Esports - most popular video games and the biggest prize pools

Esports - most popular video games and the biggest prize pools

Esports might seem like a unified pandan to sports from the outside to the people who don’t know the satisfaction of using your mouse and keyboard as weapons. While the truth is that esports has a varied and distinct landscape within as much as traditional sports. Even more so, as with the digital medium it is, there are no laws of physics to abide by. Esports is a phenomenon constructed by often contrasting video games and fanbases.

Some video games aren’t designed to be played competitively and exist outside the esports realm. Others can be enjoyed alone and against human opponents. While some are specifically designed with esports in mind as the pinnacle of showmanship.

We take a look at the most popular video games in the esports sphere and the biggest cash prizes victors get to claim.

League of Legends

Possibly the biggest video game in the world of esports. League of Legends falls into the genre of MOBA games which are dominating the esports landscape and barely exist without player v player action. MOBA stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena and is viewed from a near bird-view. A player chooses from a number of heroes and alongside four teammates battles against the opponent’s five heroes team.

Battles are always conducted on the same battleground, a forested, divided map with three lanes in which towers stand and AI-controlled auxiliary units trek on automatically for both sides. Heroes have different roles and can be further customized by additional items.

Particularly popular in Asia, LoL - as it is often called - has brought in the most viewers for a single tournament in 2019. A whopping 3,900,000 people saw the LoL Worlds 2019 and the event had a prize pool of $2,200,000. Men’s Wimbledon final in 2019 was seen by 9,600,000 people on BBC 1, for comparison.


The second face of the MOBA coin which is dominating the esports market. DOTA 2 has an interesting backstory as it originates from a fan-made custom map from a different game, Warcraft III (2003). As the company who made Warcraft, Blizzard, didn’t have the rights for the custom games made within their world builder and a different company bought the intellectual property to it and developed the sequel back in 2013.

Defense of the Ancients 2 has nearly identical gameplay to League of Legends but only to those who are not fans of one of the games. Naturally, everyone thinks their game is better and that’s the root of many internet arguments. Of course not only traditional sports have the right for those. As DOTA 2 borrows from the lore of the famed Warcraft games carefully, it might be a better choice for new players. 

DOTA 2 Internationals, the biggest yearly tournament organized for the game has a prize pool of €34,000,000. For comparison, Australian Open, a tennis tournament which exists for over 115 years has a fund six million US dollars higher despite such a long tradition and being broadcasted on basic TV channels everywhere.

DOTA 2 Internationals is the tournament with the single biggest prize pool in esports! Yet both DOTA and LoL are free to play!

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

A game which will probably be familiar to most people. First released in 2000, Counter-Strike never lost a cult following but its popularity varied across time. In 2020, the 2012 iteration Global Offensive is holding strong with a faithful audience and multiple strong tournaments.

Counter-Strike is a game in which a player, from the first-person point of view, is a part of a team of either terrorists or counter-terrorists. Each side has a different opposing goal for every different map, which vary unlike in MOBAs. Rounds fair out by the two sides purchasing their equipment quickly, weapons, bombs, kevlar etc. and then confront each other in a cacophony of violence.

Overall, since 2013 there has been $91,000,000 awarded through various tournaments to CS teams, which are called clans as in many other games.


Blizzard, the company which made Warcraft from which DOTA originated didn’t capitalize on what was in front of their noses. Trying to repair what was lost the published their own MOBA Heroes of the Storm which didn’t achieve the stellar success of LoL and DOTA. Their futuristic fantasy first-person shooter Overwatch did.

Significant in terms of the number of players, prize pools but also the effect on internet culture, Overwatch is a mega-hit the kind of Blizzard is used too. In Overwatch, players are assigned into two teams of six and they choose one of 30 different characters to play with. All coming with different play styles, special moves, and capabilities.

Unlike MOBAs, the advantage of Overwatch that it is playable on consoles as well as PC, while DOTA and LoL are strictly PC games. The Overwatch League has a whopping 20 teams that compete over 26 weeks for the prize pool of $5,000,000.


Besides MOBAs another type of video game that is booming is the battle royale, alike Overwatch of Fortnite. While different versions of the game exist, Fortnite Battle Royale is the main one for esports where a player tries to be the last one standing in this third-person shooter.

Both Barcelona star Antoine Griezmann and former two-time UFC champions Jose Aldo have celebrated their goals/wins with dances Fortnite characters do in-game. Quite possibly the most culturally relevant game, Fortnite is only behind DOTA 2 in terms of pool prize money per single event. And it has achieved so quickly upon its release in 2017.

In 2019, each of the single and the co-op two-player versions of the Fortnite World Cups had a prize pool of $15,000,000.


A high-paced first-person shooter, Player Unkown Battlegrounds came suddenly and took the world by storm at the same time as Fortnite, in 2017. While depicting more realistic graphics compared to Fortnite’s cartoonish ones, PUBG seems closer to Counter-Strike than to the game it is most often compared.

Up to 100 players parachute onto an island to find weapons and equipment before available safe area of the game's map decreases in size over time, directing surviving players into tighter areas to force encounters. Map sizes go up to eight kilometres in size and other mechanics are in place to force the players to combat making for a thrill ride.


The video game which differs from all the others on the list is also a product of the mentioned Blizzard Entertainment. Using characters from their multiplayer worldwide sensation World of Warcraft and its predecessors, Hearthstone is a digital card game. Like MOBAs mentioned, it is free to play but also has the lowest requirements to play in terms of PC specifications needed. Making it the most accessible.

If some people don’t get why so many are ready to watch others play, they surely won’t get the appeal of Heartstone. Released in 2014, by 2018 Blizzard reported 100,000,000 players have signed up to the game. Small in-game purchases add up and are used as the prize pool for esports competitions held by Blizzard, a common method of financing esports tournaments. While other organizations unrelated to the developer company can freely have tournaments of their own.

Esports total prize pools in 2019

Combining all major tournaments in 2019 The Esports Observer reports that Fortnite had the biggest prize pool of all games by a considerable shot. Showcasing how the silliness and the cartoonish nature of graphics brought in the younger audiences and participants. Overall, in 2019 professional Fortnite players shared $64,000,000 of prize money.

DOTA 2 follows as the mentioned International had $34,000,000 on itself, while the game had a prize pool of $46,700,000. Showing the benefit of an established, reputable single tournament.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is third with $21,000,000 while PUBG is fourth with $12,700,000. Overwatch brought pro players $9,100,000 in 2019 while League of Legends, despite having so many viewers had a prize pool of $9,000,000 overall.

One can notice that a video game like StarCraft, which was instrumental for the boom of esports, alongside its sequel StarCraft 2 which carried the second wave, isn’t on the list. A phenomenon which shows that while video games might have the power to overtake sports eventually, individual titles don’t have the longevity. Or at least yet.

Football, tennis, rugby have all been around for more than 100 years, while rare video games manage to stay relevant for over a decade, even with sequels. Yet, with not even 30 years of age, esports is a young phenomenon which is still changing and improving quickly. Meaning that esports may solve the longevity issue, especially as esports has become another golden goose for video game developers.

With no injuries or quick age-resulted declines encumbering the players, esports certainly has the potential to create crossover stars that will break into the mainstream. The question is which video game will be the first worthy of that.


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