Esports is an all-encompassing term used to describe online multiplayer video games played competitively for spectators and the many tournaments and events they spawn. Over 50 video games across consoles and PC spread are considered to be esports, with professionally organized leagues and tournaments offering millions of dollars in prize money for the very best players around the world to win. The massive success of the industry in the past seven years has led to more games across more genres being developed with a potential esport sub-culture in mind.
Despite esports’ continued advancement into the mainstream consciousness, it can be quite overwhelming for anyone new to competitive gaming or video games in general to try and dive into even just one of these highly passionate communities. Sometimes, it’s even difficult to find out which games have an esports scene and which are simply touted by its fans as a potential breakout hit, let alone understand how esports and betting on such large-scale events works.
This page aims to guide readers on the best esports games in 2018, understanding how they work and why they’re popular, and the upcoming esports games that will make it big this year.
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Most popular esports games in 2018
The most popular esports games in 2018 boil down to a select few genres, despite the increasingly diverse amount of titles releasing with the intention of building out a future competitive scene. Competitive and organized video game tournaments can exist for any title, but there is a distinct list of games that made the esport industry the behemoth it is today (valued at $1.5 billion in the latest SuperData report, in case you were wondering).
We break-down the most popular esports titles globally in our list below – click on the provided links for more detailed information into the game’s competitive format, event schedules, gameplay, top teams and the best esports betting sites to place a real money wager on the latest official tournaments for each title.
Call of Duty: Released annually as a single-player and multiplayer holiday shooter, the long-running FPS franchise is well known for its incredibly competitive gaming communities, with professional esports tournaments organized by series publisher Activision in partnership with multiple other sponsors and groups, including Electronic Sports League, Major League Gaming and PlayStation. Its biggest event is the Call of Duty World League, held in Australia, North America, Latin America and the UK annually.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive: Released in 2012 as the latest in the long-running popular Counter-Strike series of FPS multiplayer games, CS:GO dominates the esports world with million dollar tournament prize-pools fronted by developer Valve, who co-sponsors and organizes the ‘Majors’ events, while many third-party esport organizers like the Electronic Sport League host regional, smaller events. It is undoubtedly one of the most influential games to boost esports into the mainstream. In the United Kingdom, is the #1 popular esport franchise watched by fans.
Dota 2: Released in 2013, Dota 2 is a free-to-play multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game and one of the most popular esports games in the world. It started life out as a standalone sequel to a WarCraft 3 mod called Defense of the Ancients and now records over 10 million concurrent players every month. It was also the top live streamed esport on Twitch in April 2017, one of the few games to temporarily de-throne League of Legends with 32.2 million esports hours watched by fans. Its main tournament, The International, is organized and sponsored by game developer and publisher Valve, who regularly fund prize-pools of up to $1.6 million in the annual tournament to make it the biggest competitive gaming event globally.
League of Legends: Released in 2009 as a free-to-play third-person MOBA with a microtransaction model to fund its continued development, LoL has grown to become one of the most popular esports in the entire world thanks to its highly competitive gameplay format and extensive support from developer Riot Games, who organizes the League Championship Series (LCS) in North America and Germany and the annual World Championship the latter of which records over 40 million unique viewers and a total prize pools of over US$6 million. With 100 million active players tracked per month and consistently ranked the top spot on the monthly Twitch.tv hours logged, League of Legends isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
StarCraft II: Released in 2010 and recently re-launched as a free-to-play title, SC2 is a third-person real-time strategy game and part of the most popular RTS computer gaming franchise ever in South Korea, where the game thrives in the competitive esports scene. While it has lower prize-pools in officially sanctioned pro SC2 events (around US $150,000) and its popularity has waned after the introduction of the MOBA sub-genre and the resounding success of Dota 2 and League of Legends, StarCraft II’s intensely competitive one-versus-one format is irreplaceable in spectacle and it isn’t leaving the professional gaming leagues anytime soon.
Rocket League: One of the surprise packets of eSports world, Rocket League is a game that you have to see to believe. It pits two teams of cars against each other on a giant football pitch. It’s rough and tumble, head to head nature makes it a great spectator sport and betting event, with sites like Arcanebet offering extensive markets on the various leagues that are dotted around the world. Unlike many eSports games it does not make players travel, with most competitions played online. It also has a basketball mode but this is yet to catch on as an esports venture.
Best new and upcoming esports games in 2018
Despite the continued worldwide domination of the esport triumvirate (CS:GO, Dota 2 and LoL), 2018 will see the debut of several popular competitive multiplayer video games that have branched out into the glamorous world of esports, along with the continued advancement in popularity for other long-running and supported titles.
Fortnite: Originally released in 2017 as a third-person shooter/player-versus-environment (PVE) multiplayer survival-crafting game, Fortnite was quickly re-shaped into a player-versus-player experience with the release of Fortnite Battle Royale, a free-to-play additional game mode which has gone on to eclipse the base game in overwhelming popularity. With 100 players on the field fighting to the death on an island, the last man standing premise proved extremely appealing, gathering over 1 million players on launch and 1.3 million concurrent players as of December 2017. Its structure is extremely similar to PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, which released in the same year and introduced the ‘Battle Royale’ sub-genre to the mainstream and competitive gaming crowd. Fornite has not yet had any officially sponsored or organized esports tournaments, but it is pegged by fans as the next big game to receive the esports treatment.
