Just like you have various roles in football- goalie, defender, center-back, sweeper, midfielder, etc. there are roles in a MOBA- carry, support, mid, etc. Each role or position has a unique job to do within any game, and there are players who specialize in certain roles within each team. Teams in League of Legends fight to gain control over objectives across a map on which there are two sides.

Upon dying, champions respawn at the home base after a certain interval of time. And by gathering resources through killing NPCs and enemy champions, you gain gold and XP, which can be used to level up your character and make it stronger. These are the basics for League of Legends.

In order to truly become a good player, you will have to dedicate anywhere between 2 to 3 years of your life to this game. Watching replays, studying pro tactics, and taking notes. People know how hard it is to be good, which makes the insane plays done by pros so much more interesting.

It is just like real sports; you don’t necessarily have to be an active player yourself. You could be a 40-year-old dad working a desk job. But after coming back from a hard day of work, you grab the remote and immediately switch on that football league being broadcast on ESPN.

You cheer for your favorite team, and you probably have a favorite player with whom you can personally relate. Their motivations, their playstyle, everything you know about them from interviews and live shows- you feel a connection with that player. Because as a young man you too played football with friends.

All of the same stuff applies to esports such as League of Legends or Dota 2. Ok, now let’s astonish you with some huge numbers. In 2017, more than 80 million peak viewers were recorded for the SKT vs. RNG semifinal in the annual League World Championship (known as Worlds). The total view time for Worlds in 2017 exceeded 1.2 Billion hours.

What’s even more interesting is the growth in viewership compared to 2016. The total number of unique viewers for the finals went from 43 million in 2016 to 58 million in 2017. Total view time for the world championship went from 370 million hours in 2016 to 1.2 billion hours in 2017. Want some live audience figures? In 2017, the League of Legends world championship was hosted in Beijing in the “Bird’ Nest” stadium, originally constructed to host the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The World’s 2017 finals tickets sold out to a massive crowd of 40,000 people in this arena.

This year, it is Dota 2, which is going to Beijing. The International 9 will be hosted at the Mercedes-Benz arena between Aug 20 to 25, and tickets were reportedly sold out within a few hours. Interested in global esports viewership stats? Well, in 2018 alone, there were nearly 400 million people tuning in to watch esports worldwide.

This includes the big titles like League of Legends, Dota 2, CS: GO, Rainbow 6 Siege, Overwatch, Hearthstone, etc. Media rights revenues exceeded 180 million dollars, and total revenue for 2018 hit $896 million. We have strong predictions hinting towards more than $1 billion this year, which means this industry is growing faster than a family of mice breeding in your basement. Sponsorships alone totaled more than $277 million in 2018, and streaming advertisements raked in $163 million dollars.

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How Much Money Can You Win At Esports Tournaments?

Let us talk Prize money now. And no esports prize money discussion can be made without including Dota 2. This is the big daddy of competitive video gaming prize pools, almost completely crowdfunded from an extremely passionate player base. The professional Dota 2 scene was built and funded by its community. Each year’s prize pool for The International exceeds the previous one, and this has been going on since the very first International, which was hosted in Cologne, Germany.

Back in 2011, most professional gamers never imagined in their wildest dreams that they could win a million dollars by placing first in a video game tournament. In the early days, the pro gaming scene was extremely shady- corrupt management, fake promises, and tournament organizations that didn’t pay you the prize money for several months or years. And out of nowhere comes to Valve announcing that they will pay $1.6 million dollars for a Dota 2 tournament. 

To put things in perspective, most esports pros back in 2011 were competing for a few hundred dollars in prize money. Even the largest tournaments rarely exceeded 20,000 dollars in prize money. Most of these pros were accustomed to playing in small LAN cafes with friends. The prize back then? Usually, a six-pack of beer or a team dinner at McDonald’s. But they didn’t play for the money because clearly, it wasn’t a sustainable way to build a career and maintain a family.

They played because of their passion for the game. So naturally, you can imagine the global chaos in the esports scene back in 2011 when the first International was announced. At first, people thought it was a lie, that nobody would be that stupid. But then again, this was Valve. A multi-billion dollar company with a massive global reputation. And yes, it was true. A team of highly skilled players, Natus Vincere, assembled a couple of weeks before TI won 1st place at this historic tournament. 

There is even a Valve documentary following the journey of 3 players during the first International, and it shows their lives both before and after this massive tournament. The hardships they faced, and the significance of the very first million-dollar esports tournament. It set a precedent that has driven ever-growing prize pools to this day.

Nowadays, million-dollar esports tournaments aren’t a rarity but the norm. Last year’s International gathered a massive $25,532,177. When I started writing the very first line of this article, the prize pool for this year’s International was $30,784,430. As I write this paragraph, it has grown to $30,833,090. And it will keep growing, till August 25.

What Does It Take To Become A Professional Gamer?

Long, sleepless nights of hard training. Watching replays of both your own games as well as professional matches. Taking notes every time you see something interesting or a strategy you hadn’t previously thought about. A logical and cool-headed approach to things. A singular focus on becoming the absolute best of the best in the whole world. And the strength of mind to sacrifice your relationships with both family and friends in the pursuit of this goal.

