Esports games are taking over the world. Every year the news of grand tournaments and record-breaking prize pools reach niche community forums and mainstream media outlets alike. And whether you’re looking at revenue streams, viewing figures, or the sheer novelty of this trend, esports has all the prerequisites to become one of the defining traits of the 21st century.
Top esports games for 2021
Here’s a shortlist of the most popular esports titles based on viewership, events, and prize pools:
- Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
- Dota 2
- League of Legends
- Fortnite (although some still argue that Fortnite is not yet an esport
- Call of Duty
But what exactly is esports?
With so many video games coming out every day, why do some of them get the following and the staying power that others could only dream of? Why do some genres resonate through countries and continents while others are left to the unenviable fate of fading into obscurity? And what does the future hold for upcoming esports games in general and esports gambling in particular?
These questions can be perplexing – especially when you don’t know where to look for the answers. Which is precisely why we decided to prepare the ultimate guide to esports games and shed a light on the thrilling world of competitive gaming!
What is esports and where did it come from?
The first step on the road to understanding esports is a matter of definition. Over the years, the rise of competitive gaming created multiple myths and legends on the exact nature of this phenomenon. Yet, when you look past the smoke and mirrors, the truth is astonishingly simple. Esports is a form of competition based around video games. Usually, this involves organized events and tournaments where professional players fight against each other for fame, glory, and an attractive prize pool.
These competitions aren’t entirely novel either.
Quake, the game that’s commonly referred to as the grandfather of esports, was released in 1996. A year later, Denis “Thresh” Fong won a Ferrari 328 in a Red Annihilation Quake tournament – a competition that went down in history as world’s first esports event. Afterwards, esports games like StarCraft: Brood War, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Warcraft III have all contributed to the growth of competitive gaming.
However, it wasn’t until the late 2000s that esports found mainstream appeal.
Fast-forward a decade, and competitive gaming is still reaching new heights. Turkey, Finland, and the United States of America recognize professional gamers as athletes, granting them ample opportunities to apply for scholarships and work visas. The country of Denmark went even further by developing a separate esports strategy and funding local esports organizations. Combine that with hundreds of millions of fans watching their favorite games worldwide, and it’s clear that the esports industry is on the fast track to success.
What makes a game an esport?It’s no secret that the gaming industry is oversaturated. Thousands – if not tens of thousands – of games are released every year, yet the overall esports games list remains shockingly short. The truth is that not every game has what it takes to go competitive. And no matter the style or the genre, there are 3 essential attributes that a game needs to have to become an esport.
1. Skill expression
At their core, games are meant to be fun. Most developers interpret this as a call to smooth out the edges and make the gameplay as seamless as possible for the player. However, the best esports games are almost directly opposed to this line of thinking.
Granted, they have some aspects that could be considered enjoyable, but they also provide clear and direct ways for the good players to differentiate themselves from the bad ones. That is, there’s always room to use skill and game knowledge to get an edge over your opponents. And while this dynamic doesn’t make for the best experience for the losers, it’s also a vital component of a successful esport.
Let’s face it: there’s no such thing as unpopular esports. Sure, you could pick an obscure game on Steam and put in enough hours to master it, but there will only be so many people interested in seeing you compete if the entire player base amounts to a couple of hundred users. In a similar fashion, you won’t get many top-tier competitors when players don’t have any incentives to hone their craft.
This means that a game needs to build up a casual following to go competitive. Not only that, but regular fans have to be invested into watching high-level gameplay or keeping up with their favorite teams and personalities. Such a combination is hard to come by, so it’s not exactly surprising that the list of esports remains short: just look at the numbers of the Fortnite World Cup or The International.
3. Viewing experience
Even if you hit the goldmine of producing a popular and skill expressive title, your game still has to be enjoyable for the viewers. After all, you need to give fans reasons to keep watching the broadcast. And few things accomplish that as well as exciting and fast-paced gameplay.
There’s also a matter of clarity. Many contemporary games nail the visuals and animations but fall short when it comes to displaying the action in a clear and concise manner. It’s difficult to get invested in the next big esports if you don’t understand what’s happening on the screen, so competitive games tend to put a strong emphasis on fine-tuning their viewing experience.
What are the most common esports genres?
