Top 10 eSports Games of 2020: Biggest Prizes & Viewership

Top 10 eSports of 2020Prize Pool 2020Average ViewershipPeak Viewership
NBA 2K$1,400,00010,00061,800
Rocket League$350,00030,000206,000
Rainbow 6 Siege$3,000,00050,000303,000
Overwatch$5,000,00030,0001,100,000
Call of Duty$6,000,00050,000189,000
Hearthstone$4,000,000100,000328,000
Dota 2$35,000,000120,0001,080,000
Fortnite$7,000,000200,0002,300,000
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive$20,000,000200,0001,200,000
League of legends9,000,000250,0003,900,000

The eSports scene has continued to thrive in the first half of 2020. As prize pools and viewership numbers increase every single year, I think it is safe to say that eSports are going to continue to grow in popularity for the rest of the year. Whether you prefer long-standing eSports such as Counter-Strike and League of Legends, or a faster-paced game that attracts a large number of players like Call of Duty or Fortnite.

The worldwide Coronavirus pandemic halted sports leagues across the globe, but eSports continued and excelled. Viewership on streaming platforms such as Twitch and YouTube have increased over the past three months, with the views of eSports leading the charge. But what is the biggest eSport of 2020? Is it the game that attracts the most fans for events, the ones with the largest active player base, or the game with the largest prize pool for the competition.

For this ranking, I will be using data on viewership of 2019 and 2020 events and prize payouts so far. Here are the top 10 eSports of 2020:

10. NBA 2K

NBA 2K20
The NBA 2K League underwent its first year in 2018 as partners with the NBA. The teams in the NBA 2K League are owned by that franchise, and 21 teams in the NBA have a team in the 2K League. The league has a concrete path for new players to enter the league. They have a combine for players to compete and showcase their skills to be drafted, just like in the regular NBA.

The 2K League has a 15-week regular season, with 3 regular-season tournaments with significant prize pools. The top 7 teams make the postseason, as well as the winner of the last regular-season tournament. There is a $900,000 prize pool for the playoffs, and the winning team takes $420,000.

The league is still relatively new, but is actively supported by the NBA, and will continue to grow in the coming years. The NBA announced that they were adding 4 more teams in 2018, and it is only a matter of time before more teams are added again.

Viewership is the main reason why 2k is this low on the ranking. Since the pandemic, ESPN has shown 2K league games on ESPN 2, which helped increase the number of viewers. Before doing that in the last month, the number of viewers for a 2K event ranged between 5k-10k, which is the least on this list.

Prize Pool 2020: $1.4 Million

Average Viewers: 5k-10k

Peak Viewers: 61.8k (2019 2k league finals)

9. Rocket League

RL

Rocket League is described by its developer, Psyonix, as “soccer, but with rocket-powered cars”. Two teams compete against one another to try and score on each other just like soccer, but each player is a small car that can fly and boost around the map.

Competitive Rocket League has existed since 2016 when the Rocket League Championship Series was created. The original prize pool was $55,000 when the league first began and has grown to over $350,000 for the Championship Series Event scheduled for the latter half of 2020, depending on the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic at that time.

Viewership for Rocket League is relatively low, outside of major events. Out of the 2.8 million views in total for Rocket League on Twitch in 2019, 2.5 million came from the second championship weekend in December. The peaks in viewership for Rocket League are quite high and peaked at over 200k viewers in December of 2019.

Prize Pool 2020: $350,000

Average Viewers: 25k-30k

Peak Viewers: 206k (RLCS Season 8 Finals, December 2019)

8. Rainbow 6 Siege

RS66
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege is a tactical first-person shooter developed by Ubisoft that released in 2015. The game puts heavy emphasis on environmental destruction and cooperation between players. Each player assumes control of an attacker or a defender in different gameplay modes such as rescuing a hostage, defusing a bomb, and taking control of an objective within a room. It is 5v5, and the first team to win 5 rounds wins the game.

The Rainbow Six Pro League has existed since 2016 and grown exponentially around the world since its creation. Seven different regions around the world have their league as a part of the larger Pro League.

For its latest major tournament, The Six Invitational 2020, the prize pool was a staggering $3 million, and the winning team, SpaceStation Gaming, took home $1 million.

Viewership for Rainbow 6 Siege is inconsistent. League matches and early rounds of tournaments only draw between 5 to 10 thousand viewers. The later rounds of tournaments, however, draw over 50 thousand fans consistently and reach 100k for finals for major tournaments. The viewer base for the game has been consistent since its release and has waned only slightly over the years.

