There are more than a few perks to being a sporting superstar. You’ve got the fame and recognition, the trophies and the fans, and you’re suddenly a role model for people you’ve never met. Let’s just hope they never find out what you get up to after the game. But let’s be honest – nobody does it for free. The Indianapolis Colts’ QB Andrew Luck owns a contract worth $24.5 million while Argentine soccer player Carlos Tevez takes home $794,000 a week at Shanghai Shenua. It almost makes the $8.90 an hour you earn at the burger joint look like pocket change.
Not all sports are made equal though. While Andrew Luck could run his own football team for that kind of cash, the US Olympic Committee only hands out money for Team USA athletes that make the podium. A gold medal has a payday of $25,000, silver claims $15,000, and a bronze winner receives $10,000, which is roughly what Carlos Tevez earns every two hours. It’s a stark contrast between athletes at precisely the same level in terms of ability; after all, many professional soccer players compete at the Olympics too.
One of the highest paying sports out there today is an unlikely one – competitive video gaming or eSports. Despite its relative youth (eSports can be traced back to a Spacewar tournament in 1972 but major tournaments didn’t really get going until 2010, when there were 260 around the world), organizers of The International, a Dota 2 Championship event, created a prize pool of $20 million in 2016, with $8.3 million of that kept aside for first place. The amount on offer to the victors at the 2016 League of Legends World Championship was a little more modest. Contributed to by fans, it reached $5.07 million.
Ninjas in Pyjamas
eSports players also earn a wage, meaning it’s very much a fulltime job. In 2015, Ember’s Greyson Gilmer took home $65,000 with a further $27,000 in bonuses while Ninjas in Pyjamas has two teams (Dota 2 and Counter Strike: Global Offensive) making between $116,000 and $230,000 as two separate units. Overall, the Ninjas in Pyjamas eSports franchise is worth about $11 million; that’s much less than the average $1.36 billion of NBA teams but similar to the value of some soccer teams in the UK’s second tier, clubs like Barnsley FC, Rotherham United, and Burton Albion.
As with any other sport, much of the money coming into eSports arrives from sponsors, with names like IGN, Twitch, Gamestop, Coca-Cola, and Doritos getting involved with the industry recently. Ninjas in Pyjamas are sponsored by bookmaker Betway while motoring giant Audi invested in Astralis’ Counter Strike team back in January of this year. Similarly, the quarterly Dreamhack tournaments are supported by energy drink brand Monster. It’s a symbiotic relationship; the 2017 Intel Extreme Masters had an audience of 46 million people so the amount of exposure Audi and co. get for their money is enormous.
Of course, a lot of money also comes from the fans themselves. In 2015, Newzoo calculated that each individual eSports fan is worth $2.40 per year compared to the $19 of each NBA supporter, adding that the former figure could climb to $4.63 if current trends continue to 2018. While things like merchandising (jerseys, caps, etc.) don’t play as big of a part in eSports as they do in basketball, the 2016 League of Legends World Championship offered in-game items to fans as an incentive to crowdfund the prize pool.
Perhaps the most remarkable trait of eSports is that every statistic associated with the industry is trending upwards. For example, between 2014 and 2016, the number of people tuning in to watch the League of Legends World Championship almost doubled, from 27 million to 43 million. It’s also becoming a lot more accessible to viewers. Even ignoring early advocates like Twitch and YouTube Gaming, two new TV channels dedicated to eSports launched recently while Facebook has teamed up with Blizzard to allow streaming of its games through the social network.
With each passing month, eSports comes to resemble its bat-and-ball counterpart a little more. And we’re all rueing the day we were told to get off the Nintendo and go outside. We could’ve been millionaires!
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