First, it was NBA games. Then, March Madness and baseball spring training. Sports quickly came to a halt as the coronavirus spread across the U.S. in mid-March. And while some events, like the NFL Draft, were able to be modified and performed without a live audience, the concern remains that MLB and NFL fans may never see a 2020 season at all. The same concern rings true for auto racing, MMA and other professional sports leagues.
It may come as a surprise, then, that even esports are being affected by the coronavirus. Some of the biggest games in the industry — Call of Duty, League of Legends, Overwatch — have had to cancel live events, losing not only ticket revenue but fan hype for their respective tournaments.
Physical sports fans may be interested to learn how much money the esports industry actually generates from live, in-person events. According to a February study by Newzoo, esports was projected to rake in $121.7 million from tickets and merchandise in 2020. However, this number is a small fraction of the $1.1 billion in total revenue the industry expects to make globally in 2020, much of which comes from valuable sponsorships that could still pull through.
Although gaming leagues have been scrambling to determine the logistics of entirely remote tournaments, the pandemic could also be opening new doors for esports. Games like Madden and NBA 2K have spotlighted on ESPN before, but with a higher demand for sports content from fans stuck at home, esports may be getting a more permanent seat at the table. The League of Legends Championship Series Spring Split Playoffs aired on both ESPN2 and the ESPN app in April. In addition, video streaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube have both reported huge increases in viewership since the start of state shutdowns.
As it is, popular esports players are not hurting in the money department; the 50 people on this list are all well over the millionaire threshold. But the increase in exposure caused by COVID-19 could mean new, higher-yielding revenue streams that would make esports even more lucrative. Here’s how much the biggest names in esports take to the bank — and which games make the most millionaires.
Last updated: Aug. 24, 2020