Esports Tournaments & Leagues Guide

eSports Academy Course 107

Sport: the competition of opposing sides to accomplish an arbitrary goal set within a game for the purpose of entertainment and demonstrating physiological fitness. Of course, eSports don’t test physical fitness as the athletic traditional sports do. For those traditional sports, there is typically one professional league either per sport or per country. Esports differs in that it has multiple leagues for each sport (game) that are, for the most part, international.

The general understanding of eSports is competitive video games. How does that unfold? What systems are in place to operate the leagues? Questions like these are what we’ll try to answer in this article.

However, we should make sure everyone is on the same page before we start. If you’re completely new to eSports, here’s an introduction. This glossary might be helpful, too. Also, the most popular games of 2019 are good to know; types of games goes hand-in-hand with that. We’ll keep it basic, but knowledge of context can give you an edge. After all, it might not be very long before the competition is brought to the fans in the form of betting.

Now, let’s move on to this lesson from Lineups’ own eSports Academy. Let’s learn!


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First, the similarities between traditional sports and eSports include the establishment of leagues. These leagues are dedicated to certain games and places. Each game is considered to be an individual sport. Traditionally, there’s baseball, basketball, and soccer. Electronically, there’s League of Legends, Call of Duty, and StarCraft 2.

Furthermore, there are specific consoles for certain eSport leagues. For example, the Call of Duty World League plays Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 on the Playstation 4. The console used can be determined by the game, such as 343 industries’ own Halo Championship Series which is only played on Xbox. Halo is a franchise that has been exclusive to Xbox, despite that soon changing.

There are leagues such as Ultimate Battle and European Gaming League which are specific to a region. Obviously, European Gaming League is specific to Europe, including the United Kingdom. Ultimate Battle is an open league in India that plays some of the bigger titles. Additionally, Cybergamer is a premier eSports league local to the Oceania region—Australia, New Zealand, and so on.

Still, eSports by their very nature are international. Global matchmaking happens casually for most games, so it’s only appropriate that leagues would be established internationally. A noteworthy league of that type is the Electronic Sports League (ESL). It’s based in Cologne, Germany and is the largest eSports company in the world. Founded in 2000, ESL is the oldest of its kind still operational. Furthermore, it makes a great example of how leagues work.


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ESL is an organization that hosts hundreds of gaming competitions around the world. It has partnered with video game publishers such as Blizzard Entertainment, Riot Games, Valve Corporation, and Microsoft to name a few. In order for a game to be played in a competition, ESL has to conduct business with the developers. Collaboration and cooperation facilitate competitions, supporting the players at both the national and international level.

Not only does partnering with the developers facilitate competitions, it also increases fame. Working with many prominent companies creates an excellent reputation for ESL. The fans want to watch their favorite games. Publicity, especially for ESL, has been growing for almost two decades. We’ve seen how big eSports has become and it’s not going to stop growing for a long time.

ESL has the budget to hold competitions at renowned venues across the globe, pleasing current fans and catching the eye of soon-to-be fans. Beneath the ESL, there are nine official Pro Leagues, each dedicated to a specific game. They are all cross-continent competitions with finals in London, Cologne, and Los Angeles; access to locations doesn’t determine whether or not someone can watch the competition because of streaming sites, namely

We’ve seen what the biggest prize pools have been. The advantage of a league as broad as ESL is that it has the budget to put up larger prize pools. The leagues of eSports are not particularly loaded, despite the crazy amount of revenue and popularity. Therefore, it’s important that teams in those leagues acquire sponsorships.

That aside, a crucial part of an eSports league is its countermeasure for cheating. From our example league came the ESL Wire Anti Cheat software. It adopted Wargaming’s “Battle API” which exposes player and game data through the API application. So, even for online events, the matchmaking that utilizes ESL’s software more accurately matches competitors based on skill. Just like traditional sports, players of eSports are capable of using performance-enhancing drugs. Stimulants like Adderall are particularly desired. Policies that prohibit that sort of thing are a necessity for eSports leagues, and strict enforcement of said policies is required.


