Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok has become the first professional League of Legends player to reach career tournament winnings of $1 million. However, while this is an impressive milestone, it also serves to highlight the huge gulf in potential earnings between players of Riot's game and Valve's Dota 2.
Sang-hyeok's achievement was signalled by Clickon eSports, which noted that his role in leading SK Telecom T1 to victory in the LoL Mid-Season Invitational pushed his earnings to $1,047,606. That amount came from 35 tournament wins for the 21 year-old South Korean pro, though he could finish the year with $1.5 million with a win at the 2017 World Championships.
While Sang-hyeok is clearly a remarkable figure in the LoL eSports scene, his earnings are far less than equivalent pro players of Dota 2. Valve implemented a system where prize-pools are mostly funded by the community through the sale of virtual goods: at The International last year, the prize-pool was $20 million, of which less than 10% was seeded by Valve. The International's totals are far bigger than any other eSport, including a game as popular and profitable as League of Legends.
The total prize-pool at the LoL 2016 World Championship, for example, was just over $5 million, whereas the winning team at The International 2016, Wings Gaming, shared more than $9.1 million. The best Dota 2 players can win more in a single tournament than Sang-hyeok did across several dozen.
Last year, there was friction between Riot Games and one of LoL's most prominent team owners, Andy Dinh, who accused the company of placing too many restrictions on how pro teams can make money. Ultimately, Riot agreed to make changes, including a commitment to sharing revenue from virtual items, and guaranteed minimum revenue for League Championship Series teams.
Meanwhile, the run-up to The International 2017 is in full swing, and the prize-pool has already passed $12.5 million. According to an official prize-pool tracker, that's 10% more than at this stage last year.