e-Lympic Fever: The Top 4 Games in eSports, and How Much They’re Paying Out

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Volleyball, basketball, freestyle wrestling, rhythmic gymnastics, or cycling? Fans of competitive sports have a lot of games to choose from when it comes to real life games.

But did you know that PC and console gamers have their own competitive sporting leagues which draw an international audience and add up to a multimillion dollar industry? If you've never heard of eSports, you might be surprised to hear that there's such a thing as competitive video gaming, and you won't believe how high the stakes are.

Join us as we explore the intense and furiously combative world of eSports to learn just what kind of games people are playing, and for how much.

1. DOTA 2

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Amount in prizes awarded: $87,304,839.30

Number of competitive players in professional matches: 1650

Tournaments held so far: 637

Dominating the professional gaming circuits is the undisputed reigning champion, DOTA 2, a name which over the years has become synonymous with competitive gaming. DOTA stands for 'Defense of the Ancients', and DOTA 2 is a standalone sequel to the wildly successful mod for Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos and its expansion pack The Frozen Throne.

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Like any good MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena), the main gameplay of DOTA 2 takes place between two teams composed of five players, with each player controlling a powerful “hero” with unique abilities and wildly different styles of play. Over the course of each match, players and their team collect experience points, currencies, and items for their heroes to level up their heroes, increasing their effectiveness in defending their own bases or assaulting their enemies. Players win a match by sieging and pushing past their opponent's defenses, with the aim of conquering the mighty Ancient that forms the heart of each team's base.

Since its official release in 2013, DOTA 2 has garnered critical acclaim for its staggeringly varied and in-depth gameplay mechanics, stunning production quality and commendable out-of-the-gate polish. Regarding gameplay, DOTA 2 is perfectly balanced for competitive play, which is probably why it's still the game of choice and top dog title in the eSports world.

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DOTA 2 leagues and tournaments draw professional players from around the world, all competing for prize pools that add up to the millions of dollars. The largest DOTA 2 tournament is known as The International, which takes place at the KeyArena in Seattle and is covered by dedicated media outlets that broadcast the games live over internet streaming services, and in some years, even on television networks.

With global viewership numbers peaking in the millions, it's easy to see why DOTA 2 leads the pack by a margin of tens of millions of prize money awarded.


2. League of Legends

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Amount in prizes awarded: $30,910,281.63

Number of competitive players in professional matches: 4243

Tournaments held so far: 1751

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Though it might not take top place in amount of cash prizes awarded, League of Legends is certainly one of the most prolific title played competitively in eSports, with over 1700 professional games played so far this year alone by a over 4000 participants, thousands more than the #1 title on our list, DOTA 2.

League of Legends is a MOBA, a genre of games in which teams of players, each in control of a single powerful character, attempt to assault the opposing team's base in hopes of destroying a key structure that represents the 'heart' of the enemy faction. Hordes of other NPC (non-player-controlled) characters populate the map, who either assist or stymie players, or belong to a 'neutral' faction and can be attacked by either side. Each champion character in League of Legends begins each match relatively weak, but over the course of a single game session, collects items and experience in order to improve their strength and unlock new abilities that make them better at what they do...be it annihilating their opponents, healing or bolstering their allies, or just confusing the heck out of the enemy team.

Drawing inspiration from the classic Warcraft III mod Defense of the Ancients, League of Legends boasts an active and international competitive player base, with its own developer Riot Games organizing and managing the League Championship Series and financing their own professional gaming teams in Los Angeles and Berlin.

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According to WSJ.com, as of January 2014, over 67 million people were playing League of Legends per month – with a peak of 27 million per day, and peak hours topping at 7.5 million concurrent players. With its community so fervently enmeshed in the competitive gaming scene, League of Legends spices things up by throwing in different, and sometimes even limited-time game modes specifically designed for tournament play.

While League of Legends is free to play, the game generates its revenue through in-game microtransactions that allow players to spend real-world currency to purchase new appearances for their favorite champions, unlock new premium champions, and certain multi-game boosts.


3. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

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Amount in prizes awarded: $21,248,756.54

Number of competitive players in professional matches: 5920 Players

Tournaments held so far: 1856

Released on August 21, 2012 as the fourth game in the Counter-Strike franchise-that-would-not-die, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) is a multiplayer first-person shooter that was developed by Hidden Path Entertainment and Valve Corporation.

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Similar to earlier games in the series, CS:GO casts players in the roles of Terrorists or Counter-Terrorists and must complete conflicting in-game objectives on a map (planting or defusing a bomb, rescuing or holding hostages, etc.) while eliminating the enemy team. Before starting each round, players may purchase weapons and equipment with in-game money awarded based on their previous performance.

Completing mission objectives such as successfully defusing the bomb, or killing an enemy player earns money, but negative actions (like friendly fire towards a teammate, or killing hostages) result in a monetary penalty. It's a simple gameplay mechanic that's easy to grasp, but extremely versatile and lends to terrific replayability, which is probably why the very first game in the series, the original Counter-Strike, is still being played competitively... even though it was released nearly two decades ago.

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In the competitive eSports scene, CS:GO is the game of choice for many tournament circuits hosted by third-party organizations, with Valve organizing or co-sponsoring an entire series of events itself. Known as the 'Majors,' these in-house sponsored tournaments have consistently awarded grand championship prize pools of $250,000, and draw thousands of spectators in stadiums and over millions of viewers online.

Interestingly, prize pools are crowdfunded by the game's community via in-game keys and sales of special limited edition in-game cosmetic items, such as team logos and special pro gamer signature stickers that can be applied to your character's weaponry.


4. Starcraft II

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Amount in prizes awarded: $20,494,523.17

Number of competitive players in professional matches: 1582

Tournaments held so far: 3889

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Battlekroozer reporting for duty!

Enjoying immense success in its birthplace of North America and nigh-nationwide adoration in South Korea, Starcraft II cruises into #3 on our list with a solid showing in the competitive scene. As one of the core flagship (pun intended) properties of Blizzard Entertainment, otherwise known as being the makers of Warcraft and Diablo, Starcraft II is a classic military science fiction RTS (real-time strategy game) in which players are tasked with wiping their opponent's forces and destroying their command center.

The game stars three species: the Terrans, exiled humans from Earth, the Zerg, voracious and violent 'space bugs' linked to a central hive-mind, and the Protoss, a highly-advanced alien species with psychic powers.

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On its global release, Starcraft II garnered considerable critical acclaim, scoring a jaw-dropping 93% from Metacritic, and was the fastest-selling real-time strategy game of all time, culminating in over 3 million copies sold worldwide in its first month of going live. In the competitive games arena, the Starcraft franchise has been hailed as the most successful eSport in the world and the “national pastime of South Korea”. Indeed, two television channels in South Korea are entirely devoted to broadcasting professional Starcraft matches. Major sponsorship prize pools of up to $170,000 have been awarded for a championship tournament.

In 2012, the Starcraft II World Championship Series, which awarded thousands of dollars in prize pools over several tournament 'brackets', was held in Shanghai, China. The grand champion of the Global Finals was pro-South Korean player Lee-Sak “PartinG” Won from the team StarTale, who won both the coveted gaming trophy and a cool cash prize of USD$100,000.

Conclusion

Armchair counter-terrorism, commander of an alien armada, heroic castle-stormer. We grow up being told these imaginary careers were no way to earn a living, but now we've got the world of eSports making our nerdiest dreams a reality.

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But before you decide your mad skillz are good enough to qualify you for the pro leagues, you might want to think again: for many pro gamers, gaming is not just their passion, it's a full-time career that demands lots of travel, long hours of grueling practice, barracks-style housing and at least moderately getting along with your teammates. Sure, you might be getting paid to play video games all day long, but depending on who hires you, pro gamers train as hard as athletes, with many succumbing to burn-out or simply deciding they can't handle the highly-scheduled, regimented lifestyle.

Being a professional gamer is definitely not for everyone, heck, it's probably not even for most gamers. But hey, if there's one thing that a lifetime of gaming has taught us, is to dream big, and reach for the stars.

Also, you must construct additional pylons.

Product images are sourced from their respective pages on SteamPowered.com.

(Last Updated On: October 21, 2016)

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