eSports Academy Course 106
What eSports Players Are Playing
So let’s talk about a basic question about eSports, that has a very broad answer that can also be a little confusing. What games do eSports players play? It’s a fair question, and it makes sense, as, generally speaking, eSports tournaments and leagues are centered around specific games.
So now, let’s look into the types of games and specific titles that the professionals are playing.
The Types of Games
To best make sense of everything, let’s cover the basics first, and establish some key lingo that goes into describing the world of eSports. While it’s hard to categorize all games into only a handful of genres, most video games that are played competitively in the world of eSports can be placed into one of four main types.
Generally, the types of games played by professional players or teams can be placed into four genres of games. First, strategy games, which include multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games-like the incredibly popular League of Legends (LoL)-and real-time strategy (RTS) games. The other extremely popular genres include first-person shooter (FPS) games, sports games, and lastly fighting games. Although not considered strategy games, these types of games still involve equal amounts of skill, teamwork, and quick reflexes.
First, we have strategy games-RTS games and MOBA games.
Real-time strategy games are called so because they break from the format of traditional turn-based games. Players must control units to react to events as the game progresses, and these games often have resources and building mechanics to further challenge players. Popular examples of RTS games in eSports include StarCraft II or Warcraft III.
MOBA is by far, the most popular genre in terms of viewership and prize money. MOBA games, which originally spawned as a sub-genre of RTS games, are team strategy games where teams work together against an opposing team to take out their base while defending their own. In 2018, the top prize money for the LoL World Championship was nearly $6.5 million dollars. Another popular MOBA game, Dota 2, had a total prize pool of over $25 million dollars in the 2018 championship and over 52 million total viewers.
It’s incredibly interesting and entertaining to watch teams win seasons, tournaments, and matches with their teams. It all comes down to the way MOBA games work. In the 5 v. 5 styles matches, each player selects a “champion,” or the character that each player uses. Each champion has a unique set of abilities and equipment, so teams have to build off of each person’s skill set as well as how this works with each person’s champion’s abilities. The goal is to have a team that is balanced when it comes to attacking, defense, damage absorption, and healing, and then have all of this come together at the right moments.
MOBA games are incredibly successful professionally, and are able to rake in millions of viewers and dollars, especially outside of the United States and in Asia. As you can see in the graph below, MOBA tournaments have bested most traditional American sporting events when it comes to viewership rates.
FPS games center around weapon-based combat through the eyes of the main character, and usually involve teams competing against each other in multiplayer sessions. This genre exploded (almost literally) onto the gaming scene when Doom was released for PC in 1993. The extremely high graphics at the time, as well as still-appreciated combat, made the game legendary.
Doom also included multiplayer, which has become another staple of the genre. Both casual and professional gamers often enjoy a match or two of classic titles. Today, teams of players will square up by creating a weapon and gear loadout for their characters. Then, they compete in different game modes with the objective often revolving around scoring kills against the enemy team, but sometimes objectives, like capturing points or defending and attacking certain points, are used.
One of the most universally recognized eSports genres, first-person shooter games include classic franchises like Call of Duty, Rainbow Six, and Counter-Strike. The most popular FPS titles right now would be Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Battlefield V, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, and Overwatch. Some FPS games choose to take a more realistic approach, some a more cinematic and character-driven story, and others focus almost entirely on the combat and multiplayer competition. Some are a mix of all three.
FPS games also include the more recently popular battle royale genre with titles like Fortnite and PlayerUnknown: Battlegrounds. These incredibly popular Battle Royale games have a large number of players (usually 100) compete in the same session, either in small teams or alone, for a single slot as the winner. Imagine The Hunger Games, but with many more people and much, much more violence.
Fighting games are games which usually focus on individual players’ skills and tactics in round-based matches. These games are tense, because it’s almost always one player against another in rounds and series where every hit on the other player counts.
One organization, the Fighting Game Community, has formed to host large fighting game tournaments and exhibitions, ones with open bracket systems where newcomers and anyone with a passion to compete and the ability to pay the entry fee can compete.
This genre would include the Mortal Kombat and Stree Fighter series, games that stretch back to the early days of arcade gaming. These, among many other games, like the slightly more recent Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros, make for classics that millions of people grew up playing, something that draws millions into the world of competitive professional fighting games.
Lastly, and probably easiest to explain, sports games allow players to take control of traditional sporting players, teams, and even franchises and coaches to play out their own games and seasons, either with and against other players or alone against the AI-controlled opponent.
These games include titles that most people are probably already familiar with, like Madden, Fifa, and NHL, as well as games like Rocket League that include a combination of traditional sporting features and styles. (The goal of Rocket League is to use cars to push soccer balls into goals. The cars have rockets and boosters attached to them.)
One key thing to note here is that because sporting video games can ride off of the coattails of established and traditional sports, it gives them a higher status when it comes to official recognition. For example, Tony Estanguet, the co-president of the 2024 Paris Olympic committee, has been a proponent for bringing video games to the Olympics.
The main thing stopping eSports from overwhelmingly being added to the Olympics is the potential for violence or obscene content to be a part of the game. This, combined with the fact that the rules for traditional sports showcased in eSports sporting games are already more or less understood internationally, make these games serious contenders for much more established platforms than other types of games.