How do you know that esports are here to stay? Major esports tournaments that draw as many or more viewers than major traditional sports matchups are a pretty good indication, we think.
Packing out venues like Wembley Arena and the Staples Center does a whole lot to show the world how real the interest in esports is. The multi-million-dollar prize pools don’t hurt, either.
If you want a quick rundown of the major annual esports tournaments, we’ve got you covered. This list is geared toward giving you an overview of the biggest events for the most popular games rather than taking a deep dive into any one particular game.
Most of these games have a professional competitive scene that runs throughout the year that’s full of invitationals, qualifiers, and smaller tournaments that provide you with an even greater wealth of esports betting possibilities.
On with the list!
The International (Dota 2)
The annual International is not just the biggest Dota 2 event of the year, but it’s also usually the biggest major esports tournament in terms of prize money and viewership.
18 teams compete, with the six considered the best in the world getting direct invites and the remaining 12 having to battle their way in through some tough regional qualifiers. The tournament usually takes place over a week in August and has been held in a number of different cities since the inaugural event in 2011.
Why Bet The International?
The International easily attracts the most action of any single annual esports event. It’s basically the Super Bowl of esports.
The combination of huge interest in Dota 2 and plenty of participation in invitationals and smaller tournaments by the top teams means there is a lot of data out there to analyze. And major upsets are more frequent in Dota 2 than in nearly any other esport, creating a lot of opportunity for sharp and prepared bettors.
LoL World Championship (League of Legends)
One of the biggest of the major esports tournaments out there, the annual League of Legends (LoL) World Championship usually comes with a prize pot in the millions of dollars and a chance for the winners to hoist the massive Summoner’s Cup.
Each new year is called a “season,” and the overall count of invited teams has been steadily increasing since the championship began in 2011. Regardless of the head count, the best LoL teams in the world first compete in a round robin en route to a single-elimination bracket. The LoL World Championship rotates through host cities throughout the world each year but always takes place in October.
Why Bet the LoL World Championship?
Like The International, this has become a flagship esports event akin to the World Series or Stanley Cup Finals…in fact, it’s actually surpassed the viewership numbers of some of those events in prior years!
That means all sorts of action coming in from all over the world. As with Dota 2, there are also lots of smaller tournaments and invitationals throughout the year to draw data from.
BlizzCon (Multiple Blizzard Games)
Blizzard Entertainment can rightly be considered one of the founding fathers of esports. A number of their top games are perennially prominent in the esports scene, and the major championships for most of them are usually held in the first week of November in Anaheim, CA.
BlizzCon features major esports tournaments for World of Warcraft, Overwatch, StarCraft II, and Heroes of the Storm. The Hearthstone World Championship also used to take place at BlizzCon, but it is now held at a different time (more on that later in the article). Some Hearthstone Global Games events do still take place at BlizzCon, however.
Why Bet BlizzCon Events?
The StarCraft II World Championship Series and the Overwatch World Cup are among the very largest events of their kind for each game. WoW and Heroes of the Storm don’t attract nearly as much betting action, but you might find some value in these events with some diligent poking around, as these are much smaller markets.
Bookies tend to be a little more gun-shy on taking action on Blizzard games in general than they are with other major esports, mostly because they’ve yet to master the art of setting the lines for these titles.
Halo World Championship
The culminating event of the annual Halo Championship Series is a major esports tournament that attracts some of the biggest teams in esports every year. The prize pools have set records in the past.
Each new season of the series is usually played in whatever the latest version of the mainline Halo series is, though remakes of older games (such as Halo 2) have been included before. Halo publisher Microsoft hosts the event and invites the top 16 teams in the world according to their placement in five regional qualifiers. Groups of four then face off for the right to move on to the final championship bracket.
The final event takes place in a different city each year, but you can expect it to be held sometime in March.
Why Bet on the Halo World Championship?
Serious online wagering for real money (outside of “skins sites” and similar efforts) came later to Halo than it did to other esports. If you’re interested in wagering on Halo, the World Championship is actually the only time that many bookies offer any sort of action on it.
As a somewhat underlooked and more infrequent source of wagering action, a knowledgeable bettor who has followed the entire HCS season from December to March might well know more than the oddsmakers do.
