Unless you’ve been living under a digital rock for the last couple of years, you’ve probably noticed that eSports is really starting to take off in a big way. The eSports industry is set to become a billion-dollar economy by 2020, taking into account ticket sales, merchandising opportunities and advertising deals with major teams and venues. It’s safe to say that eSports isn’t going anywhere, with a projected audience of around 427 million by 2019.
Whether or not this is an area you’re interested in, there’s a good chance you’re already playing one of the many titles that dominate eSports and drive fans wild with their intricate strategies and showstopping plays. You might even have placed a bet on an eSport here or there. Here are 7 of the most popular eSports games in 2018.
Call of Duty: WW2
This year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII might change all this, but Call of Duty: WW2 is the most popular title in the series for a long time in terms of eSports. WW2 was billed as a return to form for the increasingly alienating franchise; many fans had grown tired of Call of Duty’s ever more grandiose set pieces and outlandish narratives, preferring instead the simple “boots on the ground” feel of earlier titles. WW2 gave those fans what they wanted, and helped the game consistently place in the top 10 Twitch streams for views in the first four months of 2018. Around 1.5 million hours have been viewed of CoD: WW2, and with Black Ops IIII out now and sporting a battle royale mode to boot, the continuing surge in popularity of Call of Duty is all but assured.
League of Legends
One of the original eSports pretenders (depending on your definition of the word “original”, of course), League of Legends continues to attract staggering numbers of viewers and amass ridiculous prize pools, even if it’s not quite the almighty world-conquering presence it was in its heyday. It can’t match its stablemate DotA 2 for prize money, but then DotA 2 has the heft of Valve behind it, while League of Legends is still technically an independent production (although it does now have the mighty Chinese corporation Tencent pulling its reins). Still, League of Legends enjoys a staggering 100 million active users each month, with around 80% of those users estimated to be in China. League of Legends had its World Championship competition this year, for which the prize pool was a respectable $2.25 million – not up to the standards of previous Worlds events, but not to be sniffed at, either.
Valve’s long-running rival to League of Legends is originally based on a mod for Blizzard’s real-time strategy game WarCraft III. DotA 2 is the apex of that original mod, sporting many more of its features and quirks than League of Legends, which rather became its own beast despite still utilising many of the original mod’s mechanics and visual elements. DotA 2 enjoys a larger professional base than League of Legends, and The International – Valve’s official DotA 2 tournament – draws ridiculous viewer numbers and offers a colossal prize pool which usually exceeds $25 million. The top 55 eSports players in the world are all players of Valve’s MOBA, which should tell you something about the continuing dominance of this game over its rivals. Many players “choose” between DotA 2 and LoL thanks to their similarities, although the games are different in several key ways.
Blizzard’s name certainly seems to crop up an awful lot when it comes to eSports, doesn’t it? With real-time strategy titan StarCraft II still a main draw for eSports fans, Blizzard’s latest foray into the discipline, Overwatch, had a lot riding on it. Thankfully, Blizzard’s incredible flair for game design and visual excellence shone through, and Overwatch was an instant hit right from its beta test. Overwatch may not quite attract the same professional viewership as many of its rivals, likely due to its relative strategic shallowness compared to MOBAs, but its frenetic action and fast-paced class-based gameplay more than make up for the brevity of its games. Overwatch is a relative newcomer to the world of eSports, but it’s already gaining ground, with over 350 tournaments in 2017 and counting. Don’t count Blizzard out with this one.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Another Valve creation, Counter-Strike traces its origins back to the 1990s and began life as a mod for celebrated FPS Half-Life. Spinoff begat spinoff, and Counter-Strike took its place as one of the originators of the eSports world. Counter-Strike: Source attempted a similar thing to Half-Life: Source by updating its engine and mechanics to match the updated Source toolkit, but it wasn’t until Counter-Strike: Global Offensive that Counter-Strike took off globally as an eSport. Global Offensive is the perfect option for those who don’t like the complexity of MOBAs or the bright day-glo aesthetics of hero shooters; it’s straightforward, fast-paced shooter action at its most streamlined. Global Offensive cements Valve’s dominance as the premier provider of eSports goodness to fans worldwide.