The Most Popular eSports Games as of 2019
eSports is a huge world that has grown immensely in more recent years, and yet, it’s still something that’s a mystery to people not a part of the hundreds of millions strong audience of eSports.
While outsiders may recognize the incredibly successful franchises like Call of Duty or more recent hits like Fortnite, there’s an entire world of games out there, popular among different groups of casual gamers, professional gaming athletes, or games that are able to find success among huge swathes of different demographics, it can be helpful (and let’s face it, interesting) to take a closer look at what people are playing today.
Without further introduction, here’s a quick list of the biggest names in games today.
First, to clarify, this isn’t a structured or ordered list that aims to rank eSports games. There is a world out there filled with a deep variety in games, and this article will best supply you with the basics of some of the most widely played ones out there.
Just like it was mentioned before in the intro, Fortnite is one of those battle royale games that has, in the last two years or so, exploded into an eSports phenomeneon that has brought record famous players like Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, or anyone on the FaZe or TSM Fortnite teams, to the forefront of the eSports community.
It’s a game that has shown to be popular among all ages and demographics, especially younger ones, and the game has seen well over 250 million users register in the last couple of years. It’s clear to see why-the massive rise of battle royale games (that is, games where solo players or small teams compete against each other for a single chance at being the winner) coincided with the rise in the popularity of Fortnite specifically, and with its free-to-play style marketing, massive streamers like Ninja who broadcast to record numbers, and accessibility on pretty much every gaming system from here to Timbuktu, Fortnite isn’t slowing down at all.
The game sees 100 players drop from the blue school bus, and pits those players against each other in what are now recognizable landmarks among the gaming community, with the works of Tilted Towers and Flush Factory being sites for some of the largest sites for complete destruction by players. As the match progresses, the infamous blue wall pushes remaining players closer together, making high-blood pressure inducing combat inevitable.
In the eSports community, the game is extremely profitable for the top players, and the highest Twitch streaming channel (by a long shot) is a professional Fortnite gaming channel. It’s incredibly entertaining to watch the best players in the world challenge themselves against up to 99 other players and to consistently reach the top ten players, and nobody fails to understand why this game became so popular.
Counter Strike: Global Offensive
For evidence of the incredible popularity of this game, look no further than its release date-at seven years old and counting, this game is still showcasing the incredible talent of its players after nearly a decade of being played by its millions of fans, which is quite a long time considering the vast number of new FPS games that are released every year.
So what makes Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS: GO) so popular, so many years later? Well, for starters, it’s just so simple, which makes it approachable to large audiences. Long before the days of the crafting-heavy combat of Fortnite, or the dozens of operators in a game like Rainbow Six: Siege, here was a game that simply put two teams of five against each other, and gave players many opportunities to turn the tide in sets of matches using skill and tactics alone, no gimmicks.
CS: GO eSports matches are the type of edge-of-your-seat gameplay that fans love to see, with first-person shooter games at their best. Teams and players can make huge comebacks in just a few short rounds in sets, even in the World Championship tournaments. And, although there are still amazing players in the field, the greater CS: GO eSports world is anything but stable, with teams rising and falling from the pedestals they are placed on after huge wins.
Overall, it’s been a hit for years for a reason. There’s nothing like watching a CS: GO match, especially when teams are neck-and-neck and players pull off amazing stunts in front of the millions of fans watching.
By far the most popular eSports game worldwide, as well as one of the games with the most money up for stake in the championship games, it is almost impossible to seriously talk about international competitive gaming or the incredible potential for the very concept of eSports without mentioning DOTA 2. Nearly all of the highest paid and most successful eSports players in the world are Dota 2 players, so if this were a ranking of the most popular industry games, this would almost certainly take the top spot.
MOBA games are known for their high levels of strategy and teamwork involved, and Dota 2 is a perfect example of this. Watching a match, you feel like an observer watching generals control their armies. Experienced players rely on instinct and attempt to predict enemy movements and actions, and having the perspective of both teams (meaning you know more about what’s happening in the match than specific players on either team) adds even more pressure to the viewing experience, and more frustration in watching players’ failure and mistakes end in disasters.
Since its release in 2013, DOta 2 has been hailed as one of the best games of all time. It’s a game that has been able to be both the top worldwide eSports game (going by cumulative tournament prize pool), and the most played game on Steam, which if anything shows how popular the game is in both professional and casual gaming networks.
One way to think of Dota 2 is like chess on steroids, full of strategy and dependant on reacting to your opponents’ moves, while also being actually interesting to watch.
League of Legends
Another game that is easily up there for the all-time greats when it comes to popular eSports games, League of Legends (LoL) is another MOBA game that can bring in the millions of dollars and millions of fans across the world. In 2017, the World Championship for LoL raised record views of over 100 million worldwide fans watching live at one time.
The game plays much like Dota 2, with the same high-pressure format pushing teams against each other in big tournaments, they aren’t exactly the same thing. LoL is much simpler, which makes it approachable to the general audience and those who are new to MOBAs or professional gaming and makes the game a little less intensive for younger or less experienced gamers. Different gameplay mechanics add less nuance to the techniques used by players in Lol compared to Dota 2, so less in-depth game knowledge is needed to understand how the game works.
But don’t confuse a slightly simpler user experience for any less entertainment when it comes to enjoying this game as an eSports fan. The game has continued to become more and more respected and appreciated by the gaming community since its fall 2009 release, first getting international attention at a new level at around 2011.
Probably the fastest paced game on this list, Overwatch is a huge first-person hero shooter game that is popular on the trifecta of PC, Xbox, and the PS4. One of the newer major titles in eSports, the game was one of the biggest successes of 2016. Even the characters themselves have become icons in pop culture.
The Overwatch eSports League has teams in three continents and the circuit’s matches have even appeared alongside traditional sports games on the ESPN lineup. And for those less familiar with Overwatch (and sometimes even for those who are) the chaos in every game can be a little hard to follow. New York Mets COO, and Overwatch eSports investor, Jeff Wilpon has said that he is “usually a half a step behind” the action.
One of the things that has contributed to the growth of professional Overwatch gameplay-other than the fact that the game is incredibly fun to play and addictively exciting-is the city-based structure of the industry. Some NFL team owners like Wilpon, seeing the potential for revenue involved in Overwatch, have purchased franchises in New York and Boston. This is a sign that the hay days of Overwatch haven’t even begun yet.
PlayerUnkown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG)
There’s nothing more satisfying than receiving that beautiful “Winner Winner Chicken Dinner” screen after a long match, and whether it’s with a squad of teammates or alone, everyone in the game is fighting for that moment. This battle royale game, a little more realistic and gritty than the massive mainstream success Fortnite, pits players against each other in huge, setting specific, maps that slowly push players into incredibly small circles.
The game started as a mod to Arma 2, but now, it has become its own success, with a 2018 prize pool of $3 million dollars. Some professional gamers, like Ninja, have even dabbled (with great success) in both Fortnite and PUBG.
Although at many times it feels at competition with Fortnite, the game really does play much differently, and the commercial and professional success of the game has maintained its status as one of the original and most entertaining battle royale games out there, in a rapidly growing new genre for gaming.