Prize Pool 2020: $3,000,000

Average Viewers: 40k-50k

Peak Viewers: 303k (The Six Invitational, February 2020)

7. Overwatch

OWL
Overwatch is a first-person shooter that was released in 2016 by Blizzard Entertainment. Blizzard is about to have a good run on this list because it has created a lot of the top eSports currently on the market. Overwatch is a “hero” shooter, where each player plays as a different hero that has a specific style of attack and ability. There are three types of hero, a tank hero that absorbs damage and distracts enemies, a damage hero that deals most of the damage to the opposing team, and support heroes that heal and assist in either defense or attack.

The Overwatch League (OWL) started in 2018 and was the first eSports league to adopt the model of traditional sports teams that are city-based and represent that region. Typically in eSports, the organization name is the name of the team itself, but in Overwatch, the team is named after the city it is located in and has a mascot. The league is comprised of 20 teams split into two conferences.

The Overwatch League had the highest prize pool for its inaugural season in eSports history with a $3.5 million prize pool in 2018. The prize pool increased to $5 million in total for 2019 and remained there again in 2020. The prize payout and franchising are evidence of a major commitment to Overwatch from Blizzard and will continue to be a successful eSport.

In terms of viewership, Overwatch has declined since it began over two years ago. In 2018, the OWL Grand Finals reached a peak of 1.1M viewers in total while being aired on ESPN as well as Twitch and YouTube. The league decreased from 60k for regular-season matchups in 2018 to 45k in 2019, with a steady trend downwards. Teams that are not in the pro league are dissolving because of a lack of interest in Overwatch in general in terms of viewership. It ranks ahead of other games because of the large prize pool, but the lack of support outside of the main core of Overwatch fans prevents the game to flourish and be a top eSport.

Prize Pool 2020: $5,000,000

Average Viewers 2020: 30K

Peak Viewers: 1.1M (OWL Grand Finals 2018)

6. Call of Duty

cod3 1
Call of Duty is a fast-paced first-person shooter that is developed by Activision as a part of Blizzard. It is one of the most popular game franchises ever created and everyone seemingly has memories of playing Call of Duty at some point. Call of Duty was first released in 2003, and a new version of the game is released annually. The mechanics of the game can change drastically from year to year because a different game developer is assigned to make the new Call of Duty by Activision each year.

Competitive Call of Duty has existed since 2010, making it one of the longest-running leagues in eSports. The first Call of Duty World Championship was held in 2013 and had a prize pool of $1 million. In 2020, the prize pool for the Call of Duty league (CDL) is $6 million. In 2019, Call of Duty moved to franchising for all of the teams in the league, and teams became city-based with a mascot, like Overwatch. This move hurt viewership numbers because they began streaming exclusively on YouTube, and Twitch was the home of Call of Duty for many years.

Viewership for Call of Duty is on par with Overwatch. Call of Duty never reached the highs that Overwatch reached in 2018, but has a strong core of viewers that are loyal fans and watch every event. The average amount of viewers for a Call of Duty League event this year has been anywhere from 40k for a first-round game of a tournament, to 100k for a final of a CDL tournament.

Call of Duty is ahead of Overwatch because their viewership numbers have remained consistent for many years, and Overwatch’s number of viewers is trending downward steadily. Also, Call of Duty just committed to franchising and has a larger prize pool, showing a stronger commitment longterm to the league.

Prize Pool 2020: $6,000,00

Average Viewers 2020: 50k

Peak Viewers: 189k (Call of Duty Championship 2019)

5. Hearthstone

hearthstone
Hearthstone is a free-to-play collectible card game developed by Blizzard that was first released in 2014. The game consists of two players that have 30 card decks and a hero. The goal of the game is to destroy the other person’s cards and ultimately destroy their hero to win the game. The game is one of the most popular games in the entire world, with a player base that reached 100 million players in 2018. The cards and characters in Hearthstone are based on Blizzard’s first video game series, World of Warcraft.

Competitive Hearthstone began immediately after release in 2014 and had a $250,000 prize pool in its first year. The competition was limited to Asia and Europe but increased quickly to an international level because of the popularity of the game. In 2019, the average amount of viewers for a Hearthstone tournament ranged from 50k to 150k, with 276 thousand viewers as the peak at the 2019 Hearthstone World Championship. In 2020, there has only been one major tournament for Hearthstone due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The average viewership for smaller Hearthstone tournaments hover around 10 to 15 thousand viewers, and many streamers play the game.

Prize Pool 2020: $4,000,000

Average Viewers 2019: 70k-100k

Peak Viewers: 328k (Hearthstone World Championship 2016)

4. Dota 2

dota2
Dota 2 is a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game that was developed by Valve and was released in 2013. It is based on the original game, DotA, which was released in 2003. In the game, two teams of five players compete to destroy a large structure defended by the opposing team known as the “Ancient”, while defending their own. Each player has a different character that has a special ability that is called a hero.