Not all games in esports are born equal. There is a plethora of genres with their own traits and characteristics that make for a distinct gaming experience. Some are on the way out while others are just reaching their peak, and competitive games can be wildly different depending on what guidelines they follow. Here are some genres you should be aware of:
1. Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA)
Multiplayer online battle arenas, like League of Legends – developed by Riot Games – and Heroes of the Storm by Activision Blizzard, are by far the most popular esports titles in the world. They take the conventional RTS formula and mix in some roleplaying elements by allowing each player to control a single playable character and use it in a fight against another group of players. Naturally, this is much simpler than directing the flow of the entire battlefield, but that doesn’t make this genre easy. On the contrary, many MOBAs like League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm come with a huge selection of unique characters and itemization options, so pros need to have astounding levels of synergy, game sense, and mechanical prowess.
2. First-Person Shooter (FPS)
First-person shooters are the bread and butter of esports. The gameplay formula of simulating a firefight from a first-person perspective might seem simple on paper, but each FPS developer puts its own spin on it. This makes the first-person shooter one of the richest genres available, and you can highlight dozens of FPS classes and categories. Combine that with the sharp aim and split-second decision-making required to play these titles on a high level, and it’s clear why first-person shooters make some of the best esports games 2019.
3. Fighting Games
Examples: Street Fighter, Super Smash Bros, Tekken.
Fighting games are the definition of old-school. Just as the name indicates, their gameplay revolves around two players (or more, like in Super Smash Bros.) selecting unique characters and engaging in close-quarters combat on the digital ring. With that, a professional fighting game match turns into a flurry of blows, parries, and combo moves – and if that doesn’t make for an immersive viewing experience, we don’t know what does!
4. Real-Time Strategy (RTS)
Examples: StarCraft: Brood War, Warcraft III, StarCraft II.
We’ll be frank: real-time strategies are a rare breed these days. This might be the most complex esports genres on the markets. Most of it comes from its inherent complexity. RTS players assume the role of generals that control armies, erect buildings and build up their economies. Doing all of these things at the same time requires a great deal of macro- and micromanagement, which is why RTS titles are commonly described as chess on steroids. Unfortunately, such complexity alienates casual fans, so real-time strategies and other strategy games have a hard time keeping up with the best esports games in terms of player numbers.
5. Sports Games
Examples: FIFA, Madden NFL, NBA 2K, Pro Evolution Soccer, Rocket League.
The nature of sports makes them perfect for competition, and it was only a matter of time before someone tried to transfer this magic onto a computer screen. Enter sports games – a genre that seeks to emulate traditional sports as close as humanly possible. Granted, there are a few notable differences like a faster pace or a stronger focus on individual skill rather than team play. But if you’ve ever tuned in to a football or basketball match broadcast, you’ll have an easy time following sports games.
6. Battle Royale
Battle royale is the most recent addition to the esports games list. Most of them follow the same concept of a large number of players fighting each other for survival on a map with a constantly shrinking playable area. The goal is to become the last player or – depending on the mode – team standing, so battle royale games tend to turn into epic deathmatches. The only issue is that viewers can have a hard time keeping up with the action since there are so many players doing their own things at the same time, but considering the popularity of battle royale games, it’s only a matter of time until someone solves it.
What are the next big esports?
Throughout the years, businesses have gone to ridiculous lengths to predict the next big esports. Their efforts make sense on paper. Esports is set to become a billion-dollar industry by the end of 2019, so guessing which video game is going to blow up next can open up quite a few money-making opportunities. Fans could also benefit from knowing what competitive titles they should follow since the best esports tournaments tend to come with high production and entertainment values (just see the latest LoL and StarCraft II World Championship Series, Intel Extreme Masters or all the events broadcasted by the Major League Gaming).
Unfortunately, most of this guesswork tends to fall flat.
If you look back at the history of esports, the next big game usually comes out of the blue. In fact, many of the best esports games paved the road for new genres and subgenres, making it next to impossible to predict their eventual rise to prominence. After all, no one could’ve guessed that a Warcraft III mod – Defense of the Ancients – would lay the foundation of the wildly successful MOBA genre. In a similar fashion, few industry experts anticipated that Overwatch would reinvent the tried and trusted first-person shooter formula to draw in huge investors and venture capitalists into its esports scene.
The truth is no one knows whether any of the upcoming esports games will stick.
We can, however, try to make educated guesses. In that sense, the best place to look is mobile games. The mobile gaming industry is massive, as it generates more revenue than the console and PC gaming markets combined. This puts it into a unique spot where the player numbers are already there to support the existence of multiple esports. And the only thing left is figuring out the right way to approach this audience.
