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Never in the history of esports has there been so much money awarded to competing teams. 2019 saw over $211M USD distributed over the course of 4490 tournaments played with many esports putting out record prize money.
Valve’s Dota 2 also saw record numbers as it put out $4M more in prize money than the previous year. However, the biggest reason for the increase in prize money in 2019 was Epic Games’ hugely popular title Fortnite, and the $79M it pumped into the esports ecosystem. Esports organizations left and right created teams in hopes of getting in on the Fortnite gold rush.
Let’s take a look at the top 10 teams that earned the most in competitive play in 2019 and see how Fortnite and Dota 2 affected the scene.
Note – data for this piece was collected from a combination of Esports Earnings and self-reported figures from teams.
No. 10 – FaZe Clan: $3.166M (2018: No. 10, $2.78M)
Just over a third of the total prize money earned by FaZe Clan, $1.1M, comes from PUBG where it finished first in three tournaments and second to Gen.G at the PUBG Global Champion 2019. FaZe’s Fortnite squad checked in with just under a million at $964K.
FaZe Clan’s CS:GO and Call of Duty teams had total combined winnings of $894K.
With $6M up for grabs in the franchised Call of Duty League starting in January, FaZe Clan will look to climb the charts next year.
No. 9 – Sentinels: $3.26M (2018: No. 237, $30.4K)
The second esports franchise to find entry into the top 10 based solely on Fortnite, Sentinels comes in at No. 8, carried on the back of Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf. At the age of 16, Giersdorf won Solos at the Fortnite World Cup and saw a $3M cash prize become his.
Sentinels get credit here for being the organization that represented Giersdorf, but the real story here, once again, is that if you can find the talent and aim it at the game with the biggest prize pool, good things can happen.
No. 8 – Team Secret: $3.31M (2018: No. 11, $2.32M)
Team Secret, the Dota 2 powerhouse, rocketed to the No. 7 earner in the esports world by virtue of taking home $3.10M throughout the Dota 2 season. The Dota 2 squad acquired just over $2M by finishing fourth at The International 2019.
However, Secret is looking to create winning opportunities by fielding teams in esports that do not cost as much to run. Until these other sports start paying dividends, it will have to rely on Dota 2 to see paydays. Additionally, Rainbow 6, Apex Legends, Age of Empires, PUBG Mobile, and Age of Empires II have earned another $213K in 2019.
No. 7 – Gen.G: $3.45M (2018: No. 17, $1.35M)
Gen.G Esports dominated the PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS (PUBG) scene, winning three major tournaments including the PUBG World Global Championship 2019 to the tune of $2.28M. PUBG was so important to the organization in 2019, that the battle royale title winnings were approximately 94% of its total.
The prize distribution percentage should change in 2020 as Gen.G has acquired a CS:GO team starting with three now former Cloud9 players. Timothy “autimatic” Ta, Damian “daps” Steele, and Kenneth “koosta” Suen are the new core that have winning pedigrees.
Gen.G has two steady income makers with the Seoul Dynasty (Overwatch League), and Gen.G which plays in the League Champions Korea (LCK).
No. 6 – Cooler Esport: $3.51M (2018: No. 297, $10K)
The little known esports organization came out of nowhere, racing into the No. 9 spot in this year’s list based solely on its winnings from playing Fortnite. Emil “nyhrox” Bergquist Pedersen and David “aqua” Wang took home $3M by winning Duos at the Fortnite World Cup.
With the amount of money being thrown into the esports prize pool ecosystem by the likes of Epic Games and PUBG Corp., it makes sense that some smaller organizations will reap the benefits of a cash windfall.
Cooler is showing that you do not need to have a large organization to survive in esports. You just need to find an esport or two with large prize pools and finish high.
No. 5 – PSG.LGD Esports: $3.54M (2018: No. 3, $5.36M)
The second Dota 2 powerhouse to make the list, the Paris Saint-Germain-LGD partnership has worked out thus far as the roster took home $3.4M in winnings in 2019. The collaboration also includes its FIFA squad that took home $37K.
PSG.LGD is another example of how titles such as Dota 2, which gives out most of its prize money in the championship at the end of the season, can have such a profound effect on the ecosystem.
No. 4 – Lazarus: $4.22M (2018: No. 65, $354K)
The former SetToDestroyX organization has a new name and some different faces in management. The organization relies on a business model that sees itself play in a number of the smaller esports titles, in order to diversify its revenue stream. In 2019 it found a winner.
By qualifying six players for the Fortnite World Cup, Lazarus had six opportunities to finish well and take home a large share of winnings. Two of those players hit paydirt.
With second and seventeenth finishes, respectively, in Duos at the Fortnite World Cup, Lazarus won $2.35M in prize money. Playing in the qualifiers and other Fortnite tournaments netted the Canadian organization another $1.3M in winnings which has put Lazarus on the map.
Lazarus fields teams in CS:GO, Hearthstone, PUBG, and others, and looks poised to have a solid 2020 if it can repeat its Fortnite success and score wins in other esports.
“In 2020, we will continue to develop and sign a diverse and fiercely competitive portfolio across the esports landscape in pursuit of being top 10 globally ranked,” Lazarus Esports CEO Charlie Watson told The Esports observer.
No. 3 – NRG Esports: $5.28M (2018: $945K)
NRG’s rise to the No. 3 spot on the list was done by doing one thing: winning in a myriad of titles. The San Francisco Shock won the Overwatch League in 2019 that saw a nice $1.5M payday. Additionally, the organization took home another $2.85M in Fortnite winnings.
NRG, however, did buck the trend a bit in 2019 by transferring their CS:GO team to Evil Geniuses, for what was reported as financial reasons. The team contributed $368K to NRG’s total prize winnings this past year.
Rocket League was another six-figure winner at $379K and the Apex Legends Squad pulled in $124K. With the announcement of the $3M Apex Legends Global Series launch in 2020, as well as joining the Call of Duty League as the owner of the Chicago Huntsmen, NRG could see some nice returns.
“2019 was a dream competitive year for NRG. All of our teams were at the top of their game winning a ton of tournaments and claiming two world championships,” NRG CEO Any Miller told The Esports Observer. “Our Gaming GMs Jaime Cohenca and Chris Chung built amazing rosters around our true secret weapons, world class coaches.” – CEO and Founder of NRG Esports Andy Miller.
No. 2 – Team Liquid: $9.40M (2018: No. 2, $6.69M)
Team Liquid has one of the most diverse portfolios when it comes to winnings earned from its competitive teams. 2019 saw much success from the North American organization as its Dota 2, CS:GO, League of Legends, and Fortnite teams had great years.
Liquid’s Dota 2 team made $5.08M mostly by virtue of finishing second at The International 2019 where it took home $4.46M for its trouble. However, perhaps the bigger story for Team Liquid was the success of its CS:GO squad, who at one time was the No. 1 team in the world, according to HLTV.org.
The addition of Jacky “Stewie2K” Yip and Keith “NAF” Markovic to Team Liquid’s CS:GO team paid off in 2019 as it took home over $2.31M. Coupled with Team Liquid’s League of Legends squad and its contribution of $455K, Team Liquid had a solid year all the way around.
No. 1 – OG: $15.84M (2018: No. 1, $11.46M)
The No. 1 team of 2019 in prize money won should come as no surprise as the Dota 2 The International 2019 Champions won a staggering $15.81M; basically the entire 2019 winnings (Super Smash Bros. brought in $900).
By winning TI9, the five OG players saw themselves become the highest-earning players in the history of esports.
So if organizations are seeking to be No. 1 on this list next year, grab the best Dota 2 team you can and win it there.