Dota 2 has one of the strongest and well-supported eSports scene for any game created. Valve created a professional league, called the Dota Pro Circuit, where teams compete to gain points to qualify for The International, which is Dota’s premier tournament that happens annually. The prize pool for The International has steadily increased since it began in 2013 and reached $34 million in total in 2019. This is the largest prize in eSports history and is the main reason why Dota is considered one of the best eSports in the world.

Despite the massive prize pool for The International, the overall prize pool for Dota is still not at the same level as a few other games higher on this list. The lack of tournaments hurts Dota overall but makes The International one of the most highly anticipated tournaments in eSports every year.

Prize Pool 2020: $4,000,000

Average Viewers 2019: 70k-100k

Peak Viewers: 328k (Hearthstone World Championship 2016)

3. Fortnite

fortnite
Fortnite burst onto the scene in 2017 as a free-to-play battle royale with cartoon graphics and quick games that was developed by Epic Games. The unique mechanic to Fortnite over other battle royale games is that players can harvest materials to build structures in any situation. This allows players to survive in open areas of the map and fight at any time. The fast-paced and quirky mechanics of the game quickly led to success for Fortnite, and it quickly became the most popular game in the world in 2018. Fortnite is still the most popular game in the world to this point in 2020 and has a thriving competitive scene.

Competitive Fortnite began at the end of the summer in 2018, and Epic Games organized a tournament series called Summer and Fall Skirmish. The total prize pool of the tournaments was $2.6 million, the largest amount for an opening tournament for any eSport. In early 2019, Fortnite announced a World Cup in July 2019 and held open online world cup qualifiers. 40 million people worldwide competed in the event, trying to make it to the $3 million tournament, a record amount for a competitive video game event.

Fortnite still leads the way in terms of prize pools and player count. They have given out $7 million in tournaments already and have announced future tournaments. In 2019, Fortnite gave out just under $65 million in total prize money and will most likely be near that amount at the end of 2020.

Despite having the largest player base and prize pools, Fortnite ranks 3rd because they average fewer viewers for major events than the top two eSports, and does not have the same elite level of competition as other premier eSports. To win a major tournament in Fortnite, you have to be extremely lucky as well as being one of the best players. The zone randomly moves around the map each game, and if a player has more zones that favor them and do not make them move far in key moments, they are more likely to place better in the game and do better in the tournament overall.

Prize Pool 2020: $7,000,000 so far

Average Viewers 2019: 150k-200k

Peak Viewers: 2.3 million (Fortnite World Cup 2019)

2. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

CSGO
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO) is a first-person shooter that was developed by Valve and released in 2012. It is a 5v5 game where the attacking team, called the Terrorists, tries to plant a bomb on one of two bombsites, and the defending team called the Counter-Terrorists, tries to stop them. Counter-Strike has existed since 2000, making it the oldest eSport in existence.

CSGO has a massive fanbase that averages over 100k viewers every day during the pro league and can reach above a million for a major tournament. Counter-Strike has the largest dedicated fan base, outside of Fortnite perhaps, and even the casual CSGO player still tunes in to watch the competitive side. CSGO is the shooter that rewards aim and intelligence the most, and that is one of the main reasons why it is popular. Also, Valve does a great job of promoting the game, and giving rewards to viewers, incentivizing people to watch.

Competitive Counter-Strike has existed for two decades now and is arguably at its strongest point ever. The prize pool for 2019 was at $21.8 million, and it is the second-most played game on PC, behind League of Legends. So far in 2020, ESL, the main league in CSGO, announced that viewership in 2020 was up 215.5% from Season 10 in 2019.

Prize Pool 20202: $20,000,000 (projected)

Average Viewers 2019: 200K

Peak Viewers: 1.2 Million (IEM Katowice 2019)

1. League of Legends

LoL
At the top of the list, we have League of Legends (LoL) made by Riot Games in 2009. League is a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game, similar to Dota 2. Each team has 5 players that are playing a different champion, that has certain unique abilities. Each champion starts weak and increases in strength as the game progresses. The goal of the game is to destroy the other team’s Nexus, or home base while protecting your own.

League of Legends is the most played game on PC, with over 100 million active players in 2020. League is extremely popular internationally, and that popularity carries over to the competitive side as well. League leads the way in terms of viewership and has been for a majority of the previous decade. The game has been the most popular in the world since release and remains that way to this point. League of Legends set the record for the number of viewers for an eSports event last year and has the highest average of viewers of any eSport. More people tune in to watch League of Legends than any other game ever and has the most players to back that up.

Prize Pool 2020: $9,000,000

Average Viewers 2019: 170k-250k

Peak Viewers: 3.9 million (League of Legends Worlds 2019)

  
I am a journalism major at Michigan State entering my 3rd year. I aspire to be a sports writer covering college basketball or the NBA. In my free time, I watch as many sports as I can, play video games, and watch eSports.

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