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Popular Esports Games

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The most popular esports games can (and will) change over time, but there are some mainstays that have been around for years now and have annual multimillion-dollar major events. These games are the ones that usually attract the most action at esports betting sites.

Understanding how these popular esports games work can be immensely beneficial for bettors. Bigger games have bigger tournaments, and bigger tournaments mean more money floating around just waiting for you to grab it.

Here, we cover some of the most popular esports in the world today with information on how the games work, a brief history, and details on the most well-known teams and tournaments.

Dota 2

Dota 2

What on Earth is a “Dota”? It’s short for “Defense of the Ancients,” though that full-length title is almost never used anymore. One of the most popular esports games of all time, Dota 2 is a squad-level war game that takes place in a magical fantasy setting. Two teams of five players compete, trying to destroy the opposition’s home base while defending their own.

About the Game

Each game begins with a “draft” process in which each of the players chooses a “hero” character to play as. Much of the game’s strategy is in this draft, as each team can also choose a small number of heroes to ban from the game. Heroes all have very relative strengths and weaknesses, so teams have to carefully consider each other’s draft strategy when choosing.

Each game is played out on a “map” that has a basic structure of three “lanes” (paths between the two bases). The player heroes start out weak and have to be built up before it is strategically feasible to make aggressive moves toward the opponent. Strengthening is done by gathering resources from around the map and killing “creeps,” which are computer-controlled monster enemies.

A Brief History

Old-school computer gamers may notice that Dota 2 looks and sounds a lot like Warcraft III. That’s because the original Defense of the Ancients was a fan-made modification (“mod”) for that game. The introduction of hero characters and leveling in Warcraft III was the innovation that led to the creation of the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre.

Game publisher Valve eventually noticed the popularity of the original Dota mods and took creative control of the scene, hiring one of the lead Dota designers and publishing Dota 2 in 2011 as a proper stand-alone game. They promoted the game as an esport right from its first public appearance. The millions of dollars they poured into creating an immediate tournament scene for it was highly effective in establishing it as a premier esport.

The Biggest Teams

Dota 2 has an international scene that the biggest esports organizations in the world are in on. Teams usually compete within their continent or home country before the top representatives move on to an annual world championship.

Europe’s biggest names include OG Red Bull, Team Liquid, and Team Secret. The biggest names in China include PSG.LGD, Vici Gaming, Newbee, and Team Serenity. Leading American teams include Evil Geniuses, VGJ.Storm, OpTic Gaming, and Fnatic. Russia’s lead representatives include Virtus.pro, Team Winstrike, and TNC. Other big names include Mineski out of the Southeast Asia region and Brazil’s paiN Gaming.

The Biggest Tournaments

Dota 2 has an annual tournament scene that consists of a series of “majors” with large prize pools. The annual world championship for Dota 2 is The International, which is funded and hosted by game publisher Valve (with much of the prize money coming from crowdfunding via sale of in-game accessories to regular players). The International features 18 teams from around the world. Eight teams earn direct invitations from Valve based on their performance in the majors, while the other 10 spots are filled by the top finishers in regional qualifiers.

Our Dota 2 betting guide can be found below.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO)

CS:GO

CS:GO is a first-person shooter (FPS) that pits two teams of five players against each other. One side is designated as the “Terrorists” and the other the “Counter-Terrorists.” In professional competitive play, the terrorist team tries to plant a bomb and defend it until it explodes, while the counter-terrorists try to either kill all the terrorists or defuse the bomb after it has been planted. The strong team-play focus of the game sets it apart from other FPS games, as the death of just one team member is a heavy blow, and coordinated tactics are vital.

About the Game

Competitive matches consist of 30 rounds, each of which takes a little under two minutes. Prior to each round, the teams get 15 seconds to use a limited amount of money to purchase weapons and equipment for themselves. One random member of the terrorist team will be given the bomb to start each round, and they can pass it between themselves or even drop it temporarily. They try to get to one of two “bomb sites,” plant it, and defend it until the timer counts down, all of which must be done before the round timer ends. The terrorists win the round if the bomb goes off even if all of them have been killed.

