Your Odds of Being an eAthlete

Esports is rapidly becoming one of the most popular ways for people to spend their time. League famously has 27 million daily users now, and DotA 2's the International was the largest tournament in history with a total prize pool of over $10,000,000. To put that in perspective, according to E-Sports Earnings, all the payouts for games ever falls just a bit shy of $90 million. So that got me thinking – just how likely is it that any given player could become a fulltime eSports athlete?

To start, I had to start with some definitions and cut-offs. Because I only wanted people that could reasonably support themselves – buy food, pay rent, etc. – and since most of the tournaments (though definitely NOT most of the winners) are from the US, I decided that to qualify a player had to make more than $15,080. That's what someone in the US would earn if they worked 40 hours a week for a full year at minimum wage. Obviously you can't take $15k to San Francisco and expect to be okay, with average rent prices for a one bedroom apartment being almost $3,000.

That in mind, I also decided to use daily active player statistics for DotA 2 and League, figuring that most professionals will be playing nearly every day. For all other cases, I've used total sales figures as the baseline. I feel that's a valid point of reference for two reasons – first, as Riot themselves recently mentioned, the total number of people that actually invest cash into the game is very small relative to the total player base. They really only succeed on numbers. Still, putting a bit of money towards a game is a decent way to gauge player investment. So with that set-up, let's dig into it.

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League's daily player count is, of course, 27 million. That's a really staggering number. If everyone that logged on each day spent just one hour playing, then everyday LoL players would be spending more than 3080 years in the game. For all that, League has right around 192 players that might be able to play the game and make their living. But that figure includes everyone that's made $15,080 over their whole career. If we narrow it down a bit further, saying only those that have made enough in one year, the figure falls to about 150 people.

That leaves us with 0.0005% of daily active players can actually live on their earnings.

If you're looking to make a career out of this, you might consider DotA 2, which is significantly more forgiving. Valve has been dumping loads of cash into the game and the mega-tournament The International in an attempt to attract the best talent and the most passionate players. Because of that, eight of the top 10 earners in eSports made their big bucks with DotA 2. The field for these folks is also a lot less crowded. All-time peak users on DotA 2 tops out at 874,975 according to Steam Charts. Because Valve does't publish exact figures either for total monthly players or for total number of people that have ever downloaded the game, I'm partially relying on stats from Ars Technica which seem to be spot-on.

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That in mind, according to Ars there's somewhere north of 25.3 million people that have downloaded DotA 2 – more than any other title on Steam. League, on the other hand is thought to have somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 million registrations as well as a peak user count of 7.5 million – meaning around 10% of their total potential users are playing during peak times. Compare that to DotA 2's sub-4% rate and we can already get a clear idea of just how much more popular LoL is – and by extension how much tougher it is to live off of.

It's a bit of a stretch, but if we assume that League's peak daily users scales with their daily totals at the same ratio as DotA 2, then we can assume that DotA 2 pulls somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.14 million unique players each day. Operating under that assumption, we should see expect that of 0.00347% of everyone that plays DotA 2 will be a professional. That's not that much better than League. Even if we're ridiculously optimistic and assume that Steam's peak users are the daily unique players, that'd leave us with 0.0124%. StarCraft II's odds are just a bit worse at 0.0034%.

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Call of Duty, while one of the largest franchises in the world, doesn't have a very big competitive scene around it. Each year there's one major tournament with a prize pool of $1,000,000, but there's a fair number of repeat winners. The team complexity has won both of the past two championships and the team of four split $800,000 in total winnings. Because of that there's only about 20 people that can make their living off the one franchise and that's with over 22 million copies sold. That comes out to a remote 0.00007% that you'll ever be able to say goodbye to your day job and play Advanced Warfare all day without having to worry about those pesky bills.

Fighting games are just as tough. There's a lot of tournaments, but each one typically has a tiny payout. BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma sales total just 190,000 and it had by far the highest payout at this year's Evo 2014 tournament at a meager $35,080. The winner, according to Evo rules got 60% of the pot leaving him with $21,048. And that's almost unheard of in that scene.

All-told, it's highly unlikely that playing games professionally is too many people's future. On top of the unlikelihood, you have to deal with obscenely short careers. Most pros don't hang around for more than a few years. For one example we can just look at IdrA. He's one of Starcraft's most famous players and his run lasted six years. At his best he made $39,315.

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Adding together every major game that's made anyone any significant amount of cash gives us the final statistic of 0.01%, or a bit over one in every ten thousand. Compare that to the NFL, which has 53 players per team and 32 teams. They have 1,696 players and their average salary was $1.9 million. Checking the Bureau of Labor Statistics for athletes and sports competitors shows that there are more than 14,000 professionals in the United States and if we consider everyone that could potentially play a sport, we're looking at around 0.05%, or nearly three times the rate of their digital counterparts.

It's true that eSports is finally and rapidly growing, but it still has a long ways to go.

You're reading Numbers, a blog on Kotaku that examines games and culture through the lens of math and statistics.