Competitive games, ranging from high prize pool tournaments to stadium-filling hypes to story-rich narratives, are becoming a staple topic in media and sports. Millions of dollars pool into a single tournament that usually lasts only a couple of weeks, and some of these leagues and tournaments surpass the viewership count of traditional sports like baseball and football.
A non-gamer might ask, “What is so appealing about video games?” It’s not just the artistic expressions that mold the characters of a certain game that make its community so lively; professional players’ skill level and hard work are also a subject of discussion among the community.
What is an Esport League?
Hundreds, if not thousands, of competitive leagues, involve different types of sports.
In basketball, for instance, there’s the National Basketball Association, where the cream of the crop players in the United States and the world are selected and gathered around to compete for the prestigious championship ring.
There are also international competitions where each team represents their respective country, like the Olympics.
An Esport league is no different. It’s where people with professional-level skills in their preferred video game go to put their hard work to the test and see how they measure up to the best of the best in the world.
While some might think that being an Esport player isn’t that hard because they typically sit in front of the computer and press buttons, millions of fans across the world will beg to disagree. And most of them will say that there is more to being an Esport player than pushing buttons and moving the mouse at lightning speed.
Being a professional Esport player involves a high level of hand-eye coordination and reflexes, making up the player’s mechanical skills that are the foundation of the sport most of the time. A tactical mind is also an essential attribute that many professional Esport players possess, making them quickly adapt to the changes within the game and use it to their advantage.
In the case of team-based video games like League of Legends and DOTA 2, cohesive workings of strategies and tactics within the team are essential because teamwork is always a priority.
This article will explore the different Esport leagues and tournaments, including the games’ respective history.
Top Esports Tournaments and Leagues
First conceived in early 2015 and named Strike of Kings, Arena of Valor rose to popularity as one of the early mobile games that built a huge following in its Esport pro scene. This Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) game follows the same mechanics as other PC games that could be considered its counterparts, such as DOTA 2, League of Legends, and Heroes of the Storm.
This game was developed by Timi Studio Group and published by Proxima Beta. Following its strong Esport scene, the game boasts two annual world championships as follows:
- Arena of Valor International Championship
This championship is where Esport organizations worldwide handpick their players to participate regardless of their nationality.
- Arena of Valor World Cup
This tournament is where each team represents their respective countries.
Call of Duty is a largely recognizable game title even before it had its own Esport scene. What started as a story-driven shooter game, the game developers thought that their game needed to adapt to the trend of competitive gaming. This game is played on the certain incarnation of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 for Playstation 4.
The prize pool reached its peak in 2019, reaching a total of $6,000,000 of prize money. However, in that same year, the host discontinued the tournament series to give way to the Call of Duty League.
With the game developed by the collaboration of Hidden Path Entertainment and Valve, this Esport league is held in different places across the world. This game is known otherwise as The Majors. Although there are a handful of other large-scale tournaments that happened during the game’s previous and third incarnation, Counter-Strike 1.6, since its release in the year 2000, the first-ever major tournament of the game wasn’t held until more than a decade later, in 2013.
One team is assigned as the Terrorists in the game, and the opposing team is the Counter-Terrorists. The game’s simplicity makes this game so appealing to the players.
The mechanics of winning can be achieved in different ways. For instance, when playing as the CT Team or the defenders, the players can either slow down the enemies and run the clock out before the latter can plant the bomb or take down the entirety of their squad. Likewise, the Terrorist team can plant the bomb and defend the site to detonate it successfully, or they can simply take down the opposing CT squad to win the round.
The Majors usually happen twice or thrice a year, with a large community-funded prize pool that ranges from $250,000 to $1,000,000 in recent years. The first Major that happened on November 28-30, 2013 was held in Sweden, organized and hosted by DreamHack.
Much like the format of CS: GO Major Championships, DOTA’s Majors are held only twice to thrice a year. However, these tournaments also serve as ways for the Esport organizations to accumulate points for DOTA Pro Circuit (DPC) rankings. The DPC rankings are then used to select which teams can enter The International without going through regional qualifiers.
The first Valve-sponsored DOTA Major Championship was held in April of 2015 in Frankfurt. Valve’s event was to improve the competitive scene format that allows the teams to have more exposure.
The question of its legitimacy as a sport makes it challenging for Esports to find its place in traditional media like television. However, Eleague has been on the scene long enough to be considered a pioneer and a core element of Esports’ rising popularity.
ELEAGUE, launched in 2016, is a professional Esports league that serves as a show aired on TBS. This tournament hosts the household games like Rocket League and Blizzard’s hit game, Overwatch.
