Esports Games: The Definitive Guide
Esports games is the biggest thing to happen in gaming for a long time. Prestigious new tournaments and huge, ever-increasing prize pools are popping up all the time. No longer a niche community, esports gaming has captured the attention of large, recognised media outlets and that means rapidly increasing viewing figures, as well as lots of new revenue opportunities.
Hopefully, this comprehensive guide we’ve put together will answer most questions you might have about what esports games really are. We’ll give you examples of what games have esports, introduce you to the biggest esports game genres, show you the best esports games to get into, and much more besides.
What is the most popular esport game?: A list of the biggest esports games of 2021
There are more and more diverse titles arriving all the time but these are currently the most popular esports games 2021 has given us so far *:
- Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
- Dota 2
- League of Legends
- Call of Duty
*This esports games list is ranked based on events, prize pools and the amount of viewers they generate.
I’m new to this – what are esports games?
Essentially, esports is a catch-all name for competitions based around the playing of video games. They usually comprise of organised events, be it one-off events or tournaments, and feature professional esports gamers competing against each other for victory; and often a nice big prize pool, too.
It’s usually free to play esports games and played on a variety of platforms – numerous esports games for PCs but there’s also Nintendo esports games as well as games for Playstation and Xbox. Esports games on mobile could well be very big in 2021.
How long have esports games been around?
Competitive gaming has been building in popularity for years. Indeed, the game was believed to have kickstarted the whole revolution with Quake, which was released in 1996. The inaugural world esports event was held in 1997. This event – the Red Annihilation Quake Tournament – was won by Denis “Thresh” Fong who walked away with a shiny Ferrari 328 for his troubles.
From there, the esports movement started to grow steadily. Esport video games, like Warcraft III, StarCraft: Brood War and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive all became popular titles. That said, the love of esports games was still mostly contained within hard-core gaming communities up until the late 2000s. Its popularity really started to soar.
Today, competitive gaming continues its massive upward trajectory. Numerous leagues, events and tournaments have been developed all over the world. Esports games High School leagues are huge and there are esports games college courses, as well as professional gamers, who are now considered bonafide athletes – at least in places like Finland, the USA and Turkey. Some of these countries actually afford scholarships for players to attend university esports games courses, and offer work visas. Denmark also earmarks funding for local esports organisations and develops dedicated esports strategies.
With millions of fans watching across the world, today, esports games are big business and top players receive high kudos and hefty pay days to boot.
What is ‘esport games’ exactly?
While the global gaming industry develops and releases tens of thousands of games annually, the number of games classed as ‘esports games’ comparatively small.
Any new esports games 2021 has to offer will need to feature three necessary elements if they wish to have a chance to really make it in the arena. They are:
If a certain, somewhat niche game has just a relatively small base of dedicated players, it won’t generate enough fans willing to watch people compete, and the top players won’t be motivated to compete when the prizes aren’t that rewarding.
Essentially anyone could set up an esports team; they just make an esports game logo, set it up and spread the word. To really make it as a game with esports however, the game needs to have built a strong following. Fans need to really invest in the players and/or teams, and follow their results closely.
Achieving this level of attention is tricky and it takes time to build that ready-made audience. This probably explains why there isn’t a huge list of esports games currently available; not yet anyway.
The second quality in a winning esports game is the skill it takes to master it. Many games are wired to make gameplay smooth and accessible in order for players to feel like chances of being any good at it. But when it comes to successful esports games, this is not really the case. Almost impossible, of course, and challenging enough for real skill allowed to shine through. That means the public can see who the real stars are, and they have an arena in which to shine.
Successful esports games always display great scope – they are complex and diverse, incorporating an attainable level that is achievable only by the very, very best exponents.
The third essential element of an esports game is basically how enticing it is to watch. Lots of games are super-fun to play, interesting and challenging to master. But for the viewing public, the experience can be a little dry.
Fast action, high-adrenalin games are much more likely to achieve the required level of viewer adoration. The excitement factor tends to be built-in; High stakes and admirable levels of skill involved, too, a game should be onto a winner.
That said, to make it as an esports game, the title needs to allow top players to really express their skill, and allow viewers to be able to appreciate that skill. That means the craft on display needs to be clear to those watching.
What are the different genres of esports games available?
Some genres more than others really lend themselves to becoming world-famous esports games. They need to be either action, suspense, strategy or conflict – often all of the above – and sometimes replicate the experience of traditional sports popular with a worldwide audience. The definitive list of esports game genres that are currently the most popular are as follows.
Genre list of esports games
MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena)
These games tend to easily be the biggest hitters in the esports games arena. They essentially utilise the tried-and-tested Real-Time Strategy approach (see below), but add a role-playing element. So rather than directing a whole battlefield, players in these games can control an individual character. And with that character, they can fight against other groups of players.
In essence, that makes the game easier but where games come into their own is in offering such a large range of unique characters and item options. So, in order to really master these titles, professional players need to coordinate many variables, have an acute understanding of gameplay, and master the dynamic elements of battle. To get all those various skills synced is a mammoth task, thus, the world’s best players take a long time to truly hone their craft. Such is the level of skill on display, fans the world over pour online to watch their heroes do battle.
Games in this genre to check out: League of Legends, Dota 2 and Heroes of the Storm.
FPS (First-Person Shooter)
Hugely popular within the world of esports gaming, FPS games are relatively straight-forward yet still incredibly hard to properly master.