A Brief History

The Counter-Strike series began life as a multiplayer adaptation of the popular FPS Half-Life. The game was widely played online throughout the early 2000s and received several updates, but it did not become a popular esport until the 2012 release of CS:GO. As with their earlier hit Dota 2, Valve tried to establish CS:GO as an esport right from the very beginning by creating a system of tournaments in 2013.

The Biggest Teams

Some of the world’s biggest esports organizations are all in on CS:GO. These include Team Liquid, Fnatic, FaZe, and OpTic. The big names don’t entirely dominate the scene here the way they do in other esports, however. There is a lot of room in the CS:GO scene for smaller esports organizations and more specialized teams like Natus Vincere, mousesports, and TYLOO to ascend to the top of the charts.

The Biggest Tournaments

There are a few different major tournaments and championships for CS:GO teams. The best teams are invited to participate in the annual ESL Pro League, and this is widely regarded as the highest level of competition. Valve also sponsors periodic major tournaments, and many top teams also participate in the FACEIT Esports Championship Series.

For our CS:GO betting guide, check out the link here.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG)

PUBG

PUBG is a pioneering title in the “battle royale” genre and the first major representative of it in the history of esports. Battle royale games are essentially an FPS at their core, but they differ from other game types in that there can be as many as 100 players competing in a “last man standing” format. Matches can consist of competition between single players or teams of up to four people.

About the Game

PUBG games begin with players parachuting into a large map with diverse terrain and structures scattered throughout it. Players start out poorly equipped and must find randomly generated weapons, items, and vehicles after they land. Matches can last up to 30 minutes, and as time passes, the accessible play area will gradually shrink toward the center of the map (players outside the current “safe zone” continually take damage until they die). Professional competitive play usually consists of teams of four battling it out.

A Brief History

PUBG stems from two main influences. The gameplay is based on DayZ, a very popular mod for the FPS Arma 2. The concepts of a huge free-for-all deathmatch, scrounging for weapons, and the ever-shrinking safe zone are taken from Battle Royale, a popular Japanese novel and film that was also very likely an influence on The Hunger Games.

The Biggest Teams

PUBG has not historically been the biggest or most popular esport around, but it has nevertheless attracted the attention of some of the biggest organizations. These include FaZe, Team Liquid, Team SoloMid, and Cloud9. The relative lack of attention on PUBG as compared to other esports has also opened up some space for smaller organizations like Ghost Gaming and PENTA Sports to become big players in the tournaments.

The Biggest Tournaments

The first official tournament for PUBG, the PUBG Global Invitational, was established in 2018 with a $2 million overall prize pool. Other significant tournaments include the ones held at the annual DreamHack and Intel Extreme Masters.

Take a look at our PUBG betting guide below.

Rainbow Six Siege

Rainbow Six Siege

This long-running series based on the Tom Clancy novels is a tactical FPS that has quite a bit of similarity to CS:GO. Rainbow Six Siege is the version most commonly played as an esport. The game is played in “bomb” mode, which is very similar to CS:GO’s structure of an attacking team trying to wipe out defenders who are trying to set off a bomb. The biggest differences from CS:GO are that there is a “hero” system of disparate characters somewhat similar to Dota 2 and that the environment is destructible.

About the Game

In Rainbow Six’s competitive mode, two bombs have already been planted, and the attacking team is attempting to defuse them before the round ends. Instead of purchasing weapons and items at the outset of each round as in CS:GO, players select “operators” (hero characters) with innate abilities and equipment. A number of walls and bits of cover can be destroyed in Rainbow Six, and some characters have the ability to set traps, adding a new strategic layer to the game.

A Brief History

The Rainbow Six game series has a long history dating back to 1998 when the first game was released during a movement toward more realistic team-based tactical shooters. Rainbow Six Siege was released in late 2015, and a partnership with ESL was quickly formed to establish it as an esport.

The Biggest Teams

Most of the world’s biggest esports organizations have gotten in on Rainbow Six at this point. You’ll see names like PENTA Sports, Evil Geniuses, G2, Team Liquid, and Ninjas in Pyjamas atop the leaderboards and in the major tournaments most of the time.