Capcom Pro Tour (Street Fighter)
Though the Capcom Pro Tour is ostensibly a celebration of all of the publisher’s fighting games, the action almost inevitably centers around the most recent edition of flagship franchise Street Fighter. The final event that crowns the year’s champion, the Capcom Cup, is usually held at an arena somewhere in California each December.
Why Should You Bet the Capcom Pro Tour?
The Pro Tour has managed to sweep up nearly all of the major fighting game events of the year as qualifiers, so by the time it rolls around in December, you’ve got a lot of matchup information to work from.
There is something of a predictable trend of top fighters dominating for a couple of years, only to be upset by upstarts and hit a rapid period of decline…the trick is knowing which upstarts and when!
EVO – Evolution Championship Series (Multiple Fighting Games)
The Evolution Championship Series (EVO) was the world’s first major fighting game tournament, and it continues to be among the largest of the major esports tournaments today.
Naturally, the latest Street Fighter and Tekken games are always featured, but some of the less recognized competitive scenes (especially those that are prominent in Asian countries) are also represented. EVO is held at the Mandalay Bay resort in Las Vegas in early August.
Why Bet on EVO?
If you’re an expert on fighting games that have a strong competitive scene in Asia but not so much anywhere else, EVO might be your only chance to see serious action on them each year. EVO is also one of the very few sources of serious action on the Super Smash Bros. competitive scene.
Call of Duty World League Championship
The favorite game of kids screaming awful things into their headsets on Xbox Live usually has its championships in August and September of each year. Fortunately, professional standards and decorum are much higher than they are on the amateur side of things.
The format is a little confusing, as each year features an ongoing league based on several of the most recent Call of Duty games. These tend to run from December or January to June or July, with the championship for each game following in August or September. Each championship is usually held on different dates (as there is quite a bit of player overlap). The location of each can change from year to year.
Why Bet on Call of Duty World League?
This is a very large esports tournament that attracts a lot of action. The thing to look for in CoD bets? Team arguments. Teams that are talented but prone to personal squabbles are very likely to seriously underperform, given how heavily team FPS esports rely on in-game communication. Bookies don’t always notice teams being prone to be at each other’s throats, but you might.
Overwatch is Blizzard’s colorful, futuristic entry into the competitive FPS arena. The league broke ground by being the first to guarantee a minimum salary to all participants, and it’s also one of the very few that uses city-based teams in the style of traditional sports.
The championship event is the Grand Finals held in mid-summer at the Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles. This is different from the Overwatch World Cup at BlizzCon (discussed in more detail above). The Grand Finals is the culmination of that year’s league season, while the World Cup is its own nation-based invitational thing.
Why Bet on Overwatch League?
The team structure and regular matches make Overwatch more like a traditional sport in terms of betting than any other esport (outside of the direct representations of traditional sports like Madden and NBA 2K). Some strategies that bettors employ for leagues like the NFL and NHL thus translate over to league play. And at the very least, there’s always something interesting to watch and maybe spice up with a small wager.
World Electronic Sports Games (Multiple Games)
The World Electronic Sports Games (WESG) is primarily known for its CS:GO tournament since it’s one of the biggest in that particular scene, but this annual event also hosts Dota 2, StarCraft II, and Hearthstone tournaments that have some very respectable prize pools. As the “world” in the title might indicate, teams are formed on the basis of nationality.
You can catch the WESG every December; it’s usually held in Shanghai.
Why Bet on the WESG?
The world’s top teams participate in this major esports tournament, and though many of those are already organized along national lines enough to enter the games as is, you sometimes see some roster shakeups.
You might also see teammates defecting to another side temporarily, creating some rare matchups. Bookies who don’t keep proper track of all of this are vulnerable.
Smite World Championship
Though it has been surpassed in terms of viewership and prizes, the Smite World Championship is still one of the bigger annual events in esports and one that MOBA fans definitely don’t want to miss. It’s held every January at the Energy Centre in Atlanta, GA.
Why Bet on the Smite World Championship?
Smite’s smaller events don’t draw as much interest from bookies; this is one of the few with plenty of action for sharp Smite followers to take advantage of. Bettors who are really willing to dig into the mechanics of the game will also be well-rewarded here, as it’s very important to understand how the playstyles of each of the game’s gods line up with one another.
Hearthstone World Championship
Once a part of BlizzCon, the Hearthstone World Championship is now held in January as a separate event in Amsterdam. The world’s 16 best players (four from each region) face off in a bracket format. This event is separate from the Hearthstone season and Global Games; participants get direct invitations to it based on in-game rank and placement in various other tournament events in the year prior.