Some attempts have already been made. Games like Clash Royale, Vainglory, and Arena of Valor have enjoyed quite a bit of success by introducing the concept of esports to the mobile gaming audience. For now, none of them have reached the level of their PC counterparts, but it’s clear there’s a very bright future awaiting them. And while most hardcore gamers still view mobile games as nothing more than casual fun, their outlook might very well change in the coming years.
What makes esports games so popular for gambling?
It’s no secret that the esports industry is deeply intertwined with the world of online gambling. A part of it stems from the game developers. Many publishers understand that gambling is an inherent part of the competition, so it’s common to see betting sites acting as sponsors for official teams, players, and esports tournaments. The best example of this is the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive scene where bookmakers can even field teams or host competitions.
However, even if the publisher support isn’t there, that doesn’t change the fact that betting and esports games 2019 are a great match. One possible reason behind this is that competitive gaming fills a similar niche to traditional sports. Many millennials grew up playing video games, and this pastime followed them into adulthood. With that, it’s almost inevitable that they became drawn to the idea of watching (and gambling) on professional esports matches as on World of Tanks, Marvel vs Capcom or Leagues Tournaments, rather than any sports league. For now, gaming still doesn’t have the scale of traditional sports. Yet, the future where the best esports games will be competing for viewer attention with the likes of football, hockey, and basketball isn’t as far away as one might think.
Another thing to note is the decreased randomness of competitive gaming. By nature, all games have a degree of chance to them, but most video game titles seek to keep the variance to a minimum. This means that gamblers only have their own skill to rely on when predicting the outcome of esports matches, so they can focus on the task of analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of competing players.
Of course, not all games are equal in the eyes of bookmakers.
It’s no secret that popular titles come with better lines, wider markets, and broader coverage. After all, it’s much easier to analyze statistics for League of Legends matches that it is for Rocket League games. That’s not to say there’s no merit to betting on upcoming esports games. On the contrary, the fact that gambling sites have a hard time researching less popular titles puts you into a unique position where you can find generous esports odds practically out of thin air. And while your options might be limited to simple match winner and tournament winner wagers, you can still make a profit gambling on rising esports.
Esports Games in 2019
This is just the peak of the esports games 2019 iceberg. As great as it is to know the history and understand the nature of competitive gaming, it’s important to remember that every title is a world of its own. Games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2, Overwatch, and League of Legends have all found their place in the esports ecosystem. With that, they tend to come with their own mechanics, infrastructures, tournament circuits, and other specifics that make up a fresh and unique experience for their audience.
Granted, you don’t need to be well-versed in every single title on our esports games list just to follow a Twitch stream or a YouTube broadcast. But if you want to create a successful gambling strategy, you have to build up a solid knowledge base for the game you’re betting on. After all, there’s only so far you can get if you can’t make sense of various teams, players, and meta strategies.
How has the Esports Betting Landscape Changed in 2020?
The esports betting stage is on a constant expansion. As the global pandemic swept across the globe and sports events got cancelled, many bookmakers updated their esports betting markets and had better coverage in 2020 than ever before. Popular MOBAs such as the LoL and first-person shooters like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive have dominated the market. Even though esports was better equipped at weathering the storm caused by the pandemic, there were setbacks here too. Major esport event the Dota 2 International had to be cancelled and Riot went through great lengths in order to be able to go ahead with the LoL Worlds.
In 2021, these games will continue to be the bread and butter of esports betting, but there are a few upcoming competitive games to consider. The number of Fighting Games tournaments is expected to grow and more bookmakers will feature them in their portfolio of esports. While they are not necessarily new and players have enjoyed them for many years, they are expected to make a stronger impact as electronic sports. Their tournaments have gained traction in recent years as they benefited from an influx of prize money.
Which Fighting Games will Take Off in 2021?
The impact of the global pandemic could lead to significant changes in 2021. The likes of PUBG and Fortnite have witnessed the largest growth in 2019, but their gameplay makes them less suitable for esports. Meanwhile, classic fighting games are back in the spotlight. Top esports events organiser WePlay are already planning a massive Fighting League for 2021 after the success of their Mortal Kombat Event held in December 2020. The new company will develop the WePlay Ultimate Fighting League and diversify the pool of supported esports disciplines.