The Most Popular Esports Leagues & Tournaments

The Most Popular Esports Leagues & Tournaments
The Most Popular Esports Leagues & Tournaments Pixabay

The history of eSports stretches back 49 years to 1972 when students at Stamford University convened to compete in a Spacewar tournament. Years later over 10,000 gamers converged on the same venue to battle it out in a hard-fought Space Invaders Championship.

Decades on, the path laid out by those early gamers has become a well-trodden one with hundreds of thousands of players all over the globe regularly competing with one another in officially recognised tournaments or specially organised Twitch competitions.

The world of eSports has even become popular enough to attract the attention of sports bookmakers who are opening up new eSports betting markets with every passing month. This alone shows how this phenomenon is being taken more seriously.

In this article we take a look at some of the most popular leagues and tournaments exciting fans from all over the globe.

#1 League of Legends

If we were to bring you the top 5 most viewed eSports championships or tournaments of all-time, there’s a good chance at least 4 of them would be variations of League of Legends events, such is the popularity of the title.

Worlds, as it is commonly referred to by fans was originally released in 2009 by developer Riot Games. The game was inspired by Defense of the Ancients, a custom map for Warcraft III and proved an instant hit with fans of the genre.

Since its release in 2009 it has been free to play which has been a key reason in its success as an eSports title. The first official Worlds eSports tournament was the League of Legends World Championship which was held in 2011.

1.6 million viewers tuned in to watch Maciej “Shushei” Ratuszniak of Fnatic, named the tournament’s MVP which helped him scoop a significant share of the $100,000 prize pool. The last incarnation of the Championship to take place before the pandemic saw FunPlus Phoenix finish as the 1 st placed team.

According to various reports, over 100 million viewers tuned into the action including a peak of 44 million concurrent viewers. In terms of sheer appeal, no other eSports league or championship can come close to that level of popularity (currently).

(FunPlus Phoenix won the last LoL Championship to be held in front of a capacity crowd.)

#2 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Developed by Valve and Hidden Path Entertainment CS:GO is a first-person shooter that pits terrorists against counter-terrorists in different online game modes.

Whilst the game was undoubtedly a commercial success it never really rose to the popularity of titles such as Call of Duty with casual players.

It did however become an instant hit with serious gamers, quickly become one of the most popular titles in eSports. In 2017, mainstream media outlets began to pick up on the potential of CS:GO, and began broadcasting professional games on cable television in the US.

The ESL Pro League is by far the most popular official CS:GO event, having been viewed for a combined 77.74 million hours by the end of 2020.

Last year Flashpoint launched a franchise led CS:GO league with over $2 million in financial backing to rival existing professional leagues. However, the ESL Pro League still remains the most popular product with fans.

#3 Call of Duty League

Call of Duty has been at the top of the pile when it comes to first-person shooters for well over a decade now. Despite that fact and the undoubted appeal that the game has to fans, professional eSports leagues have never gained the popularity they perhaps should have done.

The Call of Duty Pro League which was established in 2014 was replaced earlier this year by the revamped Call of Duty League. The latest version sees 12 teams from city-based franchises taking on one another in best of 5 matches and 4 v 4 battles.

Thus far the new league has broken viewership records with a high of 136,000 concurrent viewers tuning in to watch the Toronto Ultra-Optic Chicago clash. The league is also breaking records in terms of prizes, with a $5 million prize pool on offer this time round.

Which is to be expected when you consider that YouTube recently paid Activision Blizzard $160 million for a three-year media rights deal with the streaming platform.

(Believe it or not, these guys are playing the same game as you and me…)

#4 Defense of the Ancients 2

World of Warcraft has a lot to answer for in regards to eSports having being the inspiration for not only Worlds, but also for Defense of the Ancients (DOTA).

Released in 2003, DOTA is a community created mod for the video game Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos . 10 years later, DOTA 2 was released by Valve and IceFrog and has been a rip-roaring success with fans of the multiplayer online battle arena genre.

‘The International’ is a DOTA tournament that has been running for the past 10 years. Held in Cologne, Germany, the tournament attracts some of the biggest names in professional online gaming.

The allure of the game, the challenge of facing off against the world’s best players and the massive $34 million prize pool all combine to make it one hell of an enticing tournament.

#5 Fortnite World Cup Finals

It has become fashionable to ‘hate’ Fortnite, so much so that trash-talking the game on Reddit can be a quick and easy way to farm Karma.

However, despite what people on the internet may tell you, Fortnite is not ‘trash’ at least not to the millions of players that log in to play it every week.

The free to play game came into the spotlight in 2017 as it became the first Battle Royale game to gain mainstream success. Since then the game has continued to grow with a number of updates and features that Raven and Activision could take heed of.

The Fortnite World Cup is an annual tournament which was founded in 2019 and was first held at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, New York. In total there was $30 million in prizes available for the tournament which featured a range of different competitions and formats.

Bugha was the first winner of the Solos tournament in 2019, scooping himself a cool $3 million in prize money along the way. According to Epic Games, the first World Cup drew a combined audience of 2.33 million.

Which sounds about right considering that almost every Twitch streamer who took part had at least 100,000 at any one point during the tournament.

(Action from Bugha’s fine Solos performance at the 2019 Fortnite World Cup.)

There you have it, 5 of the most popular eSports leagues or tournaments on the planet according to viewing figures. If there is a particular event you feel that has been omitted from this list please do remember that ‘official’ viewing figures for each tournament can be hard to obtain.

Because of the way that different titles record their viewership’s there is often a lot of confusion about how popular certain leagues are. That said, do let us know below the line what your favourite eSports to watch are.

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