Now repeat all of this every day, 365 days a year, multiple years in a row. Let’s not forget the imminent toxicity and flaming you’ll encounter from other players during your climb through the ranked ladder. But of course, you must develop an iron skin to deflect these attacks from random strangers on the internet since, in the end, they are part of your team, and you must make them work together.

Organizing uncoordinated ragers and making them work towards a common objective is one of the qualities you’ll need when you actually get into your first team. Who knows, you might even make some new friends out of these strangers by the time the game ends and your team wins in a nail-biting finish. And trust me, you will even learn some life lessons while doing so.

How to work in a team environment, communication, patience, and the ability to keep your cool even during immensely stressful situations. You will be good at all the aforementioned skills by the time you get into a proper team filled with like-minded individuals who strive to win 1st place at every tournament.

If you think all this is too extreme, you should quit now. Because there are other players out there who do all of this, and you will compete against them in the race to the top. If they do it, and you don’t, you’re going to fall behind. Should you quit school or college to pursue a career in esports? Definitely not recommended unless you are already in the top 0.1% at the age of 16 to 18.

It is not a question of “am I worthy” or “am I talented enough” rather, it’s a matter of putting in the hard work. You aren’t studying rocket science; playing video games is a much easier task for sure. But you’ll have to put in the same amount of time and dedication as a scientist trying to make a new discovery. Do all of this, and before you realize it, you will have become a “true gamer.”

What does sunlight look like? You don’t know, because you were too busy playing games with the windows closed. Is there a war going on outside your house? You don’t care because you never go outside. Like a vampire, you get into your true element at nighttime. Stalking the fridge for leftovers, cursing at your teammates as they abandon objectives in pursuit of selfish endeavors like getting solo kills.

All jokes aside, though, you need to focus on your health during your journey of becoming a pro gamer. Learn how to cook, don’t eat too much junk food, and try to exercise daily, so you stay in shape. It will help your reflexes, and we all know that a healthy body results in a healthy mind.

Esports At The Olympics 

Competitive gaming is already slated to be a medal event at the 2022 Asian games, and there are talks going on between the IOC and the International esports Federation. The IOC has already recognized esports as a sporting activity. They might introduce esports as a demonstration event at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Back in April of 2018, IOC (International Olympic Committee) president Thomas Bach stated that competitive gaming events at the Olympics would be limited to sports titles like FIFA. This is because they don’t want to “promote violence.” This is funny because shooting a person in CS: GO isn’t nearly as violent as placing a shotgun or bow in the hands of a 15-year-old.

Nobody gets physically harmed or injured while playing video games, but the same cannot be said for actual sports. Nevertheless, many esports organizations and players agree that we don’t need the Olympics for validation. Their viewership and influence have been on the decline for a while, as is evident from the fact that fewer and fewer cities are interested in hosting the event. The overspending, controversy, and waste that is associated with hosting an Olympics is simply not worth it.  Viewership statistics for the Olympics haven’t really grown by much over the years, and the main benefit we would gain from including esports in this event is mainstream recognition. 

But esports is already very popular among the youth of most nations and is its own thing, separate from the limits and customs of traditional sporting events. Besides, current esports teams don’t want to deal with the bureaucracy and politics that come with being governed by a central Olympic committee.

On top of that, Olympic events won’t pay nearly as much money as a top-tier e-sport tournament like Dota 2’s The International. Sure, the players will get a chance to represent their nation on an international stage, in front of millions of spectators.

But esports is already a pretty diverse discipline. And individual player’s nationalities are, for the most part, irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if you’re short, tall, fat, slim, male, female, etc. It doesn’t even matter which country you’re from because several esports teams consist of players from all over the world. That is a characteristic unique to esports; all that matters is how good you are at the game.


One of the primary reasons for the explosive growth of esports is awareness. More and more people are learning about this subsect of video gaming, whether it be through live streams on Twitch or a Fortnite World Cup ad on the TV. The age of social media allows us to share new and exciting news instantly, and as more large companies get involved, the revenue figures will keep growing larger.

This naturally attracts attention- the massive sponsorship deals, the prize money, and the extravagant live events interest people who don’t even play video games. According to industry research, back in 2015, about 800,000 people had heard of esports. This number grew to over 1 billion in 2016 and will hit 1.5 billion in 2019, according to Statista.

For brands, this means more eyeballs on their products through ads if they manage to strike deals with broadcasters and tournament organizers. For players, this means a more stable career with better salaries and larger prize pools. The rise in the popularity of online streaming has also contributed to this phenomenon.

Twitch leads the race, with almost all giant esports events being broadcasted on their platform. Youtube is in hot pursuit, followed by Facebook. In 2018, people worldwide watched 6.6 billion hours of esports content. This is a sharp increase from 1.3 billion hours watched in 2012. Esports is here to stay, and it might become just as big as traditional sports one day. Or even surpass them.

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As long as I can remember myself I always enjoyed video games. I had amazing moments playing them and that's why I became a game developer, to create amazing experiences for the players. Read More About Me

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