Why Bet on the Hearthstone World Championship?
Because of the international format, betting markets throughout the world will have plenty of action on it. It can easily be the largest single event of the year for Hearthstone wagering activity. Hearthstone is also one of the few esports that focuses on individual players rather than teams, which means less in the way of variables and moving parts to do research on.
PUBG Global Invitational (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds)
The PUBG Global Invitational actually has two separate tournaments over the course of four days: one played from first-person perspective and one played from third-person. The same teams compete in each, but each tournament has its own prize pool.
The 20 squads invited represent the best PUBG players in the world. They usually clash in late July in a major city in Germany.
Why Bet on the PUBG Global Invitational?
PUBG was the first member of the “battle royale” genre to break through into an international competitive scene and to have significant wagering action being taken by bookies. The battle royale genre has been a hard sell for gambling thanks to having huge numbers of single players in one match combined with a very high degree of randomness.
There are some top-ranked players and teams who win consistently, but any betting you do on PUBG even at the highest level should be just for fun and always treated as a long shot in terms of bankroll management.
Rocket League Championship Series
Two of these are held per year, gathering the 16 best Rocket League teams in the world to compete in a round robin that leads into a 10-team elimination bracket to determine the reigning champs.
Though it was initially seen as one of the more minor competitions in esports, the prize pool climbed into the millions of dollars for the first time in 2018, attracting the attention of some of the world’s biggest esports organizations.
Why Bet on the Rocket League Championship Series?
Rocket League is effectively soccer/football, just with virtual trucks being handled by actual players. While not everyone understands the spectator appeal of games like Dota 2 or League of Legends, a Rocket League match is fun for anyone to watch and attracts the attention of more casual bettors in a way that some of the more hardcore esports don’t.
Fortnite Summer Skirmish Series
The Fortnite Summer Skirmish takes place over eight weeks and has a multi-million-dollar prize pool. Each week features a new gameplay format which can lead to some real shake-ups on the leaderboard from week to week. This was the first major Fortnite competition to climb into the millions of dollars of prize money, and it is backed and promoted by game publisher Epic.
Why Bet on the Fortnite Summer Skirmish Series?
As we touched on with the PUBG Global Invitational, you may actually *not* want to bet on Fortnite unless you’re just putting up a small amount purely for fun and adding to the excitement of your match viewing. There’s a good reason why you see relatively little Fortnite action being offered at betting sites in spite of it being one of the world’s most popular competitive games; it’s because it’s just random as hell.
Sure, there are consistent winners in the scene, like Ninja and Tfue. But every match consists of a map of one or two people amidst 100 in total all out for themselves, and there are so many random elements in play that upsets and surprises are extremely common.
It’s fun to play, it’s fun to watch, and it’s fun to put some “long shot” money on from time to time, but it would be exceptionally difficult to try to make a living betting Fortnite (or any other similar battle royale game). It’s definitely not something to put the kids’ college money on!
NBA 2K League
The NBA partnered with game publisher 2K to create this esports league, which runs parallel to the latter part of the NBA season. Representations of virtual sports like NBA 2K had something of a hard time finding a footing in the higher levels of the esports scene thanks to a combination of reliance on computer AI and the occurrence of glitches.
NBA 2K League has gotten around this by creating teams in which every virtual player is controlled by an actual one, along with a special build of the game meant exclusively for league play.
Virtual basketball is being taken very seriously; big-name venture capitalists like Mark Cuban are in the game with their own teams. The athletes get their relocation and housing costs covered, as well as a base salary, with opportunities for more prize money throughout the season. A playoff culminating in a championship is held in August.
Why Bet on the NBA 2K League?
This virtual league holds a lot of the same appeal that the traditional NBA does. Casual basketball fans (and bettors) are more interested in watching these matches than in other types of esports, and some betting strategies that apply to the regular NBA will also carry over here.
There is even more opportunity with NBA 2K League, however, given that even more data can be mined since the entirety of every game takes place on a computer!
Big Tournament Money
These major esports tournaments attract the biggest overall amount of attention and money, leading to all sorts of action available on the betting sites and live markets. The really exciting thing about betting on any major esports tournament is that deep knowledge of the game in question can really go a long way, as bookmakers don’t have these games locked down the way they do with traditional sports.