The Biggest Tournaments

Publisher Ubisoft has had a partnership with ESL from the beginning, and the ESL Pro League is where most of the Rainbow Six action is concentrated. The annual Six Invitational is the biggest competition. 16 teams first compete in a double-elimination group stage, moving on to a single-elimination final bracket.

Here’s the link to our Rainbow Six betting guide.

Smite

Smite

This MOBA game has some similarities to Dota 2 and League of Legends in that it’s about teams of five trying to destroy each other’s bases in maps consisting of three lanes. Smite differentiates itself from other MOBAs with 3D third-person graphics, a mythological theme, and a lot of small but important gameplay tweaks.

About the Game

Players begin each game by choosing their character and spending a limited amount of funds on items and bonus abilities. Instead of destroying a base, the teams are trying to bring down a formidable creature called a Titan. Each team also has a Phoenix and towers defending their side of each lane, preventing the other team from rushing at them early. As with other MOBAs, teams initially have to scour the map and defeat computer-controlled enemies to build themselves up in preparation for combat with each other in the later stages.

A Brief History

Smite was a breakout hit and the first esports title for relatively young publisher Hi-Rez Studios. The game was first released in 2014, and it launched with an initial tournament and season structure that established it as a serious esport right away.

The Biggest Teams

The upper levels of the Smite scene are a mix of the world’s largest esports organizations (NRG, Cloud9, Fnatic) with some smaller groups that are more specifically focused on this game.

The Biggest Tournaments

Smite’s highest level of competition consists of an officially sponsored season each year that is composed of various splits, regionals, and majors as well as seasonal finals. The grand event each year is the Smite World Championship.

Our Smite betting guide can be found below.

StarCraft II

Starcraft II

The StarCraft series is basically Blizzard’s futuristic outer-space version of Warcraft. The series as a whole is arguably the most popular esport of all time. Players have to gather resources to build up a home base and create military units to engage with the opponent.

About the Game

Players choose from one of three factions, each with their own unique military units and structures. Players start out with little in the way of resources, and the game tests their ability to manage time and make intelligent strategic decisions in acquiring and using them to build structures and units. The ultimate goal is to traverse the map and destroy the opponent’s home base.

A Brief History

The original StarCraft was released in 1998 and was one of the pioneering esports. The 2010 sequel built on the original design with modern graphics and a broad array of new features.

The Biggest Teams

Though you’ll see StarCraft II teams, the actual competitions at the highest level are generally single player vs. player. Though StarCraft II does have an international scene, it has traditionally been most popular in South Korea and has seen a major expansion in China in recent years as well. Big names from both Korea (Titan EX1 and Jin Air Green Wings) and elsewhere (Team Liquid, Invictus) share space at the top of the gaming charts, with premier players from Korea and China traveling all over the world to fill spaces on diverse rosters.

The Biggest Tournaments

The premier annual event in StarCraft II is the World Championship Series, which consists of tournaments held in major cities throughout the world culminating in the WCS Global Finals toward the end of the year. Other major events include the Intel Extreme Masters and Global StarCraft II League seasons.

Check out the link to our StarCraft II betting guide.

League of Legends (LoL)

League of Legends

League of Legends is one of the two original titans of the MOBA genre along with Dota 2. Though the original Defense of the Ancients mods set the groundwork for the genre’s standard format, League of Legends was the first to market with a stand-alone commercial product featuring this type of gameplay.

About the Game

The structure is almost identical to Dota 2. Teams of five choose their champions and attempt to overrun the opponent’s base by making use of three lanes and gradually building their strength from neutral map resources. The main difference is that there are fixed lane roles in competitive LoL. There are smaller nuanced gameplay differences as well, such as a greater emphasis on casting spells in LoL.

A Brief History

LoL was released in 2009, two years before the first public version of Dota 2. The game actually resulted from a split between the original designers of the Defense of the Ancients mods for Warcraft III; one would end up being hired by Valve to work on Dota 2, while the other would go to Riot Games and develop LoL.

