However, did you know that thousands of people around the world are making a living by playing video games competitively?
The world of esports has experienced phenomenal growth over the last decade or so and is now a multi-million dollar industry, with the top players making a fortune in prize money.
We’ve looked into the data to see how esports earnings break down by country, game and gender, as well as looking at just how quickly the industry has taken off.
The highest-paid esports player in the world is currently N0tail (real name Johan Sundstein), a Danish gamer who has amassed just over $7 million from esports at the age of 28, primarily from the online battle arena game Dota 2. N0tail is also the captain of the OG esports team, with whom he has won two world championships.
Not far behind is JerAx (aka Jesse Vainikka), another Dota 2 player with earnings of $6.5m from 65 tournaments.
Dota 2 is by far the dominant game in the world of esports, having paid out over $276m to professional gamers throughout the years. In fact, just under three quarters (73) of the top 100 esports earners primarily make their living playing this popular MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) game.
While Dota 2 is the game that pays the highest, the most popular game amongst esports professionals is the first-person shooter game, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, with over 14,000 people playing professionally.
PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is probably the esports game with the biggest mass appeal, with 3,021 professional players (and a further 1,519), but over 1 billion total players around the world.
The majority of esports players hail from the USA, with about 20,600 active pros, which is far more than the next closest country, which is China, with around 5,000.
However, despite having over 15,000 more active players, the earnings gap between the two countries isn’t so big.
Players from the US have made the most, with $180m, but China isn’t too far behind, with $152m. Other countries which have seen great success in the world of esports include South Korea ($107.5m) and Russia ($49m).
It’s estimated that around 22% of esports fans are female, a number that has been on the increase for the last few years, but despite increasing viewership, the majority of esports players are still male.
In fact, out of the 500 top-earning esports players, Sasha Hostyn (known as Scarlett) is the only female, with career earnings of around $416,000.
When we look at the earnings of female players compared to male, we see that the top 100 male players have career earnings of $226m, compared to just $3.5m for their female counterparts, which works out at around $2.3m on average, compared to $35,560 for the top 100 females.
Esports definitely seems like a very new phenomenon, but it’s actually been around in some form or another since the 1970s. However, it was only toward the end of the 1990s when organised tournaments became common, with the benefit of internet connectivity.
When we look at how the prize money and number of players has changed since this time though, we can see an extremely rapid growth.
Back in 1998, there were only a handful of recognised tournaments, with 34 players sharing total prize money of $131,700. By 2020, the number of players had increased to 4,782, which is a growth of over 52,500%, with the prize money growing to a huge $122m, although both the number of players and prize money were higher in previous years, with 2020, of course, being affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Time will tell how much further the esports industry can grow, although it’s certainly been seeing much more mainstream exposure in recent years, with some pushing to have it recognised alongside traditional sports and even calls for it to be accepted into the Olympics!
All earnings data sourced from Esports Earnings, a site that collates earnings data from various sources, including news articles, forum posts, live report threads, interviews, official statements, reliable databases, VODs and other publicly-accessible sources that preserve "historical" information.
Note that the earnings data refers specifically to prize money earned from tournaments and doesn’t include things such as salaries, sponsorships and ad deals.
All data correct as of November 2021.