#5 StarCraft 2
StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty is a real-time strategy (RTS) video game developed by Blizzard Entertainment. The first part of the game is released on July 27, 2010, and follows StarCraft and its StarCraft extension: Brood War released in 1981. StarCraft 2 is divided into three parts, the basic game subtitled Wings of Liberty being complemented by two extensions called Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void.
The game takes place in the twentieth century and recounts the clashes between three distinct species for the domination of an area of the Milky Way known as the Koprulu Sector: the Terrans, made up of descendants of convicts exiled far from their homeworld, the Zerg, a race of genetically modified creatures obsessed with the assimilation of other species in the galaxy, and the Protoss, a race of humanoids with advanced technologies and psionic powers. The story of StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty takes place four years after the events of StarCraft: Brood War. It focuses on the fight of a group of Terran rebels led by Jim Raynor who fights an authoritarian regime, the Dominion. The two extensions Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void focus respectively on the history of Zerg and Protoss. Players pick one of the three races and fight to control an area.
StarCraft 2 is rapidly gaining commercial success with more than 3 million copies sold a month after its release. In December 2010, Blizzard Entertainment announced having sold 4.5 million copies since the release of the game.
StarCraft 2 is a staple game when it comes to esports. With 1,970 players fighting in 5,575 different tournaments, players shared a total of $31,138,181.94 since the game went pro. This real-time strategy game developed by Blizzard Entertainment was released on July 27, 2010. By the end of the year, the game already had big tournaments, with cash prizes up to $14,380 in events such as the ESL Pro Series or the World GameMaster Tournament 2010.
Blizzard Entertainment organizes a worldwide championship each year, called The StarCraft II World Championship Series, also known as WCS. The cash prize pool grows each year, from $250,000 in 2012 to $700,000 in 2018.
Ten players crossed the milestone of $500,000 earned playing StarCraft 2. Nine of those ten players come from South Korea, where StarCraft is a national hobby streamed live on TV. Cho "Maru" Sung Choo won the most money playing this strategy game, with $776,349 from 107 tournaments.
#4 League of Legends
League of Legends, also known as LoL, is a free Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) video game developed and published by Riot Games. The game was first mentioned on October 7, 2008, and was released on October 27, 20092.
In League of Legends, the player controls a champion with unique skills whose power increases each time they win a fight, whether against players or minions, small NPCs that spawn to kill enemies. The goal of a game is to destroy the enemy nexus, a building located in the heart of the opposing base. To reach the nexus and defeat it, players must act as a team and neutralize different threats along the way, such as turrets, and, of course, the enemy team coming for their own nexus.
League of Legends quickly becomes a real phenomenon. In 2013, it became one of the most played games in the world. It also seduces the world of esports by becoming the most-watched esports event in history, with more than 32 million online viewers and more than 8.5 million simultaneous views in the World Championship Season 3 Finale in 2013. The record is beaten each year, and the last record dates back to the previous World Championship Series in 2018, which has almost reached the 100 million spectators (99.6 million) and an average audience of 19.6 million viewers per minute during the Grand Finals.
Each year, the best League of Legends players compete in an elite league called the League of Legends Championship Series, or LCS. Twenty teams across North America and Europe face off to win the Grand Prize. In 2018, the LCS prize pool was no less than $6,450,000. Moreover, to ensure a more fair and professional competitive scene, Riot Games provide all players joining the LCS with a salary. The cash prize, salaries and viewership make League of Legends a big name in the esports scene.
Fortnite is the most recent game of this list. Released for Microsoft Windows, macOS, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on July 25, 2017, Fortnite was originally a co-op sandbox game, where four players create buildings to protect objectives against NPCs attacks. On September 26, 2017, Epic Games turn Fortnite into a battle royale game, in which up to 100 players face each other until only one man is left standing. This strategic change paid off, and Fortnite quickly became one of the most popular FPS worldwide.
For the first World Cup of its third-person online battle-royale action game, Epic Games offer winners a cash prize worth 100 million dollars, split among all participants. The first Fortnite World Cup champion is Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf, who, at the age of 16, gained no less than $3,000,000 for winning the solo tournament after 5 hours of competition.
In parallel with its New York Grand Final dedicated to pro players, Fortnite plans to include the rest of its community in the competition, offering all its players various events using different modes and formats, and multiple $1,000,000 cash prizes for weekly tournaments until the end of the year.
#2 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, or CS:GO, is a first-person shooter game developed by Valve Corporation, the company behind the gaming platform Steam. Counter-Strike is an old title, originally a mod for Half-Life which became its own title in 2000. Esport developed in the early 2000s, and Counter-Strike’s popularity grew with the rise of the online gaming era. The current version, Global Offensive, was released in 2012. This update had some troubles finding its public and faced criticism of being a pale copy of previous versions of the game. Finally, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive found its way to esports, and was even named “eSports Game of the Year” during the 2016 eSports Industry Awards.
Counter-Strike is probably the most accessible esport game to understand for beginners. Two teams of five players fight to control a map: the terrorists must place a bomb at a specific place, the role of counter-terrorists is the prevent it. Counter-Strike is exceptionally dynamic, requires excellent team cohesion, an ability to read and analyze what is happening and superhuman reflexes at a very high level.
Valve faced criticism about the absence of prize cash in the majors they support, with the CS:GO prizes topped at $250,000. The main reason behind this is Valve's focus on their other major esport game: Dota 2. Each year, the company organizes The International, a major multi-million dollar money prize competition, leaving barely any room for the expansion of CS:GO. On March 29, 2016, Counter-Strike had their first $1,000,000 competition at the MLG Major Championship in Columbus, Ohio. To date, the biggest prize pool for a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament was of $1,500,000 for the World Electronic Sports Game 2016 and 2017.
#1 Dota 2
Dota 2 is the most famous esport game and gets the biggest cash prizes. This real-time strategy game is developed by Valve Corporation, just like the number 2 on this list, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. The game was released in July of 2013 on Microsoft Windows, OS X and Linux ending a beta phase started in 2011. It is available exclusively on the online game platform Steam, the property of Valve Corporation. Dota 2 has long been the most played game on Steam, with daily peaks of more than 900,000 connected players at the same time, as well as more than 13,000,000 monthly players.
Dota 2 is played in independent matches between two teams of five players, each with a base card corner containing a building called the Ancient, whose destruction leads to the victory of the enemy team. Each player controls a hero and needs to accumulate experience, earn gold, equip themselves with items, and fight the enemy team to achieve victory.
Each year, a major competition gathers the best Dota 2 players from all around the world: The International. This competition is the most important tournament on Dota 2, and the amount of its prize pool is growing each year. In 2011 and 2012, the total cash prizes were of $1,600,000, before being increased in 2013 to at least $2,800,000 via a Compendium, a paid booklet giving all players, even casual, the possibility to bet to win skins, to participate in the choice of the participants of 1vs1 and other goodies.
In 2019, the initial prize pool from Valve Corporation for The International is $1,600,000. To increase this amount, 25% of all Battle Pass sales are added to the prize pool, raising it to over $34,000,000. Dota 2 has, to this day, the biggest esport cash prizes.