The Biggest Teams

LoL is big business, and the world’s biggest esports organizations are all in on it. Year in and year out, top contenders include names like SK Telecom T1, Team SoloMid, Misfits, FC Schalke, and Counter Logic.

The Biggest Tournaments

The annual official League of Legends World Championship hosted by Riot Games is the biggest event in the sport. That’s hardly all of the available action, however. You’ll see the world’s best teams in the seasonal splits and finals and regional finals that run throughout the year, as well as various major stand-alone tournaments.

Below, we’ve provided a League of Legends betting guide to help you place the most informed wagers possible.

Hearthstone

Hearthstone

Hearthstone was the first collectible card game (CCG) to be adapted to a major esport. It’s published by Valve and based on their Warcraft franchise, drawing characters and items from that game to fill out the decks of cards.

About the Game

The gameplay is similar to popular offline CCGs such as Magic: The Gathering. Players compete on a 1v1 basis using decks of cards that they assemble. For the casual player, building a strong deck usually constitutes a significant investment of time and money. Top-level players are members of esports organizations that can provide them with any cards they want, however, so at high-level tournaments, you can expect players to be able to build their decks from any cards available in the game.

A Brief History

Hearthstone was released in 2014 and is one of the few major esports that has a successful adaptation for the mobile iOS and Android operating systems. Publisher Blizzard saw the game as an experiment and niche title at first but was quick to support it as an esport with sponsored tournaments when it quickly took off in popularity.

The Biggest Teams

As with StarCraft II, players often belong to (are sponsored by) teams but do not actually play as a team. Some examples of prominent sponsors include Circa eSports, Cloud9, Kyoto eSports, Dark Tigers, and Team Empire.

The Biggest Tournaments

There are two major annual events sponsored by Blizzard that are usually the largest of the year in terms of viewership and prize money: the World Championship and the Global Games. Other major events include the competitions at the World Electronic Sports Games and DreamHack as well as the Gold and Trinity Series.

For more information on Hearthstone betting, check out our helpful betting guide.

Heroes of the Storm (HOTS)

Heroes of the Storm

Heroes of the Storm is Blizzard’s commercial entry into the MOBA genre (since Defense of the Ancients got snatched out from underneath them by Valve). The game is superficially similar to the other big MOBAs like Dota 2 and LoL, but it has a number of unique qualities such as the use of characters from other Blizzard games as heroes and that maps can have multiple objectives other than destroying the enemy base.

About the Game

As with the other big MOBAs, teams of five face off on a map that is constructed around three lanes. A lot of small gameplay variations add up to make HOTS feel significantly different, however. The game has more of a focus on macro-level play (overall strategy) than micro-level ability (the mechanical skill and response time of individual players).

A Brief History

HOTS was released in mid-2015, well after LoL and Dota 2 had become established as the kings of the MOBA genre. Patch 2.0 in 2017 was a major milestone that helped to even out the game and boost interest in high-level competitive play.

The Biggest Teams

Familiar international esports organizations fill the top ranks of the HOTS competitive scene; examples include MVP, Fnatic, Cloud9, Team Liquid, and L5.

The Biggest Tournaments

The top competitive teams can be seen in action at the Heroes of the Storm Global Championship, DreamHack, the World Cyber Arena, and the Heroes Super League, among other annual events. The primary event is the finals of the Global Championship.

Our HOTS betting guide can be found below.

Overwatch

Overwatch

Though they are not a company known for FPS games, Blizzard decided to get into the esports FPS scene with Overwatch. It takes the concept of choosing heroes with varying strengths and weaknesses from the MOBA genre and puts it in a shooter framework that is somewhat reminiscent of CS:GO or Rainbow Six but with a colorful futuristic theme instead of a modern military one.

About the Game

Overwatch teams consist of 12 players. Six are active for any given match, but the six reserves can be swapped in at any point between matches. Overwatch is a little different from most other esports tournaments in that all of the competitive play modes are incorporated into high-level competitions; these include Control (capturing control points) and Escort (reaching checkpoints in enemy territory) as the two primary modes.

