And salaries are rising in North America. The average for a player in the top five of a team has increased from $ 300,000 since 2018 to $ 460,000, Greeley said. The highest-paid players in the United States, Wolf said, could make up to $ 500,000 more than their elite counterparts in a country like South Korea.

Many of the 10 teams in the League Championship Series are backed by billionaires who also own traditional US sports teams. But sport hasn’t become a cash cow yet. To get into League of Legends, teams had to pay Riot $ 10 to $ 13 million.

Riot declined to say how much it made from League of Legends, and analysts don’t believe esports directly benefits it. But SuperData, a research firm, estimated the game itself grossed more than $ 1.8 billion in sales last year.

Just blocks from Riot’s headquarters in western Los Angeles, where games are usually played, is Sawtelle Boulevard, which is where esports stars frequent ramen restaurants and boba shops. Korean transplants often spend their weekends in Koreatown, where they can find foods that remind them of their homeland, said Genie Doi, an esports immigration lawyer.

Work-life balance in the US is another draw for players tired of 18-hour days of training and even developing wrist injuries, said Kang Jun-hyeok, a South Korea-born League of Legends player, the now team is Liquid’s trainer. Although South Korea and China have made strides in recent years, the culture is “to work hard and grind until you break down,” said 31-year-old Kang.

North American teams offer these perks to potential players when they do a tricky advertisement to get the best free agents before other teams do. Once a player decides to sign a contract, Ms. Doi helps the team apply for a visa, which she says was normally granted despite the unusual profession.