From monthly subscriptions to streamers to million dollar tournaments, e-sport is booming business and companies know it. Last year 47 million people watched online as professional League of Legends’ team SK Telecom took home their 3rd world championship trophy in a row. Besides that, they also cashed in over 2 million USD in prize money, not a small amount for sitting behind a computer to play video games. The total prize pool in the 2016 tournament added up to a whopping 6,7 million USD, and this was only the 4th largest prize pool in e-sport history. How is it possible sums of money this big are being distributed to e-sport players?
To answer this question we need to first know the reason for the popularity of e-sports. Tim Remmers, a game developer who created the competitive indiegame Leathal League, formulated this reason perfectly. “E-sport does not really differ from conventional sport, it just is not as physical as the latter. Current technology has the power to create the same experience trough competitive gaming as any other sport can. Like a lot of other kids, I used to play soccer in my youth. I enjoyed playing soccer with my friends but I was not very good at it. Even so, I did look up to professional players in the Eredivisie and Jupiler League. After all, they were the best players in the Netherlands. Even more special were the world championships or the Champions League, as true titans the best of the best were competing at the highest level the world had to offer. With my experience as a soccer player, I would think about the things I would do was I to be in their position. How I would play or who I would pass the ball to. This feeling is easily translatable to e-sport. In the recent past, gaming technology made huge leaps forward. Most homes have a gaming console of some sorts these days, with kids or even parents playing with it. This makes it so a lot of kids can identify themselves with the players at the highest level, these players are their icons. They look up to them and watching them compete provides the entertainment they desire, something they used to get from watching soccer matches.”
Popularity attracts money, everybody knows that. And e-sport is really ‘hot’ at the moment, with the biggest prize pool at a gaming event being over 20 million USD. Most of the money from those huge prize pools gets donated by companies and fans, and thus doesn’t come from the developer or tournament organizer. The reason for this is actually quite simple: companies want to make profits, and they believe for good reason that attention and commercials earn you money. So an event watched by 47 million people all over the world is ample reason for a company to invest money into having their brand placed all over the event. You need money to make more money, and that is the reason companies are investing the money.
But that does not explain over half of the prize money consisting of money donated by fans. This is a sum of regular donations and in-game transactions made by fans. A good comparison is fans who buy soccer jerseys with their favorite players on it, much like that the gaming community will buy special skins or icons they can decorate themselves with in the game. That way they can show their support for their favorite player or team in the game, and the money goes directly into the prize pool. These purchases racked up to over 3 million USD in just a couple of months.
Being a pro
Winning a ton of money in a big tournament is always nice, but that is usually not the main source of income for a pro gamer. Being a pro gamer is a full time job in which you either spend a lot of time practicing with your team or being a streamer. Streamers, people who play videogames while others watch, are mostly hobbyists doing it for fun. However, due to the immense popularity of videogames, some people have found a way to turn their hobby into their job, earning even more money a pro competing in tournaments. Any self-respecting streamer would use ‘Twitch.tv’ as a base of operations, simply because Twitch attracts the most viewers. And if viewers find you interesting enough, and you make yourself into a proper streamers, the money shower starts. A decently known streamer can easily rake in over 8.000 USD per month via subscriptions, donations and advertisements. But the really popular streamers, usually being that popular trough either high entertainment value or being really good, are known to make over 20.000 USD per month.
So should I drop everything I’m doing and become an e-sport player? No, like with soccer, making that amount of money is only something a few out of millions can achieve. Getting yourself the proper equipment is a huge investment and does not always pay off. The comparison between e-sports and ‘regular’ sports is an easy one to make, but make no mistake, in sports like soccer and American football, there is a whole lot more money to be found. E-sport is really hyped at the moment so it makes for an easy investment, but whether or not it will grow even bigger than it is now, only future can tell.