Any activity that revolves around fans watching people be good at something requires one critical element: ‘The talent’.
The talent is composed of individual players or, increasingly within the esports ecosystem, teams of players who dedicate their lives to being some of the best video game players on the planet.
We’re going to highlight some of these solo players and esports teams, talking about how they function and what makes them special in the context of the overall scene.
Biggest teams in esports
Owned by Jack and Paullie Etienne, worth around $350 million. They’re top of the lifetime prize pool list, sitting at $35,818,804.03 as of early December 2020. Constantly doing well at The International (DOTA2’s money-rich world championship event) is the key to their financial success, accounting for two thirds of their total winnings. Around 30% of their yearly income is from non-prize sources however; things like appearance fees, streaming revenue, merchandising, and the like.
Founded by Sam and Anne Mathews, worth around $120 million as of 2019. Between 2019 and 2020, they secured Series A funding in excess of $29 million. Their goal is to have about 1.5% of the business owned by fans. This is the kind of thinking that has earned Fnatic one of the most rabid fan bases in esports. They have also won more than two hundred championships across over thirty different games, which helps quite a bit!
⦁ Dallas Empire
The FPS success story of 2020, Dallas Empire has amassed $1.8 million in winnings in the year 2020 alone, over the course of twenty-three tournaments. They took down the 2020 Call of Duty Grand Finals for a cool $1.5 million. They also have the most Grand Final appearances of any of the Call of Duty esports teams. Unlike the bigger franchises, they remain hyper-focused on a single game, keeping their team lean and their operating costs low.
With a stock market cap of around $20 million at the time of this writing, Astralis Group isn’t flying as high as they did at the beginning of the year 2020. Having lost over 50% on their stock’s value year-on-year, meanings that they’re under pressure to prove their worth as a company in this highly competitive esports ecosystem. But there’s good news: As this blog post is being written, Astralis CS:GO team has shown how dominant they can be by winning the ongoing DreamHack Master’s Winter grand finals. They had to fight all the way, coming back from the losing bracket, showing huge spirit and awesome teamwork. 2021 will be their chance to reestablish themselves as the number 1 CS:GO esports team in the world.
Who are the best esports players
Johan “N0tail” Sundstein is the most dominant DOTA2 player in the world, with a $2.2 million 2018 season, followed by a $3.1 million 2019 season, winning The International both times. He’s a stand-out all-star of Team OG, one of the only esports teams to be powered by flowers and friendship.
He’s the highest-paid esports player of all time. A few years ago he was known for training twelve to thirteen hours a day. But now being a bit older, maybe he’s cut down to eleven.
I was getting home from school and basically playing until night, up to 12 hours and sometimes more. I’d be playing 20 hours if I could. This is when I got a bit of pushback because my parents were worried about my health and started worrying about my future. I struggled with school from 15 to 17 and just quit. And never looked back.
– Johan “N0tail” Sundstein, BBC
Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen quickly climbed up the professional ranks when joining OG’s Dota 2 team back in 2018. He is most well-known for his extraordinary mid-lane plays.
I try to disrupt the enemy more and not focus on my own play too much. It’s a much more fun way to play. That’s why you always have an edge, because they always have to be the one reacting to your play.
– Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen, Redbull
⦁ JerAx (retired)
In his own words, games made him into who he is today. And who is JerAx? Just one of the most successful esports stars of all time. He spent most of his professional career in team OG, helping them to win two The International’s and Majors in Kyiv and Boston.
When I joined OG, I understood right away what they’re looking for, and I 100 percent agreed with it. I think when people ask what OG stands for, it’s mostly not for the letters themselves, but for enabling people as what they are. That’s the essence of why OG have been working as a team, and why we are such friends with each other
– Jesse “JerAx” Vainikka, Redbull
My main goal always was and remains be to become the best team in the world, the rest is unimportant. I understand that any practice will yield fruits and will help me in situations where I need to win a round for my team.
– Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev, HLTV
Joona “Serral” Sotala is a Finnish professional Starcraft 2 player who took the scene by a storm by winning multiple well-respected titles in 2018 – including WCS Global Finals which had never been won before by a non-Korean player.
I feel like when I go to tournaments and when I’m just playing StarCraft, that’s just kind of what I do, and I can’t be too nervous of doing something I actually like doing and dreamed of doing. So, I mean, it’s kind of just my work.
– Joona “Serral” Sotala, dailyesports
Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn has broken countless barriers in the esports ecosystem. Her mastery of the Zerg earned her a Top 10 Grandmaster position on the North American ladder.
She was one of the first female gamers to amass a big following, and the first to win a Starcraft II Major; the 2018 Intel Extreme Masters tournament. She broke $100,000 in earnings that year, cementing her place in the pro scene. In 2020 she joined Brave Star Gaming, one of the dedicated SC2 esports teams based in China.
Elias “Jamppi” Olkkonen is a Finnish professional Valorant player who retired as CS:GO player in January 2021.
He doesn’t have too many titles to brag about yet, but it’s widely considered to be just a matter of time when he will be collecting big checks from big international Valorant tournaments.
⦁ Fatal1ty (retired)
Johnathan Wendel is a retired esports legend and the founder of FATAL1TY gaming hardware. He was the GOAT of the early esports ecosystem, a top prize winner and dominant force in Quake and Unreal Tournament. Fatal1ty was also the 2000 World Cyber Games gold medalist. He capped off his career with a $150,000 purse in the CPL World Tour Finals, playing Painkiller. These days, his gaming motherboards are sold throughout the world, proving that there is life after pro gaming.
Some esports teams go broad, covering multiple games with dozens or hundreds of sponsored players. Other teams, and particularly common amongst individual players, are specialists.
The main way that players and esports teams make money is through tournament winnings. Even the esports teams that rely heavily on merchandising need to show the world just how good they really are, or the merch sales quickly dry up.
In order to maintain their reputations and compete for the big bucks, teams and individual players need to enter the competitions run by esports league organizers. Ultimately they want to enter a mix of small to mid-sized tournaments to secure a steady stream of income, and large tournaments to try for the big prizes. And of course, they want the glory that goes hand in hand with taking down the entire event.
League organizers want to attract the biggest names in esports so that their viewership is high, their arenas are sold out, and their sponsors are happy. And they’re happy to pay for the privilege, as long as the competitors bring their A-game. It’s a win-win relationship.
You can learn more about the esports tournament sector from our other post ‘Esports tournament organizers’.