Pro gaming still flies under the radar, even for many video game fans, but there’s no doubt it’s a huge industry that’s only getting bigger. With e-sport prizes growing well into the millions of dollars, it’s on its way to becoming a major force in the world of gaming and beyond.
Professional gaming has also found legitimacy in some surprising places, from colleges to the U.S. government. Last year, the State Department began offering visas to professional gamers under the same program that grants them to professional athletes. Robert Morris University has set aside half a million dollars in scholarship funds to start a professional gaming team at the school.
Already, a number of pro gamers have found incredible success in the international world of e-sports. Here’s a look at some of the best pro gamers in the world right now.
9. Jonathan Wendel (Fatal1ty)
Jonathan Wendel is a remarkable e-sports player for a number of reasons. First, he’s one of the earliest professional e-sports players, debuting way back in 1999, before pro gaming was really a thing. He’s also unique in that he has competed in tournaments based on a number of different video games, rather than focusing all of his attention on a single game, as most of the pro gamers on this list have done.
From Quake to CounterStrike, Wendel can mow down the competition, even at the ripe old age of 33. He has mostly moved on to other things nowadays, like his company Fatal1ty Inc., through which he sells his very own brand of gaming mouse pads, called FATpads. All told, Wendell has pocketed a cool $454,919 in winnings, which gave him the record until he was overtaken by Lee Jae Dong in 2013.
8. Jang Min Chul (MC)
It’s safe to say that StarCraft II is big in South Korea, and since Jang Min Chul is one of the best players in the country, that also makes him among the top players on the planet. Since 2010, he’s participated in about 80 tournaments, honing and perfecting his aggressive play style during each one. For those opponents who can withstand the initial barrage, however, Jang has a killer late-game strategy waiting in the wings. Unluckily for them, most players who face off against him never get to see it. To date, Jang has won $490,772 in prize money.
7. Lee Young Ho (FlaSh)
This South Korean player is a member of the team KT Rolster. His go-to game is StarCraft II, a real-time strategy game that pits humans and other intergalactic races against each other in battles of total domination. The idea is to mine resources to build up your base and then send out troops to conquer the opposing team.
Born in 1992, Lee has been playing e-sports professionally for several years now, joining KT Rolster in 2007, at age 14. He’s known for exploiting any small weaknesses he can find in his opponents, as well as for his remarkable ability to come back and win when his matches seem hopelessly dire. Overall, according to e-Sports Earnings, Lee has racked up prize money to the tune of $495,091.
6. Lee Jae Dong (Jaedong)
Lee Jae Dong is a South Korean StarCraft II player who’s known for blowing away the competition, no matter how formidable. That’s why he’s earned the nicknames “The Tyrant,” “The God of Destruction,” and “The Legend Killer.” That’s a lot of nicknames, but he’s gotten them by winning a lot of tournaments, including three OnGameNet Starleague championships, two MBCGame StarCraft League championships, and one first-place finish at the World Cyber Games. Over the past few years, Lee has won $578,340 for playing competitively. In short, don’t get in his way.
5. Saahil Arora (UNiVeRsE)
This Dota 2 player hails from Madison, Wisconsin, which makes him one of the best eSports players in the world to come from the West. He’s earned that distinction by relentlessly delivering strong results in a number of tournaments each year, starting in 2011, when he placed seventh in that year’s The International tournament. He still going strong, having raked in a cool 581,826 to date.
4. Aleksandr Dashkevych (XBOCT)
Another exceedingly accomplished Dota 2 player on team Natus Vincere (Na’Vi for short) is Aleksandr Dashkevych, also known as XBOCT. Dashkevych is a Ukranian who didn’t seem like he would amount to much after a spell of lackluster games with his previous team, Planet-X. They disbanded after a few losses, but once Dashkevych joined Na’Vi, he found the success he’d been training for. After just a handful of tournaments, he’s already tucked away $601,806 in winnings. Not a bad comeback.
3. Danil Ishutin (Dendi)
Another Ukranian Dota 2 player is Danil Ishutin, who’s been competing in e-sports tournaments since 2006. He’s bounced from one team to another over the years, but he’s currently a member of a team already mentioned several times in this list: Na’Vi. There’s a reason that team attracts the best players, though: It’s one of the premier squads in the world.
All told, Ishutin has won about $604,752 from playing video games competitively. If you want to get a firsthand look at Ishutin, check out the documentary Free to Play, which follows Ishutin and two other competitors in the lead-up to the 2011 International tournament.
2. Clement Ivanov (Puppey)
This pro gamer plays Dota 2, a strategy game from Valve that pits two teams of five against each other. Each Dota 2 match takes place on a single map, with two bases situated in opposite corners. The idea is that each player chooses one of more than a hundred heroes, and each team works together to destroy the other’s base.
Ivanov is an Estonian who spent much of his professional career as the leader of Team Natus Vincere, but he left in August to join Team Secret. Team Secret hasn’t had time to do much yet, but if Ivanov’s history is any indication, it will probably do quite well. In his time as a pro gamer, Ivanov has earned a respectable $667,332.
1. Team Newbee
It might seem like cheating to give a single slot to a whole team, but if we didn’t, the members of Team Newbee would take up the majority of the list on their own.
Last year’s International — the yearly Dota 2 tournament put on by Valve — doled out $10 million to its winners, a record-breaking amount for an e-sports competition. Those winners were the Chinese team Newbee, who took home a grand prize of just over $5 million, which makes each of the five members of the team instant millionaires.
If you want to make money by putting your video game skills to work, Dota 2 is probably a good game to focus on. Just know that with so much money on the line, the competition is stiff.