(credit: Facebook)

(credit: Facebook)

By Jonathon Sharp

While it might be a parent’s worst nightmare, young video game players in America and across the world are becoming “pro gamers,” winning tournaments with purses millions of dollars deep before gigantic and dedicated online audiences.

Earlier this week, a 15-year-old wunderkind named Sumail Hassan Syed (he goes by the nickname “Suma1L” online) amazed fans of the game Dota 2 when he carried his North American team to a sensational victory over their heavily-favorited Chinese counterparts.

The tournament, called the Dota 2 Asia Championships, took place in Shanghai and the prize pool was over $3 million. It was the second largest electronic sports (or e-sports) prize pool to date.

And when the first place winnings are split among Sumail’s five-man team, the teenager looks to pocket more than $250,000. That’s not bad for a kid whose family moved to America from Pakistan less than a year ago, and who’s only ever competed in one other major Dota 2 tournament.

Still, Sumail isn’t on this list of North Americans who’ve won the most money by being good at video games. But he soon could be.

If he leads his team, Evil Geniuses (EG), to victory at The International — the Super Bowl of Dota — he may well be a millionaire. Last year, The International’s prize pool was nearly $11 million.

Below is a short list of the young North American guys (they are all men) who’ve won the most money competing in e-sports. This information on dollars won is taken from the site esportsearnings.com. Many of these gamers play Dota (the game with the biggest prize pools so far) and in addition to their winnings, many also take home a salary.

1. Saahil Arora
Nickname: “UNiVeRsE”
Earnings: $581,826
Nationality: American
Game: Dota 2

This guy – along with two others on this list — was one of Sumail’s teammates in this week’s big win in China. He’s a 26-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin, who’s been part of the American Dota scene for years. He’s known as a quiet, consistent playmaker who uses his spare time to make Disney-inspired memes. 

2. Peter Dager
Nickname: “ppd”
Earnings: $577,425
Nationality: American
Game: Dota 2

Hailing from Fort Wayne, Indiana, Peter Dager is the captain of EG. Like Arora (above) and Kurtis Ling (below) on this list, he is currently on the same team as the wunderkind from Pakistan. However, this doesn’t mean that only players on EG earn money in e-sports. It just so happens that the current EG squad formed up just weeks before the recent Chinese tournament. And since North American gamers are generally outshined by their Asian and European counterparts, the big win in Shanghai propelled those on EG to the top of the list of North American earners.

3. Kurtis Ling
Nickname: “Aui_2000”
Earnings: $498,534
Nationality: Canadian
Game: Dota 2

Another guy on the EG Dota team. Ling was recently kicked from the team Cloud 9, and he joined up with EG after two of its most talented players left for greener, European pastures. The rearrangement of players made for considerable drama at the Dota 2 Asia Championships, as several former teammates were duking it out to prove themselves after being kicked or leaving teams. Ling came out on top, surpassing his former captain in all-time earnings and in breaking a second-place-only “curse.”

4. Johnathan Wendel
Nickname: “Fatal1ty”
Earnings: $454,919
Nationality: American
Game: Several

“Every new sport needs stars, and Fatal1ty is the first superstar of video games.” That’s how a 60 Minutes report on Johnathan Wendel began. He’s the multi-time world champ in a variety of multiplayer shooter games, and one of the first self-proclaimed e-sports athletes. He’s on this list because his skills led him to win several tournaments with considerable purses. But, as the e-sports scene grows, he’ll likely be surpassed on this list as soon as next year. Still, his legacy remains.

5. Artour Babaev
Nickname: “Arteezy”
Earnings: $384,457
Nationality: Canadian
Game: Dota 2

Artour Babaev is another Dota player, but he’s not on team EG. Not anymore, that is. The teenager is fresh out of high school and widely regarded as one of the most valuable Dota players in the world. But after butting heads with the number two man on this list, he took his talents to Team Secret in Europe. And while they made a strong show at the recent Chinese tournament, they didn’t win. Still, Artour’s eyes — like everyone else’s — are set on The International. If any North American team wins that, they’ll be on the top of the earnings list until either the next International, or another game comes along with prize pools breaking the $10 million mark.

A note on Dota tournaments: The huge purses for these games, to use The International as an example, are supplied mostly by fans of the game. Fans essentially crowdfund the competitive scene through in-game transactions. The game itself is free.