It’s no secret that eSports has a booming growth in the past decade, turning from a niche industry to a mainstream event within the gaming scene, and it’s well on its way in getting international recognition after being incorporated in the 2022 Asian Games. Hundreds of million dollars were pumped into the industry every year, which boosted the revenue, prize pool, and the number of emerging pro players. This happens to the point that it’s easy for us to get lost in eSports’ enormous scene, while knowing it’s not diminishing anytime soon.
Thankfully, online bookmaker Unibet has recently conducted an in-depth research, detailing the mind-blowing figures behind eSports as a whole, including top earning countries, pro players count, top earning players by gender, and other relevant categorizations. We at Gamehubs dissected the data and got a better understanding of the industry, and here are the top 6 most lucrative franchises in eSports based on total prize money given.
Note: All information is up-to-date as of February 2017.
6) Heroes of the Storm ($7,082,907)
Being one of the pioneers in introducing the earliest form of eSports titles, Blizzard saw an opportunity in the growing MOBA market, and they took it by introducing Heroes of the Storm. The free-to-play title took leverage of Blizzard’s huge roster of iconic characters, and while it may seem like a straightforward winning formula, HOTS didn’t manage to capture most of the eSports crowd. This is partly due to its gameplay, with a more streamlined progression system which is atypical of popular MOBA titles such as League of Legends and Dota 2. While HOTS has many professional teams signing up in its early days of inception, the numbers quickly declined, and it’s currently seen more as a breeding ground for amateur teams to grow.
5) Hearthstone ($7,424,753)
While Blizzard might not achieve the results that they would have wanted with Heroes of the Storm, they utilized their huge character roster with great effect in Hearthstone. The eSports sector for the free-to-play online CCG has steadily grown over the years, culminating with more than $3 million in prize pool offered in 2016, just 3 years after it was launched. It is by no means perfect, but at least Blizzard is taking the initiative to address the issues, and if the professional scene for Hearthstone continues to grow, they are expected to overhaul the original Counter-Strike by 2018, which currently boasts more than $10 million in prize winnings. Interestingly, Hearthstone is also currently the only online CCG in the top 20 list for total prize money, which is a testament to Blizzard’s huge capabilities and influence in the eSports industry, provided they do it right.
4) Starcraft – Starcraft: Brood War, Starcraft II ($7,005,845 + $21,813,572)
Yet another entry by Blizzard, but it shouldn’t be a huge surprise, considering the classic RTS game played a huge role in introducing the eSports genre when it was released nearly two decades ago in 1998. It propelled South Korea into the forefront of competitive gaming, with some of the highest earning players hailing from the country, including veterans Lee “Jaedong” Jae-Dong ($619,477), Lee “Flash” Young-ho ($525,638), and Jang “MC” Min-Chul ($506,726). The sequel to Brood War, Starcraft II has hosted the most tournaments so far (4,057), and it even reigned supreme in prize money at one point, but the introduction of premium tournaments such as The International and League of Legends World Championship shifted the dynamics. SC II was also responsible for elevating Twitch in its early days, before it became the video streaming giant as it is known today.
3) League of Legends ($37,073,240)
The high popularity of Warcraft III mod, Defense of the Ancients spawned multiple MOBAs over the years, but none of them were as successful as League of Legends, and of course, its sequel Dota 2. While the latter thrived on the base establish by Dota and the high number of migrating pro players, LoL grew into one of the most prominent eSports titles today thanks to developer Riot’s good marketing strategy. They launched the game in 2009 using a free-to-play model with paid micro-transactions, when most gamers were required to pay the traditional $60 price tag for new releases. Coupled with the backing of Chinese technology giant Tencent and Riot’s regulation of LoL’s eSports scene, it produced over 4,000 pro players, more than double of Dota 2 (1,747) and it’s also the most for an MOBA game.
2) Counter-Strike – Counter-Strike, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive ($10,771,936 + $29,750,190)
Just like Starcraft, Counter-Strike was instrumental in introducing the eSports genre to the mainstream gaming community. The concept of two teams of five shooting at each other (and the occasional bomb planting) is more accessible and sellable to the general audience and prospective pro players, which explains why CS:GO has produced the most pro players in eSports so far with over 6,000 of them, while its predecessor sits third on the list with 2,591 competitors. Despite its huge success, Counter-Strike’s popularity was dying at one point, even after GO was launched in 2012 due to the game’s mediocre gameplay. Developer Valve acknowledged the issues and actively provide post-launch support, while pumping in money from micro-transaction sales to turn CS:GO into a lucrative eSports title. This also makes them the only FPS franchise in the top 10 list for total prize money given.
1) Dota 2 ($94,954,023)
While LoL triumphed over Dota 2 for the number of pro players that they have, the successor to Warcraft III’s Defense of the Ancients mod dwarfed its competitors in terms of prize pool offered. Being one of the first few competitive MOBAs with a steep learning curve in eSports, it’s easy to understand how Dota draw so many players and has such an enormous growth as a franchise. The groundwork was laid by Warcraft III’s popularity among gamers in the early 2000s and the efforts of the original modders, but Valve managed to take it one step higher when they launched Dota 2 using the highly successful free-to-play model and paid micro-transactions in 2013. The game’s huge following was also backed by the financial powers of sponsors and tournament organizers, with high paying premium tournaments being held every few months in a year, such as ESL One and the Valve-backed Major Championships. This includes the most prestigious tournament in Dota 2, The Internationals, with a total prize pool that accounts more than 30 percent out of the $95 million so far. If the hard figures are anything to go by, it remains a tough prospect for any of the eSports franchise to top Dota 2’s ludicrous financial power, at least not anytime soon.