There’s no doubt about it. Reaching the very pinnacle of any sport or game doesn’t just earn a great deal of admiration and respect – it also means big winnings. In traditional sports like tennis or golf, those at the very top of their game can win millions every year and build up considerable fortunes. One only has to look at tennis player Rafa Nadal who is estimated to be worth around $180 million which is surely enough to see him through a very comfortable retirement.

Reaching the very pinnacle of any sport or game doesn’t just earn a great deal of admiration and respect – it also means big winnings.

It all comes down to the fact that, when there are very few other people in the world that can perform as well as you do, the rewards are great. More and more, this is what the very best players of eSports are beginning to discover today. Take Johan “NOtail” Sundstein, the DOTA 2 champion who leads the top 10 highest eSports earners with an estimated fortune of $6.9 million. Not quite in the Nadal league but at 27 he has few more years left in him to add to that total.

This is all especially remarkable when you think that in the early days of eSports the prizes were quite laughable. To go back to the very first recognised event which took place in 1972 at Stanford University, game was called Spacewar! And the first prize was a year’s subscription to Rolling Stone magazine. The next major event came a few years later in the form of an Atari-sponsored Space Invaders contest that 10,000 people entered, attracted by the prospect of winning an Asteroids arcade game.

Eyes on the prize

So today, when tournaments like The International for DOTA 2 players have prize pots of over $34,000,000 and the Fortnite World Cup Finals offer over $15 million to the winners it’s easy to see just how far we have come.

Of course, these are just the very biggest of the tournaments and there are many more with smaller prize funds such as the football game FIFA eContinental Cup and the Huya DOTA Winter Invitational with prize funds of $300,000 and $91,000 respectively.

While the prize funds and earnings of the players are often compared with those of major sports, it’s also interesting to compare them with games that also offer the potential of high earnings. One of the foremost of these is poker whose very top performers can also be worth millions. Leading the pack is a player called Phil Ivey, reputedly worth $100 million or more.

Poker stars

As with eSports, most of the best players in the poker world make the bulk of their money from tournament play all round the world. The very pinnacle of these tournaments is an event called the World Series of Poker that is held in Las Vegas each year and which attracts around 150,000 players of every standard from hopeful amateurs up to the very best.

As with eSports, most of the best players in the poker world make the bulk of their money from tournament play all round the world.

There are many different games at the WSOP but the one that everyone wants to win is called, appropriately, The Main Event. Starting with thousands of players but ending up with a final table of nine, the rewards are potentially huge as Hossein Ensan discovered in 2019 when he took home the prize pot of $10 million.

The fact that in most poker tournaments that it is generally one player, playing for him or herself not in a team, means that the potential of far greater earnings is possible.

Sharing the spoils

The fact that most of the big eSports tournaments are dominated by teams means that there may be less opportunity for individuals to carry of the really big individual prizes. Generally, the over prize structure in tournaments means that the money is spread more evenly across a number of players. However, there are some individual tournaments such as the Fortnite World Cup where individual prizes are awarded.

Turning to poker players and the way that they make money, it’s not all in high profile tournaments in glamorous locations like Las Vegas, Monaco and Macau. For some, a good proportion of their earnings come from playing poker online at any of the recognised sites. These offer a valuable alternative way to play for money without the extra expenses of travel and accommodation. They also offer players the option of traditional cash games or tournament play.

When it comes to actual tournament play, the economics of being a professional poker player can also have an effect on how much of the players actually get to keep. Without a team to pick up the expenses for their trip, these are overheads that have to be factored in. Many players, particularly towards the start of their careers, also need backers to provide the buy-ins needed to enter tournaments. This means that they have to give up an agreed proportion of any winnings they make to pay back the loan, with interest.

There’s also the fact that when eSports players lose, all they lose is the game. When things don’t go quite as planned for poker players it’s actual cash that they are losing. So when one compares the prizes that the two can win, this is another very important consideration.

So, as you can see, it’s hard to make a precise comparison between the two in terms of prize money. But with the burgeoning growth of eSports we can be sure of one thing – the rewards for the winners are surely set to grow and grow.