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Let’s continue with our example, ESL. This giant’s famous competitions include the Pro Leagues, ESL Play, ESL National Championships, and Intel Extreme Masters. To review, the Pro Leagues are given to the different titles. There’s an Overwatch Pro League, a Hearthstone Pro League, a Mortal Kombat X Pro League, and so on. In the future, ESL will undoubtedly acquire more titles and more partnerships with developers.

ESL Play provides tournaments and ladders for all games and all skill levels. The ESL Open is the first cup on the league ladder and is open to everyone. Beginners can enter the world of eSports through it. That’s where new talents can be found and drafted; the other competitions like ESL Major have prerequisites for participation, unlike the Open.

Another tournament under ESL is the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM), the product of ESL’s partnership with Intel. However, the league is owned by Turtle Entertainment. The way this league unfolds starts with plenty of offline qualifiers. Those who qualify for the finals are put into two groups of six. The top two of those advance. The first-place member of each group advances directly to the semifinals; the second- and third-place members go to the quarterfinals.

There are continental championships for this tournament: the American Championship, European Championship, Asian Championship, and finally the World Championship. These championships begin with the Group Stage. There, two single-elimination groups—each with four teams—compete and the top three teams from each group move on to the Playoffs. The Playoffs have a Double-Elimination Bracket. A team that wins the Semifinals advances to the Upper Bracket Final. If a team wins that, it earns a spot at the Grand Final.

Ever see the movie Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story? The one where Ben Stiller had the handlebar mustache and was the megalomaniac owner of Globo Gym? The one where a veteran in a wheelchair says, “if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball”? The format of these tournaments is just like the tournament in that movie.


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As of today, StubHub puts up tickets for the IEM tournament in the ‘pass’ layout. The two-day pass for July 20-21 is priced a $70. The Saturday-only pass is up for $86. The Sunday-only pass is going for $295. The business reasoning for the prices tends to be that the day of the final match is most expensive, especially if someone only can/wants to attend that day. That’s where most of the viewers are—but the die-hard fans that want to be there every single day are able to do so for a reduced price.

This system is what urges people interested in eSports to become invested. Traditional sports function very similarly, if not the same way. It’s a good business plan. However, this specific example is IEM, the longest-running competitive gaming tournament, which is part of ESL, the longest-running and largest eSports league there is. Ticket prices may vary from site-to-site, too.

For instance, the event’s website has the Saturday-only pass for $40; the Sunday-only pass for $50; the two-day pass for $75. The event’s very own website puts out solid prices. Obviously, IEM is able to price its tickets the way it does because of its renown. Esport competitions almost always have free seating with the ability to purchase premium tickets that’ll place you closer to the stage. Again, there are plenty of methods to access the tournament besides attending the live event. Streaming is always a viable option.

TournamentSportLocationYears Active
ApexSuper Smash Bros.
United States
Capcom CupStreet Fighter
United States
Dew ArenaDota 2
Dragon Ball FighterZ World TourDragon Ball FighterZ
Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Vietnam along with qualifying Oceanic and Middle Eastern countries
FIFA Interactive World CupFIFA
Fortnite World CupFortnite
GamingMonk Championship SeriesFIFA
KO Fight NightsStreet Fighter V
League of Legends India Champions CupLeague of Legends
Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka
2018 – present
NGL Summer TournamentLeague of Legends
Taiwan Excellence Gaming CupDota 2
The InternationalDota 2
2011–present LeagueWorld of Tanks

Interested in learning more? The short history of eSports can be found here. It’s come a long way from being an arcade event to globally broadcast phenomenon. Check out this list of the best eSports players of all time, and this list of the top-paid players. There’s a lot of money in this area, that’s the engine of growth. Want to learn about the teams and how they are laid out? You can find our eSports Academy lesson on that here. Also, explore the biggest live events of all time to see how much worldwide excitement is there for competitive gaming.

There’s no better time to dive into this pool, so to speak. Lineups is here to give you the goggles you need to keep your wits about you. We pride ourselves in helping you make educated decisions, especially with sanctioned betting on the horizon!

I'm a Creative Writing-Psychology double major at Butler University, Class of 2021. My closest friends are the leaders of Butler's eSports Team, so I've become very interested in the subject and I'm excited to get involved in it myself. A lover of video games and writing, working with Lineups is the perfect opportunity for me to coalesce these two passions of mine and gain experience writing professionally.

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