The rise of esports has meant that top-tier gamers now win some of the most significant monetary prizes of any athlete, outweighing many traditional sports. 2021 saw prize money boom with a record-breaking $213 million up for grabs, but any hopes of taking home big money require a player to be at the peak of their powers.
The concept of “peak performance” is not new to sports, but understanding the age an esports player peaks is no easy feat. We can look at how a player’s reaction time changes with age, or we can try to understand how their decision making develops over time. But these methods are plagued with problems, such as deciding the balance of skills required to be good at different games, not to mention the difficulty in trying to measure these variables.
BetVictor has looked at the prize money awarded to the top 500 highest winners of the past decade to determine how elite esports athletes peak through their careers. The study tracked their career trajectories and determined their performances compared with their overall winnings.
Additionally, the study analysed the total prize money awarded in the past 12 months. This reveals how the esports scene has swelled in recent years. Plus, exactly when gamers peak, when they can expect to make the most money, and the games winning players play the most.
Competitive gaming is unique. Unlike in traditional sports, it’s common to hear about new phenoms taking the gaming world by storm. These unexpected players often overthrow their seniors and wreak havoc on the meta, earning prizes from what started as a hobby – often before hitting their mid-twenties.
Looking at the top 500 esports athletes by prize money winnings and throughout their careers, winnings and placings generally peak at the age of 24, remaining significantly high in terms of combined winnings across all games between 18 and 27 years of age over the past decade.
The below graph “Game Winning Performance By Age” shows the total amount won by each age group across 11 of the most popular esports titles.
The second graph, “Career Prize Money Trajectory of Games”, maps the career winning journey of the different titles. It shows the percentage split of a selected game’s all-time prize money awarded to each age group. This reveals when gaming and prize money winning performance peaks for each title. As you can see, Fortnite players peak early, with 16-year-olds accounting for $30 million – 27.15%, the highest percentage share of total Fortnite winnings.
Additionally, see how the trend becomes more defined when splitting the top 500 players from the dataset and focusing on the ages those winnings were taken.
Exploring the distribution of winnings from all games to the top 500 winningest elite players produced a clear winner.
DOTA 2, with an average daily player count of over 400,000 in 2022 according to the steam charts, is one of the most popular and consistently played titles of a generation. It is no surprise to see the game’s prize pool dominance on the esports scene, overcoming and outlasting the likes of League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive along the way.
Look how DOTA 2 compares to the most popular esports titles below.
The past 10 years have seen a considerable growth of tournaments available for the best players around. There’s a ceaseless appetite to see the best players face off against each other and an ever-increasing demand to watch all the action unfold.
Despite turbulent and unpredictable years throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, esports tournaments and players were largely unaffected. 2021’s participation numbers dropped by 22.1%, dipping to 2019’s elite participation numbers.
Over the past decade, there’s been a dramatic increase in the prize money available for esports’ top talents. 2019 saw almost €54 million paid out from the world’s biggest tournaments.
Whereas the total number of tournament participants remained steady during the COVID-19 pandemic, the prize money paid out to the world’s best talents dropped off by over 83.8%, massively stunting the revenues of gamers globally. 2021 figures only managed to climb back to 2016 figures.
The financial data used in this study is sourced from: https://www.esportsearnings.com/
The findings referring to the last 12 months are based on data collected between March 2021 – March 2022.
All-time earning data was collected up until May 2022.