Halo: Released in 2015, Halo 5 is the latest entry in the popular sci-fi first-person shooter franchise, which is the lead game for Microsoft’s Xbox console platform. Halo has had a long and treasured history in esports, beginning in the early days of LAN console gaming and reaching its zenith when Xbox Live and broadband Internet made it possible for previously offline tournaments to enter the world stage. The esports scene for Halo is notably for receiving significant support from organizers such as Major League Gaming, prior to becoming household names in the competitive video gaming industry. MLG are currently partners with developer 343 Industries in bringing the Halo World Championship Series events to fans and aspiring professional Halo gamers all over the world.
Hearthstone: Released in 2014, Hearthstone is pointed to as the main game responsible for the rapid popularization of the digital collectible card game (CCG) genre and its push into the competitive esports quickly after its debut. High-level tournaments are organised by Blizzard, including the official World Championship which features prize pools of up to $1 million – unheard of for any other video game in the niche genre.
Overwatch: Released in 2016, Overwatch is the most anticipated esports title in the United States and the most played competitive multiplayer first-person shooter worldwide, averaging 14.4 million monthly users across PC and console merely a year after its launch. With its parent company Activision Blizzard organising its very own professional esport league in the form of the Overwatch League, and significant investments from traditional sporting moguls like Robert Kraft and Shaquille O’Neal, Overwatch is shaping up to be the esport to watch in 2018.
NBA 2K: Released as an annual sporting franchise, NBA 2K18 is set to be the first title in the series to be played as an esport thanks to the NBA 2K League, a joint venture between the National Basketball Association and 2K Games Interactive to create a professional esports league for competitive virtual basketball. With try-outs early in 2018 and the inaugural season kicking off in May, it’s definitely one to watch given 17 of the NBA’s top teams are officially participating.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds: Released in 2017 as an early access title and launching as a full retail release at the tail-end of that year, PUBG is an incredibly influential multiplayer online battle royale game developed and published by PUBG Corporation, a subsidiary of Korean video games publisher Bluehole Inc. Pitting 100 people against each other on a large island, the last man standing sub-genre exploded in popularity with PUBG’s debut and has influenced countless other video games, both esports and non-esports, into introducing ‘Battle Royale’ game modes into their titles. While only featured as the main focus in three prototype esports events, 2018 is set to see the game mature as a competitive esport, and to anyone doubting whether its appeal will last, the latest reports have tallied the game pulling in over 202 million unique viewers on Twitch, 15 times the amount of its player-base and signifying non-gamers are paying attention to its development.
Other notable esports games to watch in 2018
There are dozens more amazing video games with competitive esports scenes attached to them, some still growing, some forever niche, and others on the steady path to the big leagues. These are the esport titles to watch for in 2018 and beyond.
- Gears of War
- Injustice 2
- Marvel vs Capcom
- Quake Legends
- Rainbow Six Siege
- Rocket League
- Street Fighter V
- Super Smash Bros Melee
- Tekken 7
- WarCraft III
- War Thunder
- World of Tanks
- World of WarCraft
Most popular esports video game genres
As esports history follows, fighting games and first person shooters are the two dominant genres to come out of the 1980s and 1990s and remain at the top today, though Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games, which have taken the world by storm since 2010, arguably is the most significant esport genre today. The booming popularity of South Korean Internet cafes and extensive modding communities helped shape real-time strategy (RTS) games into highly competitive, multiplayer-focused head-to-head arenas which led to the now dominant MOBA category.
How are esports growing so fast?
An increasing amount of these top-tier esports are entirely organized and managed under the administration of their original developers and publishers of the video games in question – Activision Blizzard, Riot Games and Steam all are heavily involved with the advertising, funding, promotion and organization of tournaments for Overwatch, League of Legends and Dota 2, respectively – rather than third-party esport organizations such as the Electronic Gaming League and Major League Gaming as in the past. This has lead to increased support for the competitive and professional communities, directly provided from the creators.
You can find the definitive guide to all video game publishers supporting esports here.
A brief history of esports
Competitive video gaming precedes the Internet era and has been around since the 1970s and 1980s, when organized and televised gaming tournaments hosted by games developers, usually as a marketing tactic, were commonplace in countries like Japan and the United States. Despite video games at the time being offline and lacking the massive multiplayer functions that we take for granted in our favourite titles today, the medium found a way to rise to popularity.
The earliest recorded esport event, which were labelled under more amusingly creative names such as “Intergalactic spacewar olympics”, took place in 1972 at Stanford University, California. The university invited Spacewars players to compete for a one-year subscription to Rolling Stone magazine. It wasn’t until 8 years later when video game publisher Atari held the Space Invaders Championship in 1980 – when more than 10,000 people showed up from all across North America – that competitive video gaming was considered a mainstream hobby.
The rest of the 1980s saw the establishment of several organizations such as Twin Galaxies and the U.S National Video Game Team which helped promote video games worldwide, along with the competitive scenes that inevitably accompanied them, created and driven by passionate fan-bases. When the Internet era properly arrived in the 1990s and more video games began taking advantage of the connectivity and multiplayer possibilities it provided, larger esports tournaments formed and greater awareness followed. Games such as Counter-Strike, StarCraft and Warcraft had their humble beginnings in the LAN era and became powerhouses in the modern esports industry today thanks to the growing subcultures they fostered in the early days of connected gaming.
You can find a more detailed look into the history of esports here.
Where can I bet on the best esports games?
The editorial team not only loves watching esports, but betting on them – and we have several guided across our site which aim to help our readers learn how to bet on their favourite esport title and the types of odds and betting options available per game. A good starting point for beginners or those new to esports in general is our how to bet on esports guide, which we highly recommend reading before placing a real money wager on any esports title.
If you’re an experienced bettor looking for the top-rated esports betting sites, we also have you covered. Our readers from United States should check out BetOnline for the best new player welcome bonuses and betting markets on your favourite esports tournaments.