Money Talks: E-Sports’ Highest Earners

E-sports' highest earners

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Referring to pro gamers as sportspeople is likely to earn a swift rebuke from the cynics. Call them athletes and you can expect a torrent of abuse. But the fact of the matter is e-Sports is big business and its best players are among the highest paid sportspeople in their countries.

E-Sports – headlined by competitions based around iconic titles such as Dota 2, Counterstrike:Global Offensive, League of Legends and StarCraft – has come to the fore for punters during the coronavirus sports shutdown. E-Sports betting and e-Sports odds have flourished.

Forget the stereotype of video game geeks living in their parents’ basement – the guys on this list of e-Sports’ highest earners, including Aussie Anatham Pham, can afford to buy their own mansions… and hire you as their butler.

These guys have the skills to win – so we’ve found the top 10 e-Sports earners, and listed them for your betting consideration. A quick tip? All of the top 10 earners – and 35 of the top 38 – have made their dough playing Dota 2.

10. LASSE URPALAINEN (MATUMBAMAN)

Career earnings: $3,662,181
Finnish lad Urpalainen – who goes by the gaming handle Matumbaman – burst onto the Dota 2 scene as a 19-year-old, winning the Assembly Summer 2014 LAN tournament. As part of team Veni,Vidi,Vici, Matumbaman became a fan favourite for his high level of mechanical skill.

He was on teams that enjoyed a string of five-figure Dota 2 prize money earns in 2015, before sharing in several $400,000-plus wins in 2016. Team Liquid’s win at The International 2017 – with a first-place purse of over $10 million – put Matumbaman in the top bracket of e-Sports’ highest earners.

Matumbaman currently mashes buttons for Team Secret, who have chalked up multiple wins in European competitions in recent weeks.

9. MAROUN MERHEJ (GH)

Career earnings: $4,134,326
Lebanese gamer Maroun ‘GH’ Merhej was a teammate of Matumbaman’s on Team Liquid, sharing in its decorated 2017 campaign and getting the big bucks from the triumph at The International 2017. He was the first player from his country to attend the prestigious event.

GH helped Team Liquid to a runner-up finish at The International 2019 (and prize money of almost $4.5 million), but switched to Team Nigma later in the year, where his earnings have remained solid.

8. IVAN IVANOV (MIND_CONTROL)

Career earnings: $4,531,393
Coming in hot out of Bulgaria, Ivan ‘MindD_ContRoL’ Ivanov got his pro-gaming grounding with team Vast Cast in 2014. He had subsequent tumultuous stints with Aftershock Gaming, Basically Unknown and Oslik Gaming.

But as with Matumbaman and GH, MinD_ContRoL started on the path to millionaire status with Team Liquid, sharing in The International 2017 success and the $10 million winner’s purse. And like GH, the 25-year-old was part of Team Liquid’s runner-up showing at The International 2019 before linking with Team Nigma.

7. AMER AL-BARKAWI (MIRACLE-)

Career earnings: $4,740,318
Jordanian-Polish Dota 2 stud Amer Al-Barkawi, aka ‘Miracle-’, built his reputation as a ‘pubstar’ – a dominant player in public games.

After a false start with the Balkan Bears in 2015, Miracle- was invited to the pro ranks by (monkey) Business, which became OG. The team achieved big-earning wins at DreamLeague Season 5 and ESL Frankfurt in 2016.

Miracle- joined Team Liquid later in 2016 and was rolling around on a bed of money (at least, that’s what we’d do…) after The International 2017. He received the e-Sports PC Player of the Year award at the 2017 e-Sports Industry Awards.

He was part of the Team Liquid defection to Team Nigma in late 2019, along with GH and MinD_ContRol.

6. KURO TAKHASOMI (KUROKY)

Career earnings: $5,176,688
Kuro ‘KuroKy’ Takhasomi hails from Germany and is one of the stalwarts of the pro Dota scene. He made his pro debut at 16 and was a Dota 2 pioneer at The International 2011 under the GosuGamers.net banner.
Following a stint with Team Secret, KuroKy joined Team Liquid in 2015 and shared in that $10 million bounty at The International 2017. The win was particularly sweet for KuroKy, whose six previous visits to the event left a trail of near misses and heartache.

