One of the most unusual aspects of top-level esports is that, for the hundreds or even thousands of different games available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, or PC, there are still relatively few that enjoy worldwide popularity.
Sure, everyone with an interest in esports will know that League of Legends, Dota 2, CS:GO, Overwatch, and StarCraft 2 are arguably the “Big Five” nowadays. On a tier below those games, FIFA, NBA 2K, Call of Duty, Rainbow Six, World of Tanks, and Hearthstone hold secondary sway.
In 2018, two other games have joined those ranks. Fortnite and Player Unknown Battlegrounds have seen their popularity skyrocket. They’re dominating in a mobile esports market that’s ripe for development in 2019 and beyond.
So the question is, what is going to be the big game in esports in 2019? Well, we already have an early contender for that title. That game is Magic: The Gathering, and if that name sounds familiar, then it may well be because the game has a worldwide following in the tens of millions garnered over 25 years.
What is Magic: The Gathering?
Back in 1993, Richard Garfield designed the very first version of Magic: The Gathering: a trading card game that used a deck of cards to pit a team of wizards, known as “planeswalkers,” that use spells, magical artifacts, and creatures against an opponent.
The game was a huge hit on release. It drew on support initially from many Dungeons and Dragons players and quickly became well known for having many more cards as well as more detailed and complicated rules than comparable games.
Over the years, a number of expansion packs for the game have been released, also successes. From 2008 to 2016, 20 billion cards were produced. As of 2015, an estimated 20 million players partook.
An online version of the game was released in June 2002 initially only for Windows-based PC systems. It has since gone through four different versions. And in 2014, Version 4 became the sole client for playing Magic: The Gathering online.
As a game based on trading cards, Magic: The Gathering is most likely to be in direct competition with Hearthstone and the soon-to-be-released Artifact from Valve. But there is another good reason why the game could be one of the rising stars of the esports scene in 2019.
What is the Magic Pro League?
Coast (WOTC) and Hasbro have announced the formation of the Magic Pro League.
Using the Arena digital version of the game, which is still currently in the public beta phase, 32 of the world’s top Magic players will compete in a series of weekly games and “Mythic Championship” tournaments. Each of the 32 will receive a $75,000 contract. Each will also have the opportunity to win prize money.
Details on how the 32 players will be accepted into the league have not yet been made public. They should be made clear in early 2019, and the first Mythic Championship will be launched in Boston on March 28.
The prize money on offer for that event will catapult Magic: The Gathering into the upper echelons of esports gaming. One million dollars is already confirmed for that event, and a guaranteed minimum of $10 million in prize money will be available throughout the season.
What else could be on the 2019 horizon?
As we said, Artifact is coming too in 2019. But it is not the only trading card games with chances of making major moves in esports next year.
For one, keep an eye on the Fortnite World Cup. The game has already enjoyed huge success in 2018 and has long been touted as the next big thing in esports gaming. As yet though, Fortnite hasn’t blown up in esports the same way it has with your average online gamers.
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That could change with the World Cup, which is promising support for Fortnite communities across the globe. It also boldly offers that anyone in the world has the chance to win by coming through qualifiers.
Perhaps in a swipe at the Overwatch League, Epic have announced that participation in the Fortnite World Cup will be based on merit alone. They will not allow franchises in the tournament.
In 2019, I also feel a number of the second-tier esports may start to break the stranglehold of the few games at the top of the esports tree. With the promise of esports versions of the Premier League and Champions League, FIFA could well continue to see its esports future blossom, especially when you consider the number of professional football teams who now have an interest in one or more esports games.
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