China is dominating the world in esports earnings

The 2014 'League of Legends' All-Star tournament.
Image: Jacques Brinon/AP/REX/Shutterstock

As esports have evolved over the years, global player representation has soared, prize money has fluctuated, and games have come and gone. Now we get to see exactly how everything has changed over the past 10 years as esports have grown into the global phenomena that they are today.

A project called “The Champions of Esports” by Unibet gives us a glimpse at the shifting and growing world of esports by visualizing tons of data collected over the years, including player earnings, prize money for different games, and country participation. The project pulls data from all of the most popular esports titles and includes teams and players from all the countries that participate at the top level.

“The Champions of Esports” graphics also show how much viewership has grown since live streaming on the web found its footing when Twitch launched in 2011 and YouTube kicked off its live streaming feature in 2012.

With all these hundreds of millions of people tuning in to watch competitive gaming, the number of esports competitions per year has increased drastically in the last decade, the most jam-packed year being 2015 with nearly 5,000 tournaments before falling to around 3,900 tournaments in 2016. Despite the dip in tournaments last year, prize money has never been higher, with an estimated payout amount of $150 million for 2017.

As for who is earning this money and getting these views, “The Champions of Esports” details the top eight countries by number of players and how much they earn. Interestingly, despite having nearly triple the players of any other country included in the study, the United States as a whole has earned significantly less than China since 2014.

The U.S. has always had more players than other top countries, which is partially due its higher population as well as its dominance in smaller scenes. Games like Super Smash Bros., Halo, and Call of Duty are much more popular in the United States than anywhere else in the world.

Despite the sheer number of bodies the U.S. is throwing into esports, the players aren’t performing as well as players from other countries in the game that has the biggest payouts: Dota 2. Over the years, Dota 2 has awarded players over $90 million primarily thanks to the crowd-funded prize pools of its yearly International tournament, which keeps breaking its own prize money world record.

Dota 2 dominates the chart for top earning players, accounting for 71 of the top 100 earning players, 29 of which are from China. Chinese teams have either placed first, second or both at the past three Internationals, netting the country over $18 million from those four team placements alone.

A lot of these players are pretty young, too. The winners of the 2016 Dota 2 International Wings Gaming have three players under the age of 21. According to “The Champions of Esports,” that’s not uncommon.

If you really want to make big money competing in esports, though, you’ll want to stick it out a little bit longer than that, given that 25 is the age where players tend to make the most money.

There are a bunch of other graphs and charts related to esports within the project, which you can peruse through right here:

You can find the most popular esport by player (Counter-Strike: Global Offensive), the most tenacious player based on number of tournaments (Super Smash Bros. player Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman), and which country has the most esports pros in relation to its population (Sweden).

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