The first and most important thing we need to say is that pros can make hugely different amounts of money. It all depends on the individual, their performance and other value metrics like popularity.
It’s totally possible that some pros make less than 6 figures while others are earning millions, so you can treat this as a bit of a disclaimer that not every pro will match up perfectly with our estimates. We’re really gonna focus on the different methods that pros use to make money, then we’ll shift the perspective a bit and look at how the more popular pro players increase that amount to reach the real high-tier salaries. The first and most important revenue stream we want to talk about is team-based salary, which makes up the majority of a pro player’s income. This is also where you’ll find the most variance, since this amount is based on a contract, and there’s a few different things that come into play when it comes to figuring out how expensive that contract is going to be for the organisation. The obvious factors are things like that player’s skill level or how popular they are with the League community, but location plays a huge part too.
Different regions offer different salaries, and organisations will often pay a higher sum to incentivize players to move to a different region. For example, Korean player Impact was apparently offered a place on the SKT T1 Roster, but rejected it to sign with Team Liquid for approximately $1 million dollars a year according to the ESPN eSports podcast between Rachel Gu and Jacob Wolf. This is of course a super high-tier salary and definitely way above the average, but it definitely goes to show how much higher a salary can be offered to encourage players to stay in one particular region over the other. The highest salaries in the world are typically found in China. The same podcast that we heard the rumors about Impact’s salary also claimed that Looper, the South Korean Top Laner for Royal Never Give Up, was earning $750,000 last year on this website.
At the time, this was higher than any player salary in North America, although the gap has definitely been closing and NA is a clear cut second place for player salaries, to the point where EU has been reportedly struggling to compete with NA bids. Surprisingly, Korea is on average the region with the lowest salaries. In fact, an investigation into player salaries in 2015 by the Korea e-Sports Association (or Kespa as most of you will know it) found that the average salary of 40 League of Legends players across the 8 Kespa teams was $57,717. This average will have definitely increased since then, but it just goes to show how not every pro player in the world is in a position where they can think about early retirement! In fact, this was one of the motivating factors in Immortals CEO Noah Whinston pushing for a public database that tracked player salaries. With everything done behind closed doors, it’s entirely possible that many players were being exploited, especially since there are no player agents and no union.
As you can see from these examples so far, the range of salaries for pro players is pretty massive. Lower tier pros can typically expect to earn around $50-80k a year, with the more notable LCS players reaching around $150-300k. Beyond that you’re really getting into the seriously noteworthy player bracket where their insane skill or popularity can easily push a player’s value up from anywhere between $700k and millions of dollars. It’s worth keeping in mind that franchising is actually going to push these salaries even higher, with all pro players and even academy pros being able to do really well for themselves depending on the team. Salaries are also going to become a lot more consistent, since organisations are going to be held accountable so they can’t get away with not paying their players. According to Goldenglue, most players don’t get any of the money directly from Riot stipends, team sponsors or promotional events since it’s just a part of their contracted salary.
However, some players do get a percentage of merchandise revenue if it’s using their brand, like on jersey sales for example, so popular players could potentially earn a little extra here. One other factor worth considering here is performance-based bonuses. A lot of pro players contracts have stipulations where they are granted bonuses based on their success. This is typically done based on how much perceived risk there is to sign a player; so you could sign a player with a less pricy yearly salary, meaning less risk for the organisation, but strong showings from that player will give them bonuses and a potentially huge salary if they do well.
One notable example of this is Reignover, who is cited as the highest salary in the NA LCS with a $350,000 contract. Compared to other high-tier salaries this might not seem THAT extreme, but Reignover’s performance bonuses could ramp up to a solid $700-800k extra in a single year, which would easily push him into the very top percentage of pro player salaries. I know what you’re all thinking at this point; how much does Faker make? According to Dot eSports, the world’s best player is apparently earning a cool $2.5 million dollars for 2017.
That might sound like an absolutely insane sum of money, but compared to the other highest-paid athletes it’s still a pretty humble amount. That just goes to show that despite all the crazy growth in the eSports industry, it still has a long way to go before it competes with established sports that have been around for such a long time. The next revenue stream we should definitely discuss is personal content, such as Youtube videos or Twitch streams. This is pretty easy to estimate because it uses very similar metrics to other content creators.
Most of the money here comes selling advertisement space on content or gaining subscribers on Twitch. Dot eSports estimated Bjergsen’s content income in 2015 to be around 20-40k a month, not including his Youtube, which is likely to be negligible compared to his streams so we’d be surprised to hear it earns more than 5k a month. Bjergsen serves as a pretty good baseline for estimating other pro player’s earnings from content.
It really all boils down to how many people watch your content, so people with similar viewership will earn similar amounts, and that will scale up or down in a pretty linear fashion based on any particularly player’s popularity. Bjergsen might be the most popular NA LCS streamer, but he doesn’t stream as often as other players and can be pretty inconsistent with content. Working as content creators, pro players can really only maximize their earnings during the off-season when SoloQ is sufficient as a practice tool. Most pros we’ve talked to say that streaming Solo Queue is nowhere near as good practice as simply playing SoloQ off stream though, since they can dedicate more of their attention to streaming, so you can also consider personal content to be a pretty seasonal income stream. Still, it can definitely line the pockets of pro players in a significant way if they are dedicated to it. The most popular pros are likely pulling in $50k or more a month on this kinda stuff if they have high viewership and stream frequently, but the less popular players are likely still reaching a good $5-10k a month which is still a substantial amount of money, especially for a side income.
There’s also tournament winnings to consider, with prize pools being typically split as 15% for players and 10% for the organization and coaching staff according to Goldenglue. Although events like MSI, Worlds and the LCS splits can have pretty sizable prize pools, it’s important to remember that it’s going to be split between a whole bunch of people, so it ends up being a generally low source of income for professional players. If you consider how much work a pro needs to put in to reach the final and win a tournament, only receiving 10-15% of the prize pool is a pretty low sum, so it’s not really a reliable income source for those planning their careers as pro gamers.
Using Faker as an example, according to estimates by the site eSports Earnings, he’s earned $1,160,286.36 from 38 different tournaments since he started his career in Season 3. That’s less than half of his approximate salary for 2017 alone, so any budding professional players amongst you should definitely be looking to land a good contract rather than expecting to be rich from tournament winnings! There are a few other extraneous income sources out there that professional League players can take advantage of, but in all honesty they are probably insignificant compared to the other revenue streams. Riot skins like the World Championship team skins do have a revenue share, and there’s also stuff like team events or coaching that players can do on the side to earn a bit of extra income. Goldenglue commented that although some players do make guides or coach others for that small income boost, it’s not really a common thing among pro players and it’s usually not a particularly substantial amount.