The esports industry economy is expected to hit $1.65 billion by 2021, fueled by nearly 250 million esports enthusiasts and another 307 million casual viewers. That revenue and viewer forecast could get even higher based on heavy-hitters like Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds officially entering the esports arena in 2019. Whether you’re not familiar with esports or you’re a dedicated longtime fan, we’ve compiled a list of the esports games to watch out for this year.
A few esports games on our list are relative newcomers, while games like Dota 2 and League of Legends are showing their age. They’re all still hot titles and should provide plenty of fun, frenetic gameplay throughout the year. Best of all, you can play in several of the listed tournaments!
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4
Activision’s latest Black Ops entry launched Oct. 12, 2018 on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows. It includes a new game mode called “Blackout,” which replaces the traditional campaign with a battle royale mode. However, you won’t see people competing in that mode just yet. The Call of Duty World League (CWL) lists Hardpoint, Search & Destroy, and Control as the battle modes for the 2019 season.
According to the league, the esports format is changing to five-versus-five for 2019. Participants will also get an updated ruleset, the largest Call of Duty esports prize pool to date — a hefty $6 million — and the removal of region restrictions for all LAN-based events. Qualifications for the Pro League — launching Feb. 4 — are also changing, to remove the relegation period and second stage. Teams will receive extra prize money for participating in the CWL Pro League as well.
The second open event of the 2019 season takes place in Fort Worth, Texas during March 15 to March 17. You can watch the show on Twitch here.
Developed and published by Supercell, this real-time strategy game arrived on Android and iOS in March 2016. Clash Royale mashes multiple genres into one multiplayer game: Online battle arena, collectible card game, and tower defense. Players battle in one-on-one and two-on-two matches trying to destroy the highest number of opposing towers.
Supercell’s official esports league for 2018 consisted of 40 teams from Asia and Mainland China, Europe, Latin America, and North America. Each team had four to six players, three of which played in one-on-one and two-on-two games on match days. The best team in each region moved on to compete in the Clash Royale League World Finals. To become a pro team member for season one, you needed complete 20 wins in the CRL Challenge in March 2018.
Supercell hasn’t released any details for 2019, but we’ll keep you updated here. Meanwhile, you can watch the Clash Royale League 2018 tournament here.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Few esports games have had as much impact as Counter Strike: Global Offensive. This first-person shooter developed by Valve and Hidden Path Entertainment launched in 2012 and became an esport the following year. Valve currently sponsors Major Championships (called Majors), in which 24 teams compete for a prize pool of $1 million. The list of hosts over the years include ELeague, Electronic Sports League (ESL), and Major League Gaming (MLG). The first Major of the year will be during Intel Extreme Masters XIII in Katowice hosted by ESL.
Valve changed the Majors format starting with Boston’s ELeague Major in early 2018. The company renamed all three stages, increased the overall team count to 24, and introduced stickers for all participating teams. ESL plans to tweak the Major format again before the Katowice tournament to implement the new Swiss system used in the Chicago Major in November. This pits teams against opponents with the same ELO rankings, rather than pairing teams with opponents of harder or weaker skill.
Just before Dota 2’s launch in 2013, Valve invited 16 Defense of the Ancients esports teams to play the unreleased game in a tournament during Gamecom 2011. Valve held a second tournament in 2012 during PAX Prime, followed by the official launch of The International at the Benaroya Hall in Seattle during 2013. The most recent International event took place in Vancouver, Canada in August 2018, where 18 teams compete for a prize pool $25 million.
Currently the second-most watched esports game on Twitch and YouTube, Dota 2 consists of two teams of five players with the goal of eliminating the opposing team’s Ancient. You can watch The International through Twitch, Steam Broadcasting, YouTube, China’s Gamefy, and in some cases traditional networks. Prize pool money stems from the purchase of a Battle Pass and related in-game items with a starting price of $10.
The first Fortnite World Cup arrives in late 2019. Qualifiers were originally scheduled for Fall 2018, but they were pushed to sometime in 2019. Epic Games wants the competition open to all Fortnite players rather than sell teams and franchises, or fund third-party leagues. Backing this tournament is a hefty $100 million split between various major and minor events “at different levels of competition.”
Fortnite entered the esports scene in 2018 with its first Pro-Am event, during E3 2018. After that, Epic Games held the Summer and Fall Skirmish series followed by the Winter Royale in December. The next non-World Cup event sponsored by Epic Games will be the Secret Skirmish on Feb. 14 and 15, with a prize pool of $500,000. This event will be invite-only at an undisclosed location.
