Potential esports games are being released all the time. Not all become top esports games, with many failing to catch on with the masses. The best esports games in 2020 include games like Dota 2 and Fortnite, but the launch of the XBOX Series X and PS5 is set to shake things up. These next generation console games might not immediately have esports industries sprout up, but you can rest assured by the end of 2021 things will be much clearer. With the bulk of esports games played on PC currently, this page will evolve as more competitive video games are released.
Top 10 esports games in 2021
While there are 100s of video games that could be termed a competitive esports game, there are some that stand head and shoulders above the others, in terms of popularity; including player numbers, streamers and viewers. The top esports games literally have millions of players online at any one time, while there are various competitions, tournaments and leagues set up surrounding the most popular games. The top 10 esports games for 2021 are:
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.
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.
Game guide: 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. Fortnite is among the top few esports games in both popularity and by prize money in 2019, with over $20 million USD handed out.
League of Legends
League of Legends sits at fourth in the top esports games list, with over $8 million dollars in prize money handed out during 2019. LoL is an action-packed competitive video game, with elements of both Role Playing Games and First Person Shooter games. The general gist of League of Legends is two teams of “champions” do battle on various maps and under different game modes, with each team boasting unique characteristics. The LoL competitive esports scene is thriving, with the professional competitions in Europe and North America particularly strong. There are all levels of tournament play available in this esport game, while the constant updates released by Riot Games keeping League of Legends fresh and exciting.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, or PUBG, was 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.
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 continues to excel in 2019, but with more games being released there might need to be some changes in the not too distant future.
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.
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.
Game guide: Hearthstone
Released in 2014, Hearthstone is pointed to as the main game responsible for the rapid popularisation 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 this niche esports game genre.
Upcoming esports games in 2021
The esports world is continually expanding with new games being released. While not all make it as successful esports games, there are some that are highly anticipated:
Halo Infinite: The sixth title in the Halo franchise is set to shake things up. Halo Infinite promises an open world, on contrast to other Halos, and has already indicated a willingness to expand into esports. Halo Infinite is due to be released in the first quarter of 2021.
Introducing esports games
New competitive video games are being released all the time, including upgrades to existing esports games, which can breath new life into older titles. Esports is growing fast and the more money involved in it the more video game developers can put back into developing new esports games. There barely goes a week when some potential esports game is released and pumped up by its developers. Having said this not all potential esports games turn out to be Fortnite or Apex Legends, with many big budget releases failing to make an impact in professional video gaming. This page will highlight the most popular esports games, new esports games and upcoming competitive video gaming releases.
What is an esports game?
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 2019, understanding how they work and why they’re popular, and the upcoming esports games that will make it big this year.
Esports games genres
There are some common video game genres or categories that make up the majority of esports in 2021, although every now and then a new game will shake things up that might not necessarily fit into a traditional category.
Multiplayer online battle arena:
Also known as real time strategy video games, MOBA is a subgenre of strategy video games. Played between two teams, MOBA games are usually head to head, and involve destroying the other team’s base and killing any players. Fortnite and PUBG are prime examples of MOBA games.
First person shooter:
First person shooter esports games are very popular, and usually involve fighting on a map, either in free-for-all or team vs team mode. Last man standing and capture the flag are two of the popular formats of esports games in First Person Shooter titles. Call of Duty is arguably the best first person shooter of all time, while games like Unreal Tournament and early versions of Counter-Strike did a lot to pioneer this genre.
Card game battles:
Card game esport games are very popular and are usually referred to as digital collectible card games. For a long time digital versions of collectable cards were not desired, but now many distributors are only releasing them as a video game, like 2021’s no.1 digital card battle game Hearthstone.
Battle Royale esports games have got elements of many games, including survival, exploration, scavenging and even first person shooter. Beginning on a massive map, a battle royale esports game usually has a safe zone, forcing players to eventually come together in a small zone. The winner of a battle royale esports game is usually the last team or man standing. PUBG is a prime example of a Battle Royale esports title.
Real-time strategy esports games:
Real-time strategy esports games are games that are running continuously, with players not taking it in turns. An example of an RTS esport game is World of WarCraft.
Turn-based strategy esports:
This is simple a video game where players take it in turns, with games like the Civilization series the perfect example of how these types of games work.
The sports genre of esports games should not be underestimated and it is only now beginning to flourish. Most of the major European soccer leagues have now launched digital esports leagues, running off the FIFA series, while 2K is insanely popular with basketball fans. Expect sports to be one of the big movers in terms of prize money offered in the coming years, as mainstream sporting organisations do everything they can to get-in on the esports boom.
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Most popular esports games in 2019
The most popular esports games in 2019 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.
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.
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.
A friend of this scribe that coaches a junior football club was shocked when his team was all telling him they wanted to be professional FIFA esports players. The sports scene can no longer be ignored as esports, with many of the best soccer clubs in the world now having an esports leg. There is a new version of FIFA released each year and it doesn’t often disappoint. Features teams from right round the globe plus international teams of superstars. Stand by for more information about the professional esports football scene,
Best new and upcoming esports games in 2019
Despite the continued worldwide domination of the esport triumvirate (CS:GO, Dota 2 and LoL), 2019 will see the debut of several popular competitive multiplayer video games, especially sports titles like FIFA and NBA 2K that have branched out into the world of esports, along with the continued advancement in popularity for other long-running and supported titles.
One of the fastest growing releases of all time after its early February 2019 drop. Respawn Entertainment released this title, with it set 30 years after TitanFall 2, its other well-known title. Its gameplay is a similar concept to PUBG although the addition of Legends with unique attributes has made it a huge hit. There are not yet any professional esports leagues surrounding Apex Legends but given the hype generated early it seems a given that at the very least a tournament will spring up.
We think this Daybreak Game Company game, released for Microsoft Windows, which first burst onto the scene in 2015 is about to break through in 2018 as a mainstream esport. Some of our team even believe it has the potential to take the mantle as the best of its type. Has recently been re-released and all the indicators are that the game is eyeing off a move into the professional esports realm. The H1Z1 pro league has also been announced, with it due to begin in the second half of this year. We can’t wait and will keep you posted on any betting news arising.
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.
Esports games that have come and gone
Heroes of the Storm
Heroes of the Storm looked to be the next big thing in 2016, when it was announced almost $7 million in prizes would be handed out the following year. Despite this, in 2018, Blizzard announced Heroes of the Storm would be scaling back its commitments to this cross-franchise MOBA esports game. Perhaps the biggest sign Heroes of the Storm was on its last legs as an esport came with the announcement the Heroes Global Championship was cancelled, effectively signalling the end of the professional scene.
Other notable esports games to watch in 2019
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.
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.