One of the first tournaments to arrive on the scene, ESL has been through every nook and cranny of Esport events through 2 decades of its history. As of now, it is one of the largest Esports companies that offers a handful of different video games with their fair share of historic moments.
Games like DOTA 2, Rainbow Six Siege, and CS: GO are often the company’s biggest events throughout the year. The company also hosts leagues in many different places such as Katowice, Hamburg, and many others on their list.
One of the most popular tournaments focusing mainly on fighting games, this is the household name of popular fighting games and franchises such as Street Fighter, Tekken, and Smash Bros.
Commonly called EVO, it is one of the longest-running Esport events in history that started as early as 1996. It started mainly with versions of Street Fighter games and was dubbed as Battle By The Bay. It was first held in an arcade hall in Sunnyvale, California before the event moved over to Los Angeles as it continued to grow in popularity.
Over the years, EVO rose to popularity and was soon jointly owned by Sony Interactive Entertainment and Endeavor, enabling the tournament to expand its reach of different fighting games.
As early as 2009, it recorded 1,000 participants, making it one of the most diverse tournaments in the world.
Fortnite World Cup is considered to be the youngest in the scene. Despite its relatively new place in the competitive gaming industry, Fortnite quickly gained popularity through its “easy on the eyes” approach to gaming.
The game itself does not aim for the best graphics possible, but it’s still guaranteed to be a contender in its game mechanics and design. It is one of the games that helped revive the battle royale genre, along with PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG).
Fortnite World Cup was founded and hosted by Epic Games in 2019, with its prize pool reaching a total of $30,000,000 across the various competitions it has hosted.
Following the 2019 success, Epic Games planned to hold the event again in 2020, but the protocols understandably thwarted the tournament in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This game is one of the most well-known shooter games that permeated popular culture. Its popularity rides on the easily recognizable helmet of Master Chief.
Throughout its long history, Halo as a game in itself has retained its spot up there as the most well-known shooter game. The already cemented legacy of Halo was supported by its active community and professional Esport events.
Back in 2018, Halo World Championship boasted a $1,000,000 total prize pool. Unlike other shooter games like CS: GO, which thrive on their simplicity to emphasize the mechanical skills of the players, Halo’s game format takes it up the notch by incorporating different game modes into one tournament to truly test the skills of the players. The game modes are as follows:
- Capture the Flag – Players have to bring their enemies’ flags to their home base to score. The first team to capture three flags wins.
- Strongholds – Players have to secure locations to their advantage to score. The longer they hold on to the positions, the more score they can accumulate. Locations can be stolen by pushing away enemies who control them.
- Slayer – This game mode is Halo’s version of the classic team deathmatch in most shooter games. The first team who scores 50 kills or the most kills in 12 minutes wins.
What started as an online collectible card game later launched its professional Esport scene in March 2014. Hearthstone’s World Championship is held annually and features only 8 of the most elite players in its ranks.
Before the culmination of the games in the world championship, the eight players that hail from different regions in the world undergo a series of tournaments and leagues under the Hearthstone Grandmaster System. The prize pool of this annual tournament is $500,000 each year, earning the champion $200,000.
Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm features the characters of the gaming company’s other titles such as Overwatch, Diablo, Warcraft, and Starcraft.
The game includes a handful of original concepts, such as the teams recruiting mercenary camps in the game map to aid with their siege. The most important elements that many professional players exploit in the game are how they play around vision control and team-based objectives. This game is among those that do not emphasize individual skills and mechanical prowess; the winning numbers hugely favor the side that can work better as a team with high coordination.
The HGC changed over the years, most notably in 2017 when the format changed from three seasons before the main event to only having phases 1 and 2. The first HGC was held on October 28, 2015 – November 7, 2015, at the Anaheim Convention Center. The prize usually goes up to $1,000,000.
Organized by Chinese game companies VSPN and Tencent, the Honor of Kings World Cup has been held annually since its beginning in 2016.
The game was closely related to Arena of Valor until the merging of the two tournaments was announced last August 28, 2021. Hence, next year’s Arena of Valor World Cup will be shared by two games as their World Cup. As a result of this decision, the prize pool also went up to ¥50,000,000, or $7,805,000.
Intel Extreme Masters features many different games in its pro league history. Started by ESL back in 2006, it is the longest-running pro gaming tour in the world.
Some of its titles include Starcraft II and CS: GO, to name a few. It hosted most of the games’ historical moments, and it witnessed the changes made into the games over the years of its development.