A Brief History

Overwatch was released in mid-2016, and Blizzard clearly planned to establish it as an esport as they announced a competitive league for it just a few months later. The game received almost universally excellent review scores upon release and quickly became extremely popular.

The Biggest Teams

Overwatch is different from most other esports in that a league format similar to traditional sports is the center of the action. The league’s teams are each based in a city; most are in the United States, but there are a few in other countries such as China, the United Kingdom, and South Korea. The New York Excelsior finished with the league’s best record in its inaugural season in 2018, but the London Spitfire would eventually win the championship. The Shanghai Dragons had the unfortunate distinction of going entirely winless and finishing last.

The Biggest Tournaments

Overwatch League runs from January to June, with each team playing 40 games during that time. The playoffs take place in July.

Our Overwatch betting guide has been provided for you here.

Call of Duty (CoD)

Call of Duty

Call of Duty is a prolific and long-running series, and the installments played at the highest levels of esports competition can change from year to year. They tend to stick to the stock format of a team-based FPS with a modern setting and weapons, however.

About the Game

The gameplay of Call of Duty can vary somewhat between the different installments of the game. For example, the Black Ops games are somewhat similar to Rainbow Six Siege in that characters draft specialist heroes with varying skills, and there is a “ban” stage similar to the one seen in Dota 2.

A Brief History

The Call of Duty series began in 2003, but it wasn’t really until the fourth installment was released (in 2007) that it became massively popular and also seen as a prominent competitive game. The release of Black Ops 2 in 2012 is the point at which the game was really established as a leading esport.

The Biggest Teams

Call of Duty never seems to go out of style and keeps going strong with new releases just about every year, so you’ll see the world’s most prominent esports organizations recruiting the best players and getting in on the biggest tournaments. Names you can expect to see include OpTic Gaming, Evil Geniuses, Luminosity Gaming, and Team Infused.

The Biggest Tournaments

The premier annual CoD event is usually CWL Champs, which wraps up a full season of play for the best competitors in the world. The other really big event is the Call of Duty Championship (the culmination of World League).

Our Call of Duty betting guide can be found below.

Fortnite

Fortnite

There are actually two different versions of Fortnite – the competitive version that most people refer to as “Fortnite” is actually Fortnite: Battle Royale. As the name indicates, it’s part of the battle royale genre. Even though it uses fundamentally the same template as predecessors like PUBG, Fortnite has captured the public’s attention like no other battle royale game ever has. Something about the building mechanics, the depth of the weapons and items, and the visually appealing world have caused it to draw in a vast casual audience that usually eschews these types of games.

About the Game

High-level competitive Fortnite play consists of either one player or a team of two operating on their own against some number of other players. Up to 100 players can compete in one map. As with most battle royale games, players parachute into the map and have to scavenge weapons and items.

A Brief History

Fortnite was officially released in mid-2017, but it actually first went into development in 2011. The game was originally conceived as a zombie survival game based more on DayZ, with publisher Epic adding the battle royale mode at the last minute after seeing how popular PUBG had become in early 2017.

The Biggest Teams

As of this writing, the competitive Fortnite scene is still coalescing, but major esports organizations have shown interest in forming teams for the first major competitions in 2019. Teams that have already signed some players to their roster include 100 Thieves, Cloud9, Newbee, and Team Secret.

The Biggest Tournaments

The biggest regular event in Fortnite to date has been the weekly Friday Fortnite events, which are sponsored by Epic and attract the best players in the game to compete for a decent amount of prize money. The real high-level competition is slated to start in 2019 with the first Fortnite World Cup.

For some direction on Fortnite betting, we’ve put together a detailed guide that we’ve linked below.

What Makes These Games Esports?

That’s a tricky question, but the answer basically comes down to two things – whether it has a sufficient level of depth and play balance to sustain high-level competitive play and whether there is enough public interest in it. It can be tough to determine what makes a game an esport, but players tend to know them when they see them, and the professional organizations are quick to follow.

More games will certainly follow suit as time goes on. For now, though, the above list contains the most popular esports in the industry.