League of Legends
Originally launching in 2012, the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) changed its format in 2016, bringing ten teams into Riot Games’ Los Angeles studios to compete live on Twitch and YouTube. The annual season consists of two local nine-week sessions, with the best three teams of each session moving on to compete in regional finals. After that, the winning team competes with other teams from across the globe in the League of Legends World Championship. Overall, 13 regions follow this or a similar format prior to the global showdown.
The 2018 World Championship saw 24 teams compete for a chunk of the $2.4 million prize pool and the tournament’s coveted trophy. The 2019 schedule started Feb. 2 here in North America and the local Spring Finals are scheduled for April 13 in St. Louis, Missouri. This year Riot Games chose to remove the third and fourth place matches, resulting in only two teams competing for the Spring Split Champion title and the chance to move on to the Mid-Season Invitational.
Both the European and North America leagues also rebranded for the 2019 season — the NALCS is now called the LCS, and the EULCS is now called the League European Championship (LEC).
According to the Esports Charts, the 2018 League of Legends World Championship was the most-viewed tournament of the year.
Activision Blizzard launched the Overwatch League in 2017. Unlike other esports tournaments, the company chose the traditional sports format with Overwatch, allowing companies and individuals to own teams established in specific cities. Team owners include New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft (Boston), Misfits Gaming CEO Ben Sproont (Miami – Orlando), and New York Mets COO Jeff Wilpon (New York). The roster now consists of 20 established teams spread out across the globe.
The 2019 season begins Feb. 14, with four matches including Philadelphia Fusion taking on London Spitfire, and New York Excelsior competing against Boston Uprising. Activision Blizzard breaks the season down into four five-week stages. The schedule shows Week five of Stage four taking place in Los Angeles at the end of August, so get ready for loads of coverage through the spring and summer. London Spitfire won the 2018 Grand Finals at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, in a two-day showdown that reeled in nearly 11 million viewers.
You can watch the Overwatch League on Twitch.
The League is different than the Overwatch World Cup. Instead of using city-based teams, the World Cup consists of individuals chosen by the community in 32 countries based on their skill rating. These countries are divided into eight groups with four teams in each group. Eventually the top team in each group battle each other across four stages until the final showdown during BlizzCon.
After announcing a five-year plan to establish an esports presence, PUGB Corp. launched the first season of the official global pro competition for PUBG in January 2019. The competition consists of three phases separated by two global events and an All-Star Games session featuring the best players from each region: North America, Europe, Korea, China, Japan, Chinese Taipai/Hong Kong/Macao, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Oceania. The 2019 Global Championship concludes in November.
Prior to the new Global Championship, the first major tournament hosted by PUGB Corp. was the 2018 Global Invitational in Berlin, with a prize pool of $2 million. Before that, Bluehole and the ESL conducted an invitational during Gamescom in 2017. Going forward, the PUBG Esports pro competition rules include 16 squads of four players, the Erangel and Miramar maps, a locked first-person perspective, and a global points system.
Head here to watch these sessions on YouTube.
Developer Psyonix launched the Rocket League Championship Series in 2016. According to Psyonix, Season 7 kicks off 2019 with support for cross-platform play, bringing in gamers on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC through Steam. The North American qualifiers begin March 2, while the European qualifiers begin March 3. South America becomes an official region in this season as well, though details regarding the qualifiers will be released “in the coming weeks.” League play begins April 6 in North America and April 7 in Europe.
Psyonix previously increased the prize pool to $1 million in Season 6, and added another $100,000 for the Rival Series. Introduced in Season 4, the Rival Series is a secondary league composed of the top eight teams that didn’t qualify for the Championship Series. After a five-week duel, the top two teams emerge to compete against the seventh and eighth place Championship Series teams. Rival Series League Play begins April 12.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate / Splatoon 2
Nintendo’s first tournaments for the year starts in February and anyone can participate. For the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate North America Open 2019, Nintendo will conduct three online qualifying sessions on Feb. 2, Feb. 16, and March 9 in four regions across North America: northeast, southeast, southwest, and northwest. The final showdown will include players from Mexico and Canada during the PAX East gaming convention in Boston on March 30, 2019. You can read the official rules here, or if you’d simply rather watch, the online qualifiers and final match will be livestreamed.
For the Splatoon 2 North America Inkling Open 2019, the schedule is slightly different. Captains must register their team and an additional player between January 22 and February 10. After that, teams will qualify for the tournament in Ink Pools on Feb. 10. The top eight teams will include players from Canada and Mexico to compete in the qualifier finals on March 2. Only four teams will make the trip to PAX East in March to compete in the final showdown. You can read the official rules here.
So that’s it for our list of some of the best esports games that we expect to be big (or continue to be big) in 2019. Any others we missed? Let us know in the comments.