The esports industry revolves around tournaments. Whether they’re hosted by third-party companies or a game’s developers, these events are the beginning and end of their games’ competitive scene. What started as basement LAN parties has exploded into globetrotting tournament series with tens of millions on the line.

With more and more tournaments available now than ever before, there’s never been a better time to start esports betting. The sheer volume of esports events and betting opportunities is due to two significant factors. The first is decentralization. Anyone can host an esports tournament, not just the developers of a game or a governing body. The second is accessibility; thanks to the digital nature of video games, tournaments can take place entirely online with hundreds of teams competing.

So how did esports tournaments go from small private events to multi-million dollar celebrations of gaming skill? The short answer is time. While they might seem like a recent phenomenon, esports tournaments have existed for almost four decades now. This is our guide to understanding esports tournaments, both old and new.

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Esports & Gaming Tournaments for 2021

The History of Esports Tournaments

The first-ever gaming tournament looked very different from what we have today. The Space Invaders Championship is the first recorded video game competition, and it was hosted in 1980 for the Atari 2600. The titular title didn’t feature multiplayer, so the highest score decided the winner. The prize was an arcade machine for the titular game.

Esports events first began resembling their modern form in 1997. Quake supermajor Red Annihilation was the first major competitive gaming event featuring international competition for a very swanky prize, a brand-new Ferrari 328 GTS Cabriolet, which went to Dennis “Thresh” Fong. The 16-man international bracket formed a template for other games to copy, and some of the culture from the event is kept alive today. Players across esports are occasionally rewarded with exotic cars as a callback to Red Annihilation.

While Starcraft 2 isn’t considered one of the biggest esports today, the game’s predecessor Starcraft: Brood War was incredibly influential in the early days of esports. The game enjoyed a massive following in Korea, where fully-professional Starcraft esports tournaments were often shown on television. The MBCGame StarCraft League became the driving force of competitive gaming. Their esports tournaments were the first to reach six-digit prize pools, peaking in 2007 at $126,451.20 for GOMTV MSL #2.

After Starcraft proved that esports were both a search for the best players and a form of entertainment, many other games followed suit. Many of the esports tournaments you see in the sportsbooks have connections to the industry’s early days. Counter-Strike, Dota 2, Starcraft 2, and Call of Duty can trace their roots to the early days of esports. What was once an underground subculture has become an international sensation with millions of fans and thousands of professional players.

What are the best esports tournaments 2020?

Even with LAN competition off the table due to the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 was a record-setting year in esports. Viewership and bettor participation shot sky-high thanks to the lull in traditional sports competitions. If you’re only interested in betting on the most prominent esports tournaments, there are three games to keep an eye on. Multiplayer online battle arenas League of Legends and Dota 2 and first-person tactical shooter Counter-Strike: Global Offensive make up the Big Three of esports. These titles have the biggest prize pools and most competitive teams. All three titles are also free-to-play, meaning that their best players are pulled from millions all over the world.

Each of these games took a different approach to tackle the pandemic. Valve esports, Dota, and CS:GO chose to postpone their first-party events until international travel became feasible, while League of Legends took a very NBA-esque approach by quarantining players for their year-end event. Listed below are the biggest esports tournaments 2020 brought for each of the Big Three, as well as another standout league from the esports industry’s newest darling.

League of Legends Worlds 2020

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the most popular esports also hosted the most significant gaming tournaments 2020 had to offer. Riot Games’ end-of-year event is also one of the longest esports events in history at more than a month of top-level League. That rigorous competitive process comes with very handsome rewards; 2019 Worlds paid out over $2,000,000 to the 24 teams in attendance. League of Legends’ popularity as an esports cannot be understated. Several matches in the Worlds 2020 group stage exceeded 1,000,000 viewers, something no other esport can attest to.

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LoL Worlds 2020 Shanghai China

Dota 2 Omega League

Online esports tournaments and leagues have completely taken over the Dota world, and sponsors have scrambled to assemble the biggest prize pools and farthest-reaching circuits. Since Dota’s most competitive regions are effectively landlocked, hosts have chosen to split their leagues to accommodate the entire world. The Omega League was WePlay! and Epic Esports Event’s biggest foray yet, with more than $1,000,000 up for grabs all over the world. Their efforts were rewarded with the biggest viewership of any Dota event in 2020 at 412,391. Dota’s normal Superbowl equivalent, The International, has been postponed to 2021, but it will feature the biggest prize pool esports has ever seen at over $40,000,000.

Counter-Strike Flashpoint Season 1

While Counter-Strike: Global Offensive was forced to cancel its trademark million-dollar Majors, it’s constant competition meant that some LAN events snuck into 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic moved esports tournaments online. The biggest among them was Flashpoint, a collaborative effort between American esports juggernauts Cloud9 and Immortals Gaming Club. The $1,000,000 tournament was effectively a Major and featured many top teams from America, Europe, South America, and even China. The month-long event was the last big CS:GO event before online events took over.

VALORANT First Strike

In the same way that League of Legends and Dota 2 keep each other honest, VALORANT has become the first tactical shooter to rival Counter-Strike in esports appeal. Riot Games has helped League become the competitive gaming titan it is today, and they plan to do the same with VALORANT. The tactical shooter is ringing in its unfortunately-timed competitive beginnings with First Strike, a global series of tournaments meant to kickstart the competition. Their region-locked events cover North America, Europe, Brazil, Turkey, and more prominent esports markets. If First Strike is just the beginning of VALORANT esports tournaments, the game will soon be a mainstay in esports sportsbooks.

HOW DID THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC AFFECT ESPORTS TOURNAMENTS?

While the 2020 coronavirus pandemic has put several industries on pause, the esports world has only worked harder to fill the gap. Gaming competitions have leveraged their unique advantages over the traditional sports world, and more betting sites than ever have added esports to their sportsbook.

Online esports tournaments have dominated the pro scene for every game in 2020. Several developers, including League of Legends creator Riot Games and multi-title juggernaut Activision-Blizzard, have taken their first-party esports tournaments online. That doesn’t even include numerous third-party hosts like DreamHack, StarLadder and the Electronic Sports League. Online tournaments are much cheaper to run than an in-person esports tournament, so there’s extra incentive to create gaming competition betting opportunities.

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HyperX Esports Arena Las Vegas

That’s not to say that the pandemic hasn’t affected esports; almost all in-person competition has been put on standby. LAN competition is traditionally the highest form of esports competition, and travel restrictions mean that international competitions are almost a complete no-go. There have been international tournaments between China and Southeast Asia, and Eastern and Western Europe can still fight, but the latency of online matches means that all games are effectively region-locked. There’s at least one example of late-corona LAN esports tournaments in September’s China Dota2 Pro Cup, but it’s an exception to the online-only rule.

WHAT COMES NEXT FOR ESPORTS?

The world of competitive gaming has gone through many highs-and-lows in its four decades of existence. While the coronavirus pandemic has stifled the industry in some ways, it also opened the door to innovative solutions and professionalism. Riot Games’ willingness to sequester its players in a corona-free bubble shows how seriously esports are treated, and the fact that dozens of titles like Dota 2, Counter-Strike, and VALORANT can survive without offline events is a testament to their fortitude. The lack of traditional sports has made esports more popular than ever, and new fans will stick around for longer than any virus. Expect esports to capitalize on their built-up momentum in 2021 with bigger viewer counts and even larger prize pools. Massive growth isn’t a big deal for esports. Just like handing out Ferraris to MVPs, it’s borderline a tradition.

Whether you’re waiting for offline events to return or ready to jump into your first esports bet, look to Betway, Pinnacle and GG.bet for the best betting experience.