The formula will be familiar to many, as will some of the leading games – Call of Duty and Rainbow Six.
Essentially, these games feature the simulation of a fight, with firepower. Obviously, seen from the first-person perspective, as the name suggests. The best games put their own mark on the genre though; so, they each offer something slightly different and uniquely challenging. That results in the FPS genre is rather varied, which provides rich pickings for fans of this style of gaming.
There are many different classes and categories, and the professionals display not only a pinpoint aim and sharp reactions. They also have to be adept at making lightning-quick decisions, correctly, on an astonishing, consistent basis.
Such is the pace and intensity of the gameplay within the FPS genre, the best games lend themselves naturally to the live view experience and, as such, the leading titles (Call of Duty, Rainbow Six, etc.) are among the most widely viewed and played esports games found anywhere in the world.
Games in this genre to check out: Rainbow Six: Siege, Call of Duty, CS:GO and Overwatch.
Top traditional sports are obviously super-popular the world over and it’s that familiarity, together with the inherent element of skill and competition, that has made sports titles such a crossover hit with esports gaming fans.
Basically, the best esports sporting games accurately convey the excitement of the ‘real’ sport incredibly well, so fans of those sports – be it American Football, soccer or basketball – have a natural interest in playing the games and trying to emulate the leading stars in the digital world. Often, trying to do this on-screen is so much more achievable than in real life so, there’s an added appeal there, too. Indeed, for some, ‘making it’ in the esports version of their favourite sport is now a real thing. Take F1, for example, the leading esports drivers are stars in their own right and achieving their dreams within esports is actually doable without the multi-million budgets required to carve out a racing career in the real world.
The fans love the adrenalin of competition, especially as they have a built-in love for the sport. With the level of skill displayed by the pro esports players in these fields, the crowds are logging on to take in esports events in droves. Lockdown across the world during the COVID-19 pandemic has driven demand massively as there was little ‘real’ sport happening anywhere for months.
Games in this genre to check out: FIFA, Pro Evo Soccer, NBA 2K, and Madden NFL.
We all remember these classics, they’ve been a staple of many gamers for generations, and continue to be hugely popular today, even within the serious world of professional esports gaming. Always a fan-favourite due to their all-action, often pretty visceral gameplay, these games feature two or more players getting down-and-dirty to duke it out in some kind of arena. Players just pick a character and go for it. Usually, each character will have a unique set of skills and/or weapons, and players work out how to best make use of those talents to gain the upper hand on their opponents.
Viewers love the live experience because it’s usually all-out entertainment featuring a good old fight to the end (and sometimes death), often one-on-one. It’s easy to grasp what’s happening and to pick a side; at the highest level, the skills on display are jaw-dropping.
They take some mastering so, the pro players have put in the hours to become the ultimate warrior, and take home the often not-too-shabby spoils. What’s not to love.
Fighting games can lack the sophistication that other modern games offer so aren’t as popular as the FPS or MOBA esports games these days, but they still command a global audience and certainly have a certain nostalgic, old-school appeal to the more seasoned gaming fan.
Games in this genre to check out: Tekken, Street Fighter and Super Smash Bros.
RTS (Real-Time Strategy)
You won’t see too many ranking highly on the most-played esports games of 2021, possibly because they’re very complicated so don’t necessarily lend themselves to online viewing for fans.
In RTS games, players build empires, or armies, or even economies, acting as controllers who, bit-by-bit, develop whatever they’re working on in order to complete the task; or sometimes to conquer other players doing the same.
Either way, such as the time it takes to master the intricacies of this development, these games aren’t exactly dynamic and they don’t tend to elicit major interest from anyone but true hardcore fans of RTS. It’s really not for the casual esports fan, this one.
Games in this genre to check out: StarCraft: Brood War, StarCraft II and Brood War.
A recent addition to the esports world, these games feature lots of players battling it out on a map as the playable area continues to reduce. The last player or team standing wins.
As you can imagine, the final battle to be the winner often leads to some dramatic final clashes, so these esports ‘riot’ games tend to make for a good online experience.
The downsides are that there is a lot going on, with mini-battles between many different players or teams, so it can all get a little busy and tough to keep up with.
But Battle Royale games are still very popular with fans and the base is rising so we’ll see innovations in this genre soon for sure.
Games in this genre to check out: Apex Legends, Fortnite and PUBG.
Collectible Card games (CCG)
Esports card games have enjoyed something of a revival in recent years but it’s fair to say, this niche genre has lagged behind the big hitters for some time.
In this fantasy area of esports, players play out complex scenarios using cards that determine the next moves. Games tend to last long, which may be why they don’t attract the kind of audiences MOBA pull in.
Games in this genre to check out: Hearthstone and Magic the Gathering: Arena
Any big upcoming games with esports I should know about?
The esports video games arena is big business so exciting new games and genres are emerging all the time. Guessing the upcoming esports games that will stand out can be a fool’s errand but it’s a safe bet to say that esports mobile games are likely to be a huge growth area. They’re not quite up there with top esports games for 2021 on PC in terms of viewers or players yet, but titles like Clash Royale, Arena of Valor and Vainglory have become hugely popular as esports on mobile.
In terms of upcoming esports games tournaments, there’s a major one coming up later in 2021. The 31st Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Hanoi, Vietnam from November 21st to December 2nd, will feature, among others, Arena of Valour (on mobile), FIFA Online 4 (PC) and League of Legends (PC). Search esports SEA games online for more.