Intel Extreme Masters usually host a lot of events within a year. The prize pool of major tournaments like CS: GO and DOTA 2 can go as high as $1,000.000 in total.
Otherwise known only as Worlds, it is arguably the largest Esport tournament in the world by popularity, even beating traditional sports. This event is hosted by its very own publisher, Riot Games. It happens only once a year, being the ultimate tournament to close out the game’s annual season.
Large Esports organizations like South Korea’s SK Telecom are well known among the fans of this tournament, having won 3 World Championship titles under their belt.
The game essentially has the same mechanics as other Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games like DOTA 2 and Arena of Valor. However, League of Legends found a way to make the inherently complex genre more accessible to beginners through straightforward game mechanics.
Though its prize pool isn’t much to boast about compared to the gigantic prize pool of DOTA 2, it makes up for its large concurrent and total viewership. The animation also adapted a more anime-like design to attract fans that are familiar with its art style.
This success in game design translates to millions of viewership and engagement across the world. For instance, in LoL World Championship back in 2019, the total viewership count finally broke through 100 million, cementing its place as the largest Esport in existence.
As a gaming organization, MLG focuses on pro-gaming events around the United States and Canada. MLG is based in New York City, New York.
Its mission is to elevate computer and console games to new heights by incorporating the game’s broadcast to a wider audience, such as those watching games on television. Some of its games have been on a regular broadcast on ESPN.com and other sites.
This organization is owned by Activision Blizzard, which developed other popular competitive games such as Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm.
Starcraft II and League of Legends are some of the titles featured on the MLG Pro Gaming Circuit. Like EVO, it also features console games that are mostly under the fighting games genre.
The concept of streaming games hosted by Mobile Legends was conceived in October 2014, following its announcement of the MLG.tv Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
True to its mission to bring the future of competitive gaming to television, MLG also started its television network that focuses on all things Esports.
Sometime in 2019, Mobile Legends rose in popularity, especially in the Southeast Asian region. This professional league is centered in the Philippines, where the game built a huge market.
It is now considered among the largest and most well-known mobile games competitions in Southeast Asia.
The Mobile Legends game followed the recipe of League of Legends’ simple yet engaging approach to MOBA.
Overwatch is one of Blizzard Entertainment’s biggest games as of late. It borrowed concepts from Team Fortress, which popularized the video game genre by incorporating MOBA and shooter games elements.
The game’s playable characters possess unique abilities that allow players to strategize in most MOBA games where the teams’ drafts also dictate the games.
The Overwatch League is a major global Esports league with a competitive system that works like the traditional sports, namely NBA and MLB, in the sense that the teams are city-based. Los Angeles, for instance, has its Overwatch team called Los Angeles Valiant.
The League was announced at the same time as the Overwatch World Cup during Blizzcon 2016.
As the main event of Overwatch League’s competitive scene, the Overwatch World Cup is the largest Esport tournament. This competition is formatted like the Olympics, where the best teams worldwide gather to a single tournament to compete for the game’s most prestigious title.
This tournament happens once a year and always starts at either the end of October or the first week of November. Each team usually has players from their respective franchise-based teams, but they set aside their rivalries with their countrymen to represent their land during the World Cup.
A battle royale shooter game, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds further brought to popularity the genre in recent years. Today, with its own Esports scene, PUBG has gathered the best of the best players across the world to compete.
The game follows the same elements as other shooter games, except with a much bigger map and survival elements tied to its gameplay.
The recent report of its prize pool was said to be ranging around $1.47 million. The competition will begin on November 30.
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege is the game adaptation of a novel of the same name. The game mechanics feature close-quarter combats with the players choosing among the game’s list of unique characters called “operators.” The game is commonly abbreviated as R6S.
Recently, a pro-scene event called Six Invitational was held in Sweden, with 16 teams participating in the tournament. Among its most prestigious leagues is the Rainbow Six Siege Pro League and Challenger League, and the latter is the only way for a team to qualify for the Pro League.
Rocket League Championship Series recently rose in popularity, with a handful of popular streamers jumping into the game. This series is a yearly event in the Esports scene produced and organized by Psyonix. Like The International and ESL’s hosting of Esports matches, the Rocket League Championship Series venue varies year to year.
The 2021-2022 season of RLCS broke its record in terms of the prize pool, recently boasting a $6,000,000 total prize pool to top the money from the previous season. It is a growing Esports scene with a fair share of its glorious moments that contribute to the entirety of Esports.
Smite is a unique MOBA game that follows third-person perspective gameplay. The characters are inspired by the mythology gods designed according to their personalities and abilities in the ancient legends.
