Just last year, $10 million eSports franchises were being sold. Now, in 2019, those same franchises are worth over $50 million. A new style of athlete is being defined not by muscle, but by brain power and hand-eye coordination. For example, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins earns more—and has a larger following—than most top conventional athletes. With the eSports industry expected to top $1 billion this year, knowing who the key players are can help you navigate the landscape.
eSports holds competitive, multiplayer tournaments around the world where elite players compete for prizes that can range up to millions of dollars. Professional teams vie for titles, large prize pools, and lucrative sponsorships from game design and technology brands. The most prominent competitive gaming teams are shaping the industry and sweeping multi-million-dollar annual takes, while expanding into an array of other gaming and eSports-related initiatives. While there are multiple ways to determine who is leading this constantly shifting landscape, one useful lens is the highest earnings. Here’s a closer look at last year’s leading teams according to industry news site The eSports Observer.
#10 – VICI Gaming
VICI Gaming rounds out the top 10 highest-earning eSports teams of 2018, and they’re on target for another big year in the season that’s underway. VICI Gaming is a professional Chinese eSports organization. After more than half a decade in play, the team hosts world-class players in games including Dota 2, League of Legends, FIFA, Counterstrike: Global Offensive, and StarCraft II. With their diversified game interests, their earning power is skyrocketing. The team has a reputation for fierce competition, with some industry commentators calling them terrors on the battlefield, and they’re strong favorites for this year’s International competition of Dota 2. A mix of established talent and fresh players, a strong coach, and clear focus have helped moved VICI Gaminginto one of the industry’s top spots.
# 9 – Cloud9
Cloud9 is an American eSports team that plays competitively in a wide range of games. According to The eSports Observer, the team had a number of notable victories in 2018 that led to collective winnings of $3.28 million. Cloud9 fields professional teams in League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, Apex Legends, Hearthstone, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Rules of Survival, Rocket League, PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS, and World of Warcraft. But their expertise doesn’t stop with a diverse gaming mix. The team’s business savvy is helping them stand out through branded merchandise and industry partnerships with blue chip brands like AT&T, Puma, and Microsoft.
#8 – Fnatic
Fnatic is a pioneer of the eSports world, originally established in 2004—and subsequently helping to shape the field. The world-class professional athletes of Fnatic represent the brand at more than 75 tournaments across 20 games globally, and won $3.63 million in competitive prizes in 2018 alone. This professional sports organization has a leading presence in the games League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Dota 2. Headquartered in London, Fnatic has a global footprint that spans from North America to Asia. The team has received major investments and is poised to create what they call “the first globally-recognized lifestyle brand to emerge from the world of eSports,” while continuing to perform at competitions around the world. They’re one of 18 teams slated to compete in this year’s prestigious International competition.
#7 – Astralis
Founded in 2016, the Dutch professional eSports team Astralis had a big year in 2018—winning $3.65 million—and is poised for another amazing performance in 2019. With a relentless focus on Counter-Strike: Global Operations, Astralis rocketed into the top eSports earners. After winning the IEM Katowice Major 2019, the team became only the second team in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive history to have three major titles, and the third to win back-to-back major events.
#6 – Virtus.pro
In sixth place overall for total earnings in 2018 is Virtus.pro. The Virtus.pro team is the leading Russian eSports team (with some players based in Poland) and a dominant name on both the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Dota 2 circuits. Virtus.pro has placed in the prestigious International three times, and won a host of other regional and game-specific championships. They’ve also made waves in the Fortnite world. The team won just shy of $4 million in prizes in 2018 and is on track for another big year with over $600,000 in prizes won in the first half of 2019. The team’s lineup includes some players from the popular Golden Five, and has a dedicated global following.
#5 – FaZe Clan
When fans think of cutting-edge eSports teams, many immediately envision FaZe Clan. FaZe Clan collected an impressive $4.09 million in prizes in 2018, according to The Esports Observer. They have built world-class expertise in the blockbuster game Fortnite, as well as other first-person shooter games like Call of Duty and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. They’re also active players on the FIFA eSports competition circuit. The team bills itself as the most popular eSports team in the world, and is currently ranked #1 by Ranker for best eSports organization according to fans. Since their founding in 2010, FaZe Clan has gone on to develop a range of pro gear, fan gear, and sponsorships from Scuf Gaming, HTC, and Nissan.
#4 – Evil Geniuses
Known for their legendary lineup and consistent successes, the Evil Geniuses are some of the top players in eSports today. According to TechRadar, “Evil Geniuses is an eSports organization based in San Francisco and founded in 1999 as a Counter-Strike team. It has a number of teams specializing in a range of games, including Defense of Ancients (Dota), League of Legends, StarCraft II, Halo and, of course, Overwatch. In 2015, the Dota team won the largest prize payout in eSports history.” In 2018, the Evil Geniuses were a top-grossing professional eSports team with $4.18 million in winnings, and major wins that included both Dota 2 MOBA and the Call of Duty World League Championship in 2018. They’re slated to play in this year’s International competition.
#3 – Paris Saint-Germain Esports
If there’s one brand where traditional sports and eSports come together for a bigger profile, it’s Paris Saint-Germain eSports (PSG). Paris Saint-Germain Esports was 2018’s third-highest grossing team with $5.36 million in competitive winnings. The team was founded in France in 2016 and quickly rocketed to prominence with a series of victories. PSG teams compete in games such as FIFA, Rocket League, and Dota 2. Officially, they’re affiliated with the Paris Saint-Germain Football Club, operating as their eSports division. The team’s partnerships include big-name sponsors like Betway and Monster Energy, and their merchandising strategy gets the team name out there on everything from jerseys to branded gaming chairs.
#2 – Team Liquid
One of the most recognizable names in eSports today is Team Liquid, which The Esports Observer notes pulled down $7.2 million in prizes in 2018, making them the second-highest grossing team globally that year. This European team is on target for another big year, securing one of the coveted spots at this year’s International. Team Liquid bills itself as one of the leading international professional eSports organizations, a pioneer in the field after launching in 2000. Today, the company features more than 60 competitive athletes who compete in 14 of the world’s biggest games, including League of Legends and Fortnite. The organization has expanded to include a video production arm, the Liquipedia eSports wiki, and the Liquid Media eSports influencer management agency.
# 1 – OG
2018’s biggest winner is one of the biggest names overall in eSports today. OG is a Europe-based professional eSports organization that took The eSports Observer’s top slot for major winnings in 2018. During 2018, the team grossed $11.47 million and won the prestigious International 2018 Dota 2 gaming competition. The team was founded in 2015 and burst onto the international eSports competitive scene the following year. They perform primarily in the high-profile arena that targets the game Defense of the Ancients, better known as Dota 2. In addition, they also compete in the game Melee. The team continues to dominate in international Dota competitions and made headlines when they played OpenAI bots in a live Dota 2 competition. As The Verge wrote, “The competition on the human side included five top Dota 2 pros from team OG, which won the world’s most coveted eSports prize last year when it took the No. 1 spot at The International, the premiere annual Dota 2 tournament with prizes now totaling $25 million.” While the team didn’t come out of the AI competition in the lead, it was a groundbreaking experiment that eSports fans followed with great interest.
Following the top competitive teams in eSports helps you keep a beat on the industry, from which games are trending to which developers and technology brands are making a splash through partnerships with these teams. Today’s leading eSports teams provide an important lens on where the industry is headed and what trends may be emerging that sponsors, technology developers, and fans alike should follow.