Back in 2004, a professional gamer considered $20,000 to be a good haul for winning a tournament. In 2014, winning one event can turn you into an instant millionaire. From MLG prize pools of $5,000-$10,000 10 years ago to this year’s Dota 2 The International 4 commanding a $10 million-plus purse, eSports are becoming incredibly competitive even compared to some sporting events. With last year’s League of Legends Season 3 World Championship selling out the Staples Center and The International’s finals being broadcast on ESPN, visibility is at an all-time high.
Along with the unparalleled competition provided by relatively new players on the eSports scene in the MOBA/ARTS genre, the prize pools are increasing at what seems like an exponential rate. With a prize pool of over $10.9 million, Dota 2’s The International 4 tournament made every member of the winning team, Newbee, into an instant millionaire, with 46 percent of the total going their way. This victory turns players on Newbee into the top five overall prize earners in eSports history. Why did MOBAs suddenly become the destination genre for competitive gaming? League of Legends creators Riot Games thinks it has to do with the core game experience.
“League of Legends had the DNA of a successful spectator sport from day one: It relies on team play, strategy, and clear goals,” says Riot Games vice president of eSports Dustin Beck. “The core element to League is competitive action, but it’s also a team game that rewards collaboration. There’s a consistent rhythm to it – the map and the players may change, but the goal always stays the same.
These are just a few of the things that makes League such a natural fit as a spectator sport, and one of the reasons why we chose to invest in an ecosystem that made it easier to take part in and enjoy live tournaments.” The team play aspect is also what drives interest in Dota 2. “I think that these 5v5 team games are really popular because you can play with your friends,” says Peter Dager, who plays on the Evil Geniuses Dota 2 team. “Games in the past have been more focused on the individual.” The money involved with these events has come a long way since Quake III: Arena, StarCraft II, Counter-Strike, and Halo tournaments ruled the scene.
Even in comparison to last year’s biggest events, the growth of eSports purses in recent months is staggering. The International 3 had a $2.8 million purse, compared to $10.9 million this year. “It’s not just the competitive events that are capturing massive attention of gamers – the size of the community itself is much larger than most FPS and old-school RTS games,” says Valve vice president of marketing Doug Lombardi. “If you look back at TI1, held in our booth at Gamescom in 2011, it was really low-fi.
Held in a loud trade-show environment, no between-game analysis, and the audience didn’t really have a vested interest in the tournament. After each International, we come away with a list of things the community would like to see, things we feel we can do better, as well as suggestions from the players and teams.” Crowdfunding has provided new opportunities to push prize pools to new heights. Valve has long tapped into the community to create new content for Dota 2, such as cosmetic items, announcer packs, and loading screens. But with events like The International, the player Compendium has become an integral part of the event. Each time a player buys this digital item, money is added directly into the overall prize pool.
Fans can also purchase team-branded merchandise to support their favorite competitors and support their favorite shoutcasters and personalities by adding a digital autograph to purchases. “What Valve has done to make the crowdfunding aspects attractive to the community, they have kind of made The International into this glorious celebration of Dota,” Dager says. “Whether you play the game or not, you’re probably watching. I think crowdfunding is the right way to go about this, I think other companies will do similar things. I don’t think eSports is leveling off, I think it will continue to grow until it is just as if not more popular than things like televised sports.”
These huge events owe much of the rapid ramp to greatness to the pervasiveness of streaming growing up alongside modern eSports. With Twitch.tv and in-client spectating, the friction of watching your favorite players messing around day-to-day or participating in a major tournament is gone. Finding, watching, and even participating with eSports has never been easier.
The Top 10 eSports Tournaments By Prize Pool
- The International 4 $10,900,000* (Dota 2)
- The International 3 $2,874,000 (Dota 2)
- Season 3 World Championship $2,050,000 (League of Legends)
- Season 2 World Championship $1,970,000 (League of Legends)
- The International 2 $1,600,000 (Dota 2)
- The International 1 $1,600,000 (Dota 2)
- Call of Duty Championship 2014 $1,000,000 (Call of Duty: Ghosts)
- Call of Duty Championship 2013 $1,000,000 (Call of Duty: Black Ops 2)
- Call of Duty XP $1,000,000 (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3)
- CPL World Tour finals 2005 $510,000 (Painkiller)