There are a number of ways to frame the size of the prize pool for The International — the world championships for Dota 2, taking place this weekend. Perhaps the best is this: The oldest major golf championship is being contested at the same time, for less money.
Dota 2's combined prize pool, funded by the sale of a virtual program to fans, is $10,887,235, awarded to 14 teams comprising 5 players each. The winning team at The International 2014 will get $5,008,128. With five players to a side, that's $1,001,625.60 each.
The Open Championship (known in the U.S. as the British Open) will divide $9.2 million among 156 entrants.
The winner of The British Open — Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland is the leader, by six strokes, after three rounds — will claim $1,196,055 for himself. Also good money.
While professional teams competing at The International have sponsorships and some have modest salaries, it's like professional tour golf in that the field is playing for its pay at every stop.
Remember, The British Open goes back to 1860. The International is four years old, and began almost as a publicity stunt.
How do other major sports stack up? A strict comparison to team events is tricky, given their varying roster sizes and the differing agreements in how much money is awarded. Often times, a star player's individual contract provides bonuses that dwarf the standard prize given to everyone on the roster of a championship team, which is governed by an agreement with the players' union.
The players of the Boston Red Sox were awarded $22,566,228.05 after winning the 2013 World Series. After they divided it, a full share was worth $307,322.68 individually. (Some players are awarded partial shares, typically if they left the team before the postseason.)
The NFL pays players according to each stage of the playoffs they reach; the most any could have earned in the 2014 postseason was $180,000. Players on both the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks and runner-up Denver Broncos missed a $23,000 payday by being seeded so high they skipped the first round.
NBA Finals champion
The San Antonio Spurs, winners of the 2014 NBA Finals, divided $4,104,811-less than half of the prize amount awarded by The International. The NBA's combined postseason playoff pool, for all players on all teams, was $14 million.
Stanley Cup champion
Players for the NHL's Los Angeles Kings, individually, will take home about a tenth of what the winning team at The International 2014 makes. The Stanley Cup champions were given $3.75 million to divide among themselves. Like baseball, the players vote on who receives a full or a partial share. Estimates suggest that a full share was worth at least $100,000.
World Cup (soccer)
The money given to the players of the recently concluded World Cup is a little trickier to calculate. FIFA pays the national federations of the World Cup participants an amount based on how far their teams advanced. The minimum any federation earned this year was $8 million (for elimination at the group stage level.) World champion Germany received $35 million and runners-up Argentina got $25 million.
The actual payouts to the players are subject to the terms of agreements the players have with those federations, which may vary and could include bonuses for certain performance objectives. German players, for example, each received a bonus worth $408,000.
The United States players who participated in qualifying matches for the World Cup shared in a $2 million pool awarded by U.S. Soccer, in addition to whatever they might be paid from the $9 million FIFA awarded the U.S. for making the elimination stage.
So. Next time someone asks you if eSports are a real sport, you can show 'em the receipt.
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