The Smite World Championship was first held back in 2015 by Hi-Rez Studios, in which teams from different regions in the world traveled to Atlanta, Georgia. The most recent Smite World Championship was done with $600,000 in the prize pool. Pittsburgh Knights took the champion title as they steamrolled through the tournament with their dominating performance.
The Esports scene of Starcraft II is just as prestigious as all the other tournaments. This real-time strategy game is popular in countries like Korea, China, and the United States.
The tournaments are often hosted by ESL Pro and other well-known Esports organizations. It also boasts a big prize pool, considering that the recent ESL Pro StarCraft II league has prize money of $4,000,000 for the players to grab.
StarCraft II WCS Global Finals was hosted by the game publisher, Blizzard. It had peaked in the $700,000 prize pool in 2019. Although the tournament was discontinued, the competitive scene continued to grow following the creation of ESL Pro Tour StarCraft II (EPT). The latter became the premiere professional circuit for the game.
Another tournament where StarCraft II is one of the main events is World Electronic Sports Games, or simply known as WESG. It’s a tournament organized by AliSports, an organization under Alibaba Group that is dedicated to the promotion of competitive gaming. The prize money of StarCraft II tournament of WESG reached its peak back in 2016 with $402,000 in total prize pool.
Several versions came out of StarCraft’s rich lore and gameplay flexibility, and Brood War (remastered) is the latest and most popular (and still being played by professional gamers).
Although most people who played StarCraft have already transitioned to playing StarCraft II, there’s no doubt that Brood War still stood out as one of the most competitive-friendly expansion packs of the original StarCraft.
Throughout 600+ tournaments, Brood War has accumulated its prize money to more than $8 million in total.
The first known tournament of StarCraft Brood War was way back in 1998 at the PGL Season 3. Over time, the popularity of the game only grew and its legacy in the gaming industry stood the test of time. In 2017, Blizzard released a remastered version of the game followed by a launch of its new competitive scene, the current most popular tournament of Starcraft is ASL, you can even find live stream of ASL in English (done by the awesome Artosis and Tasteless) on AfreecaTV Youtube channel.
Irrefutably the most prestigious and highly-regarded tournament of the game, DOTA 2, The International happens only once a year, except for 2020, when the event was canceled due to the pandemic. This tournament boasts the highest prize pool in all of Esports, breaking its record every year that it is held. It is hosted by the game’s developer and publisher, Valve.
Unlike its sister game, CS: GO, DOTA 2 is a complex and high-skill ceiling game that can take several years of practice to master and develop a deep understanding. It involves two opposing teams of 5 players in a race to destroy each other’s Ancient, the team’s base. Despite its simple concept, so many things can happen inside the game due to the teams applying many different strategies and tactics.
The first The International was held in the Koelnmesse exhibition and trade center in Cologne, Germany, in 2011. The announcement came with a prize pool of $1,000,000. At the time, it was already a shockingly huge amount of prize pool that the news echoed through the media as a whole; competitive gaming back then was still basically in its infancy.
The International 10 was held in Bucharest, Romania, though with no live crowd due to the limitations and health protocol imposed in the venue.
The total prize pool reached a whopping $40,018,195, increasing about 2,401.14% from the base prize pool. To this day, the amount of prize pool is yet to be topped by other Esports leagues.
Most Popular Esports Tournament
When it comes to popularity in Esports, League of Legends tops the list since it’s been on top of concurrent and total viewership count for years now. In this article’s section, we will break down the popularity of Esports leagues.
By Hours Watched
- League of Legends Worlds 2020 – More than 1 billion hours watched
- League of Legends LCK Spring – 67,544,845 hours watched
- League of Legends LEC Summer – 33,123,804 hours watched
- PUBG Mobile World League East – 37,331,669 hours watched
By Peak Viewers
- League of Legends Worlds 2020 – 3,882,252
- Free Fire Continental Series 2020 Asia – 2,566,046
- Free Fire Continental Series 2020 America – 1,718,508
- Mobile Premier League Indonesia – 2,392,579
- Free Fire League Clausura – 1,257,078
By Average Viewers
- League of Legends Worlds 2020 – 1,113,702
- Free Fire Continental Series 2020 Asia – 828,986
- Free Fire Continental Series 2020 Americas – 803,100
- Copa America 2020 – 568,003
- League of Legends Regional Finals 2020 – 544,253
- Most popular Esport league by hours watched
- League of Legends – 208.3 million
- Mobile Legends Professional League – 14.2 million
- CS: GO ESL League – 26.9 million