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2019 was an unprecedented year in esports. With more than $211M USD given out thus far in prize money–the most ever in a single year in esports history–15 players became millionaires (some for the second straight year), 288 made $100K or more, and 196 made over $60K in prize money alone. Compare this to 2018, which saw 11 players make $1M or more and 245 of those players make six-figures.
This was a wonderful year to be a Dota 2 or Fortnite player.
According to Esports Earnings and its top earning players list, the first player that doesn’t play Dota 2 or Fortnite is PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS professional Cha “Pio” Seung Hoon, a South Korean who earned $638K.
Shane “EpikWhale” Cotton, a 16-year-old Fortnite player for NRG Esports, took home $1.2M in prize winnings for finishing third in the Solo Finals at the Fortnite World Cup. This puts Cotton at the No. 10 spot on the esports prize winnings list.
“It’s crazy, I’m only 16,” Cotton told CBS Los Angeles this summer during an interview. “So, I mean I don’t even know. It’s unheard of.”
No. 9 Emil “Nyhrox” Bergquist Pedersen ($1.5M) and No. 8 David “Aqua” Wang ($1.7M), who played under the Cooler Esport banner, took home $1.5M each as the two won the Duos division at the Fortnite World Cup. Pedersen, 16, and Wang, 17, are two more minor millionaires that the Fortnite ecosystem has created.
Harrison “psalm” Chang is the fourth Fortnite player in a row, coming in at No. 7 with prize winnings of over $1.8M. Finishing second in Solos at the Fortnite World Cup netted the 24-year-old $1.8M, but he did play in other smaller events that were negligible towards the total.
Chang came to Fortnite from Heroes of the Storm after Epic Games laid out its $100M esports plan.
Perhaps the esports story of the year is about Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf, the 16-year-old Fortnite player who took home a staggering $3M after winning the Fortnite World Cup in Solos. That win alone catapults Giersdorf to the No. 6 position on the list.
After winning the competition, Giersdorf became an overnight sensation, doing appearances on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and others.
Starting in 2011, if you won Dota 2’s premier event, The International, you and your four teammates were guaranteed to be the top five in esports winnings. In fact, if you finished second, starting in 2014, you were in the top 10.
This year’s Dota 2 Champions, OG, won The International two years in a row – a feat no other team has accomplished in Dota 2 history. The same can be said for the top earning esports player, Jesse “JerAx” Vainikka, who has now been No. 1 for the second straight year–although in a three-way tie in 2019 with Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen and Sébastien “Ceb” Debs at $3.16M
Vainikka took home $2.2M in 2018 and then saw another payday in 2019, winning $3.16M. Add to that a couple of smaller tournaments winnings, and you get the highest earning esports player in terms of prize pool winnings two years straight.
Rounding out the list are No. 5 Anathan “ana” Pham at $3.14M and No. 4 Johan “N0tail” Sundstein at $3.15M. The reason for the difference in prize winnings is that Sundstein missed the Epicenter Major due to illness and Pham took off the first half of the 2018-2019 Dota Pro Circuit season.
What will 2020 hold for those competing for prize pools? Dota 2’s International will likely continue to see its prize pool be in the tens of millions while Fortnite continues to increase prize pools exponentially as they did with the Winter Royale that saw its prize money go from $1M in 2018 to $15M in 2019. 2020 should be no different as prize pools are expected to rise.
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