The 27-year-old left Team Liquid after coming second at The International 2019, part of the breakaway to Team Nigma with Miracle-, GH and MinD_ContRol.

5. TOPIAS TAAVITSAINEN (TOPSON)

Career earnings: $5,414,446
Another Finnish gamer, Topias ‘Topson’ Taavitsainen entered the pro-gaming sphere in 2016. He had to graft his way to prominence with low-level teams (and modest earnings) before getting snapped up by heavyweight team OG in 2018.

Topson’s bank balance soon skyrocketed, with OG powering to victory at The International 2018 and The International 2019, which netted the team prize money of almost $27 million. He had the highest average kills per game in the 2019 tournament.

4. SEBASTIEN DEBS (CEB)

Career earnings: $5,501,233
French-Lebanese big gun Sebastien ‘Ceb’ Debs is presently on team OG’s inactive roster.

While Ceb made his name with Team Shakira (with whom he debuted in 2011), Shiba Gaming, DD.Dota, Sigma and Alliance, his fast track to the list of e-Sports’ highest earners came after he linked with OG.

Ceb filled the offlane position for OG at The International 2018, and was at the forefront again when the team created history by going back-to-back at The International 2019.

3. ANATHAM PHAM (ANA)

Career earnings: $6,000,411
According to the Financial Review, Anatham Pham – who goes by the handle ‘ana’ – was 18th on the list of Australia’s highest sports earners in 2019.

The Melbourne youngster, who only turned 20 in October, reeled in $3.2 million last year, nestling him just in front of cricket superstar Steve Smith ($2.8m), and a couple of bundles behind EPL goalkeeper Mat Ryan ($3.3m).

Ana was just 16 when he moved from Melbourne to Shanghai to further his e-Sports career – and it’s paid off big time. He joined Invictus Gaming in early 2016, but after The International 2016 he was snapped up by Dota 2 monolith OG.

Ana was a key part of OG’s team that pulled off consecutive wins at The International in 2018 and 2019 but you won’t find his name in e-Sports betting and e-Sports odds at present. He took extended breaks after both successes… which a 20-year-old with $6 million in the bank probably has the luxury to do.

2. JESSE VAINIKKA (JERAX)

Career earnings $6,470,000
JerAx – Jesse Vainikka from Finland according to his passport – hung up the control pad in January 2020 after a decorated and insanely profitable Dota 2 career.

Starting off as a pro gamer in 2013 with Finnish team Rat in the dark, JerAx came to prominence with Team Liquid in 2015. JerAx joined OG in 2016, but could only watch on as his former team prevailed at The International 2017. He atoned as part of OG’s historic back-to-back victories at The International 2018 and The International 2019.

JerAx’s retirement announcement – due to losing his passion for competing in Dota 2 – stunned the e-Sports world.

1. JOHAN SUNDSTEIN (N0TAIL)

Career earnings $6,906,166
Denmark’s most famous e-Sports export, Johan ‘N0tail’ Sundstein first rose to prominence playing Heroes of Newerth for Fnatic.

N0tail was part of Dota 2‘s explosion in popularity, starring for Fnatic.EU in a landmark win at the Thor Open 2012. He helped form Team Secret, then joined OG after a stint with Cloud9.

N0tail’s all-time individual player record for the most deaths in a single game (20) was not enough for OG to win The International 2017, but he was a spearhead of the OG line-ups that blew the competition away at The International in 2018 and 2019.

The 26-year-old has surged to the top of the e-Sports’ highest earners list, gaining widespread celebrity status.

The road to e-Sports stardom may be long and arduous, but the 10 aforementioned players would surely testify the pot of gold at the end is worth it. While punters peruse e-Sports odds and e-Sports betting options, these e-Sports stars are counting piles of cash.

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