For more than a decade showcasing multi-million dollar prize pools for esports events was seen as a way for fans to highlight the industry’s legitimacy to onlookers. However, with the industry maturing, prize pools are not as talked about as they once were, partly due to the teams having different other revenue streams and ways of financing.
Still, the size of a prize pool is often the first sign of the scale of a certain tournament, for better or for worse.
2023 saw esports industry trends shift towards more conservative spending, as such the prize pools of tournaments have not increased dramatically across the board. Still, we did see several high-profile tournaments break prize pool records, most notably the Gamers8 festival and the VCT Champions.
In this article, Esports Insider discusses the top esports events of 2023 by prize pools.
VALORANT Champions 2023
The last event of the 2023 VALORANT Champions Tour (VCT) season featured an impressive prize pool, with a total of $2.25m (~£1.77m) shared between the best-placed teams. When compared to the 2022 edition, the prize money increased by $1.25m (~£980,000), which benefited teams dramatically.
Add to this the Champions Bundle — which raised more than $20m (~£15.8m) to the teams — and VCT Champions become one of the biggest events that heavily favoured teams financially in 2023.
Call of Duty League 2023: Playoffs
The playoffs of the Call of Duty League (CDL) saw a prize pool of $2.38m (~£1.88m) divided between the best eight teams. This is a slight decrease from the $2.55m (~£2m) prize pool of 2022, but still an impressive amount.
The CDL was in a somewhat strange position in 2023. Its owners, Activision Blizzard, underwent a lengthy acquisition process this year which resulted in uncertainty across the board. In addition, the company’s other major franchised league, the Overwatch League, shut down in 2023, leaving the CDL as the flagship esports series for Activision Blizzard.
A Chinese franchised league in PUBG Mobile has surprisingly ended up as one of the leagues with the highest prize pools of 2023. With a total of $2.46m (~£) shared between the teams, the league is yet another example of China’s dominance in the esports scene. Interestingly, the winner of the season, Tianba, brought home $754,000 (~£593,000), which is more than double what the second-placed team Six Two Eight got ($322,000)).
The Peacekeeper Elite League is the most notable PUBG Mobile league in China and one that traditionally has large prize pools with 20 franchised teams competing. Interestingly, the Summer season of the same league this year had a smaller prize pool. However, that was still $2.35m (~£1.85m).
Coming hot on the heels of the Peacekeeper Elite League is the Honor of Kings King Pro League, another seasonal league for a mobile game that dominates China. The Summer and Spring seasons were very close in terms of prize pool, with Summer bringing in $2.59m (~£2m) and Spring $2.75m (~£2.1m) in prize money.
Honor of Kings is a mobile MOBA game played exclusively in China and is one of the most popular games in the country. In the West, the game is called Arena of Valor and is a reasonably popular mobile game. Interestingly, both versions of the game are very similar, but for example, the Western edition features characters that are less angled towards Chinese mythology and folklore.
With a $3m (~£2.35m) prize pool, the Six Invitational 2023 lives up to the name of being Rainbow Six: Siege’s season-ending spectacle. The Six Invitational is the FPS game with the highest esports prize pool of 2023, leaving the likes of VALORANT, CS, and others behind it.
In comparison, the highest prize pool for a Counter-Strike tournament this year was the BLAST.tv Paris Major 2023 with $1.25m (~£980,000).
Two other tournaments had the same prize pool as the Six Invitational, and both were in the same game: PUBG Mobile. The mobile version of PUBG: Battlegrounds has had a good year in 2023, with the game notably returning to India and its developer, KRAFTON, working with teams to create a partner ecosystem.
The two large-scale PUBG Mobile events were the same in prizing, but different in other metrics. For example, the Global Championship saw almost double the number of viewers and is considered a more prestigious event with higher-quality teams.
Once the tournament most known in mainstream media for having dozens of millions of dollars worth of prizing, The International 2023 had the smallest prize pool of all the editions, largely due to Dota 2 developer Valve making changes to how the prize pool is created This resulted in a dramatic decrease in overall prize money for the tournament, bringing the total from more than $40m (~£31.5m) in 2019 to just over $3.3m (~£2.6m) in 2023.
The International is still one of the most prestigious tournaments in esports, but the mainstream appeal has dropped with the reduction of its prize pool. This is noted by the fact that The International doesn’t feature in the top 10 highest-viewed esports events of 2023.
The FNCS Global Championship 2023 marked the triumphant return of Fortnite to the esports scene. The game, which notably had one of the highest prize pools in history for its 2019 Fortnite World Cup, had its esports efforts reduced during the pandemic and is just now getting back to its former glory. With the professional Fortnite scene slowly rebuilding, the $4m (~£3.1m) prize pool for the FNCS has helped spark the interest of teams once again. The event was also the most-watched Fortnite event in four years.
It is also worth mentioning that the FNCS is produced by BLAST, an esports tournament organiser most known for its Counter-Strike tournaments.
The HoK International Championship 2023 is one of two prize pools to hit the $10m (~£7.87m) mark. The combined world championship for two separately named games, Arena of Valor and Honor of Kings, features a $10m (~£780,000) prize pool which is the same as 2022, but almost $3m (~£2.35m) more than the 2021 edition.
Due to the fact that Arena of Valor is actually the international version of Honor of Kings, the International Championship gathers teams from both games to compete in the “original” game for a part of the prize pool.
The Riyadh Masters 2023, a Dota 2 tournament hosted at the Gamers8 Festival in Saudi Arabia, is officially the tournament with the largest prize pool of 2023. Overall the event announced a $15m (~£11.8m) total prize pool which was distributed to competitors. Although still not the same amount as some of the editions of The International, the prize pool is the largest in Dota 2 history apart from The International.
The 2023 edition had a much larger prize pool than last year, with $15m (11.8m) compared to $4.2m (~£3.3m) in 2022. When combined with its other esports tournaments at the festival, Gamers8 was by far the most lucrative esports event by prize pool of 2023.