Date of Award

Summer 2023

Document Type

Open Access Thesis


School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management

First Advisor

Mark Nagel


Esports consists of online gaming, cyber sport, and virtual sport in a highly competitive environment. The industry has grown tremendously over the last 30 years (Leroux-Parra, 2020). Professional esports competitions are often now contested with a large scale, global audience, and millions of dollars potentially at stake in some competitions. Hundreds of esports athletes earn a living from the multi-billion-dollar esports industry. In addition to players earning salaries and prize pool money in a professional setting, many colleges have offered scholarships to enrolled students and have begun to offer esports-related curriculums (Dominguez, 2022). Networks such as ABC, ESPN, and TBS have broadcasted prominent esports tournaments and other esports-related content (Smith, 2021). Most importantly, esports tournaments have created a platform for a highly competitive environment, and from a financial standpoint, esports has created monetary opportunity from elite sponsorships for players, teams, and events.

The esports industry grew to $1.22 Billion in 2021 and is projected to expand tremendously over the next decade (Gough, 2022). Spectatorship both via streaming and in-person attendance has also increased. Contributing to this growth is sponsorship and social media engagement. Sponsorships specifically have played a significant role in contributing to large pay-out prize pools at tournaments (Meola, 2023). Sponsorships are critical to the overall esports ecosystem as they support tournaments/gameplay as well as individual esports athletes. Currently, there is a lack of comprehensive data regarding many elements of esports sponsorships because much of the company investment in partnerships has occurred at the team and event level. However, large tournament prize pool information is often publicly available via websites such as Esports

Prize pools from tournaments are funded by large sponsors, and thus sometimes offer thousands of dollars in prize money. In some cases, the prize pool for a prominent tournament, such as The International for the game Dota 2, can exceed multiple millions of dollars (Webb, 2019). Other games tend to be in the thousand-dollar range. Even though there are potentially millions of dollars in prize money available and there are usually not any formal restrictions on participating players by gender, a large prize money compensation gap has developed. In 2023, among the 500 top prize winners, 499 were male and one was a female, Sasha Hostyn (Esports Earnings, 2023).

The gender pay gap from tournament winnings is not reflective of the overall esports participation rate. Though 99% of the top five hundred esports earners are male, the overall participation rate is 45% female (Entertainment Software Association, 2022). Multiple studies have looked at the motivators behind esports athletes and their participation in game play, but there is currently minimal data explaining why there is a gender pay gap, despite the 45% female participation rate.

There are several reasons mentioned by scholars why males are prominent in professional gaming, such as industry structure, tournament entry and in-game female character representation (Yokoi, 2021). However, one area that has few barriers to entry is the social media landscape, a place where female esports athletes have thrived, despite the other mentioned restrictions into the highest levels of esports.

Esports athletes have the freedom and flexibility to engage with their fans on social media and can often gain direct monetary compensation from such engagement by fans donating money for their activities. Platforms like Twitch have given esports athletes the ability to gain followership and earn money from their subscribers. In addition, the social media platform Twitter has been identified as the centralized medium for esports athletes and fans (Red Bull, 2016).

The purpose of this study is to compare social media engagement of the top esports earning male and female athletes. Earnings data is already publicly posted, and there is a clear disparity of earnings between male and female esports players. Utilizing the earnings data, the goal was to correlate male and female esports athletes’ activity on social media platforms via an analysis of social media engagements (i.e., posts, followers, likes, retweets, etc.).

Specifically, a determination was made to investigate whether it is more likely that top earning female esports players engage their fans via social media than their male counterparts. The following research questions were developed:

RQ1: Does esports athletes’ social media engagement relate to their earnings?

RQ2: Does the relationship between engagement and earnings differ based on gender?

Quantifying social media engagements among esports athletes can lead to an understanding why esports athletes engage in social media, as it is known as a primary communication platform in the industry. In addition, how sponsors and industry leadership alike can capitalize on these engagements can be better understood. Understanding social media activity engagement and earnings can lead to further research to better understand esports athletes’ social media activities.


© 2023, Colleen Marie Dibble