Esports is a massive industry that took over most of the mainstream media over the years and didn’t need long to find its place in the betting world either. Nowadays, you’re just as easy to find Vegas NFL odds as you’re likely to stumble upon markets for any major esports title, and that’s hardly surprising.
The changing demographics saw the viewership of esports skyrocket, ushering in further development of the scene, which continues to attract new investors. As a multi-billion dollar industry, the esports scene gave birth to a new generation of superstars, some of whom share the same status as some of the NFL or NBA star athletes.
And not only are some esports stars just as recognizable as professional sports athletes, but some also fall in the same bracket in terms of earnings. Although there are no athletes who can compete with the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Dak Prescott and their salaries, it’s more than fair to say that the esports stars are doing well for themselves.
As 2021 slowly winds down and all major esports tournaments are in the rearview mirror, this is the best time as any to look back and see which esports stars will end the year with much bigger pockets.
It’s no surprise to see a Dota 2 player end the year as one of the best-paid esports athletes, but for the sake of not listing several players who have earned close to the same amount of money, our list will include the rosters-paid teams.
2021 Team Secret Dota 2 Roster
Team Secret is widely known as one of the most recognizable esports organizations, largely thanks to the success of its Dota 2 roster. Known as the European powerhouse, Team Secret have been holding the tag as one of the world’s most successful teams since its inception in 2014.
But despite their success over the last seven years, Team Secret remain one of the best teams in the world to never win The International. No matter how hard Secret have tried to win the prestigious trophy, they always found a way to fall flat in the final stretch.
Even the countless roster changes the organization has made over the years in hopes to lift the Aegis of Champions ended in vain. And this year was no exception.
Regardless of failing to win The International, Team Secret did their fans proud with an incredible run to the third-place finish. And while bronze is never as sweet as a golden medal, Team Secret got paid very generously for their efforts.
Placing third at the most lucrative esports tournament of the year earned Team Secret over $3.6 million in tournament winnings, split between the five players. Combined with several high placements at major tournaments over the year, it sees all five of Team Secret players end the year with over $744,000 in tournament winnings and ranks them as one of the top-20 best-paid esports athletes of 2021.
#20 Ludwig “zai” Wåhlberg – $744,280
#19 Lasse Aukusti “MATUMBAMAN” Urpalainen – $744,280
#18 Michał “Nisha” Jankowski – $746,600
#17 Yazied “YapzOr” Jaradat – $746,600
#16 Clement “Puppey” Ivanov – $746,600
2021 Natus Vincere CS:GO Roster
It’s a rare sighting to see a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive player end a year as one of the best-paid esports athletes. But Natus Vincere members doesn’t seem to care about the rules.
The Russian-Ukraine CS:GO powerhouse have long been viewed as one of the top teams in the scene. But the way NaVi ended the year set a new benchmark of what a team has to achieve to be considered as one of the best.
NaVi started the year relatively quietly, picking up three tournament titles from the seven events they had attended. But things changed in July when Natus Vincere shifted into a higher gear and started stomping everyone in their path.
From July to December, Natus Vincere appeared in eight tournaments and won every single one of them, except for the Intel Extreme Masters XVI – Fall: CIS, where they placed second. Navi’s remarkable run of tournament titles was also accompanied by the Intel Grand Slam Season 3 title, earning the CIS squad an additional $1 million in winnings to add to the $1 million NaVi earned in October when they won the PGL Major Stockholm.
Thanks to their superb form in the final five months of the year, Natus Vincere ended 2021 as the highest-paid CS:GO roster, with their players ranking inside the top 15-11 on the 2021 earning list.
#15 Ilya “Perfecto” Zalutskiy – $832,100
#14 Kirill “Boombl4” Mikhaylov – $832,100
#13 Denis “electronic” Sharipov – $832,100
#12 Valerii “b1t” Vakhovskyi – $832,287
#11 Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev – $832,750
2021 PSG LDG Dota 2 Roster
Like any year before, the top two spots on the highest-earning list are the two finalists of The International. No matter how successful a roster is in its respective title, no team will ever earn as much money as the champions and the runners-up of the Dota 2’s season-culminating event.
And that is because The International has been and still is the highest-paid esports event of the year, whose prize pool has exceeded $40 million in 2021. Another characteristic of the TI is that its prize pool increases yearly, so we could be looking at a nine-digit total prize pool in a few years’ time.
As painful as it is to lose the biggest tournament of the year, PSG.LGD members have plenty of bills to wipe their tears, seeing how the Chinese esports team pocketed $5,202,400 for making it to the big stage in October.
Besides PSG. LGD’s incredible performance at The International 10, the Chinese squad also achieved plenty of success domestically and on the international level, placing fourth or better across nine tournaments.
That includes titles at WePlay AniMajor, OGA Dota PIT Season 5: China, and the OGA Dota PIT Invitational, resulting in each player ending the year with over $1.15 million in tournament winnings.
#10 Cheng “NothingToSay” Jin Xiang – $1,118,780
#9 Zao “XinQ” Zixing – $1,158,680
#8 Zhang “Faith_bian” Ruida – $1,158,680
#7 Zhang “y'” Yiping – $1,158,680
#6 Wang “Ame” Chunyu – $1,158,680
2021 Team Spirit Dota 2 Roster
As already hinted above, the best-paid esports athletes are those who win Dota 2 The International, so it should come as no surprise that it is Team Spirit who will head into 2022 as the highest-earning esports squad.
Every year, the esports scene produced something unforeseen, something so unexpected that no one would have dared to predict it ahead of time. Admittedly, there were plenty of such events over the year; however, it’s Team Spirit’s title-winning run at The International that will go down in history as the most exciting underdog story of the past decade.
The Russian Dota 2 squad have achieved plenty over the 2021 season, but most of their success came in domestic competitions. While not many dared to doubt Spirit’s quality, this was still a roster of highly inexperienced players that no one expected to deliver on the international stage.