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It’s Official: Magnus Carlsen is 2020’s #1 Earner Among Pro Gamers

As 2021 continues its tumultuous start, we step further and further away from the mess that was 2020. With distance comes perspective, and that goes for financial trends from this past year as well. Now that the dust has settled a bit, analysis has revealed that, when it comes to esports and gaming, Norwegian Chess Grandmaster Magnus Carlsen has earned more than any other pro gamer in 2020. If you’ve happened to read my past writing about my relationship with online chess, it should come as no surprise that my personal favorite esport would have to be the old school board game turned digital sensation. As such, chess-related news stories tend to draw my attention. Needless to say, news of Carlsen’s success is no exception. 

Image Credit: Frank Augstein

If you’re not familiar with Magnus Carlsen, there’s a chance that will be changing soon, regardless of whether or not you stay up to date on the latest news in the chess world. Carlsen is currently the highest-rated chess player in the world, holding the titles of World Chess Champion, World Rapid Chess Champion, and World Blitz Chess Champion. Sure, the titles are impressive, but equally impressive is the fact that no one else has ever held all three titles at the same time. Not bad for a 31-year-old from Norway. 

It should be noted that, compounding from an astounding career as a pro chess player and a long and lucrative track record with sponsorship deals, Carlsen has been raking in big money for nearly a decade. He’s a guy who’s used to coming in at number one. As such, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that he made more in winnings than any other pro gamer did in 2020. An article from The Times of India reports that in 2020, Carlsen “took home a whopping $510,587 as prize money on Chess24 website. This amount was more than the one earned by any other esports athlete across all other professional games.”

Image Credit: Magnus Carlson — YouTube

Apparently the information comes from “Seattle-based esports bookmaker Unikrn,” also reported in this article from Forbes. As far as 2020 went winnings-wise for pro gamers, the total amount of prizes won has gone down 80% from 2019. In 2020, the total amount of money won by gamers across the industry came to $11 million. In 2019, that amount was $55 million. Despite the prize pools going down significantly, Carlsen took home 4% of the total winnings from 2020 all on his own. Hikaru Nakamura, a 33-year-old American Chess Grand-Master took home just about 3% after winning $325,000. Nakamura was among the top 10 pro gamers, in terms of winnings (he came in at #7.)

Hikaru Nakamura
Image Credit: Mike Klein/

As the organizers of the study where these rankings came from have noted: “When people think of esports, they probably have the likes of CS:GO, DOTA or League of Legends in mind, but not necessarily chess. Magnus Carlsen is a fantastic champion and has dominated the circuit for a number of years, helping raise the profile of the sport.” Carlsen’s accomplishments aside, the fact that he’s not the only chess player to break the top ten is also an encouraging sign of chess’ “profile” in the esports and gaming sphere. Aside from the two chess players in the top ten, there is one player who won big in Magic: The Gathering Arena (#8: PVDDR, from Brazil, who won $300,000) and seven Call of Duty players from mostly the U.S. and Canada (#6: Huke is an exception, hailing from Saudi Arabia). The player who came closest to Carlsen’s winnings was #2, Clayester aka Clay, an American Call of Duty player who won $383,325.

Magic the Gathering
Image Courtesy of Magic the Gathering

Even though winnings were down from 2019 due to budget cuts downsizing individual prize pools, overall, pro gamers walked away with a considerable amount of money. The fact that Magnus Carlson came out on top, while a familiar sensation for him, is probably a new one for the rest of the esports world. In 2019, according to this list from The Esports Observer, the top ten earners were five Fortnite players and five Dota 2 players. With Magnus and Nakamura spicing things up on their list this year, chess is sure to have cemented its place in the world of esports, at the very least monetarily speaking. But, you know what they say: money talks. 

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