Opportunity and inequality in the emerging esports labor market

Christopher M. McLeod, Hanhan Xue, Joshua I. Newman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Esports is often described as a growing industry ripe with financial opportunities for young professional, competitive gamers. However, these claims rarely consider how income is distributed amongst players. This study uses prize earnings data from 2005 to 2019 to examine labor market inequality and related social inequalities and social stratifications. Lorenz curves and Gini coefficients show that inequality has increased in the labor market overall and the labor markets for the five top games based on total prizes awarded (Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Fortnite, League of Legends, StarCraft II). Competitors can expect to earn more today than in 2005, but median incomes have shown sporadic and inconsistent growth compared with top incomes. Moreover, most competitors earn less than the US poverty threshold. Comparing the earnings of the top female players to the whole labor market shows that gender inequalities exist in median incomes and the likelihood of earning more than the poverty threshold. The esports labor market is an engine of inequality that provides opportunities for a few (primarily male) competitors while building a growing class of lowly paid players who support the interests of game designers and event organizers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1279-1300
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Review for the Sociology of Sport
Issue number8
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • competitive gaming
  • gender inequality
  • gini coefficient
  • income inequality
  • poverty threshold


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