Gaming and the eSports sector as a whole have come up leaps and bounds over the last decade. From being a pastime activity to being adopted as a sporting event in the Asian Games, the rise in popularity of eSports has been gargantuan. These events are always fun to watch and garner thousands of audiences and viewers. The number of players participating in eSports events is increasing rapidly, with more and more tournaments getting organised all around the world since the 2010s.
Although the eSports sector is gaining popularity with new games getting released every other year, there are certain games that are more popular and dominate the scene more than others.
When we talk about the most popular eSports games, one may refer to them in a variety of ways. Some are more popular across borders, while some are more popular in specific regions. Some may have bigger participation, while others may have better tournaments and bigger prize pools.
I bet this question must have crossed your mind a million times: “Which eSports game is the best for you to play or watch now?” So, without further ado, let’s dive into it and look at the current top 10 eSports games around the world.
#10 Arena of Valor
Arena of Valor was one of the first MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) games to be released on mobile phones. The tournament prize money that it now musters is among some of the best, and with the increasing adoption of smartphones, it has flourished even more, particularly in South-East Asian countries.
In just over a year and a half, the game has surpassed 28 million downloads in Thailand, while countries like Vietnam, Chinese Taipei are among its biggest markets. For example, in Thailand, mobile gaming accounts for 45 percent of the market, with smartphones largely driving Thailand’s online gaming market growth of over 20 percent year in, year out.
In 2021 alone, Tencent’s MOBA title Honor of Kings, of which Arena of Valor is an international adaptation, acquired more than US$2 billion across the App Store and the Google PlayStore, bringing its total revenue to a whopping US$10 billion since its launch in 2015.
#9 Free Fire
Free Fire is another mobile game to make the cut. One of the most appealing features of this game is that it works with low-cost devices. Given its low hardware requirements, almost any smartphone can run this game.
There is a great variety of characters in Free Fire, each with their own skill set. These characters must be acquired using diamonds or gold coins from the in-game store (in-game currency). The gameplay is basic and keeps the players hooked with its unpredictability: fifty players jump into a battlefield to fight for their lives in a round of battle royale that runs from 5 to 10 minutes, while Clash Squad is a seven-round game style designed for group play of four players.
Moreover, Free Fire is a significant participant in the eSports industry, allowing individuals from all around the world to show off their gameplay abilities. For example, Free Fire City Open 2021, an India-based tournament with a prize fund of INR 60 lakh, was successfully held in India last year.
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#8 Mobile Legends: Bang Bang (MLBB)
As the popularity of mobile gaming soars, so does the competition among various developers, resulting in the development of better, more competitive games. MLBB is a result of this mobile gaming revolution.
Moontoon’s Mobile Legends: Bang Bang is a MOBA game published in 2016. In its short history, MLBB has become one of the forerunners of large-scale eSports on the mobile gaming platform and is competing with larger platforms like PC and consoles in terms of global tournaments.
Although MLBB has widespread popularity worldwide, it is notably popular in South-East Asia, and it is in these locations where the most important and biggest MLBB events are organised.
MLBB has already crossed the one-billion-downloads feat, with peak monthly players of 100 million.
In 2021, MLBB achieved an all-time gross of US$1 billion, with 44 percent of its revenue emanating from outside Asia, making it the top mobile game of its genre with the most global appeal.
#7 EA Sports’ FIFA
The FIFA franchise continues to boost its numbers as a result of EA Sports’ continuous efforts to carve out a niche for itself in the rapidly growing eSports community.
The FIFA 21 Challenge shattered all viewership records to become the most-watched eSports event ever hosted by EA Sports. The single-day tournament paired up professional football players from across Europe with competitive gamers competing for the US$20,000 charity prize pool. The event also served as the promotional competition for the global brand of FIFA 21. EA Sports naturally bragged about its FIFA Challenge viewership numbers, stating that the one-day competition drew an average minute audience (AMA) of 254,057, which more than doubles the previous EA Sports viewership record which was set by the FIFA Global Series FUT Champions Cup: Barcelona (92,678 AMA).
Later, the company also made the official announcement for the FIFA 22 eWorld Cup and a whole lot of qualifying events as a part of its Global Series. “Without the power of team spirit, there would be no football,” said Sam Turkbas, FIFA Competitive Gaming Commissioner. “Our goal is to use this power and to network football fans from all over the world with their favourite game via eSports entertainment. Team-based FIFA competitive gaming will further accelerate the growth of the future football fan base.”
#6 PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG)
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds needs no introduction as the game is widely known as one of the best battle royale games and one of the first of its kind to promote such gameplay.
PUBG was first released for Microsoft Windows via Steam’s Early Access beta program in March 2017, with a full version released in December 2017. The game’s creator, Bluehole, sold 2 million copies in five weeks on Steam’s Early Access, a portion of the marketplace where game developers sell in-development versions of games at a discount, allowing gamers to buy in before they’re done and help support future development. PUBG Mobile, a free-to-play mobile game version for Android and IOS, was released in 2018 in addition to a port for PlayStation 4.
PUBG is one of the best-selling, most-played and highest-grossing games of all time. The original PUBG game has sold over 75 million copies across PC and gaming consoles as of 2022, while the more-successful PUBG Mobile has accumulated more than 1 billion downloads as of March 2021 and grossed over US$7.2 billion on mobile devices as of December 2021.
Valorant is a relatively new free-to-play first-person shooter (FPS) developed and published by Riot Games for Microsoft Windows. First teased under the codename Project A in October 2019, the game began a closed beta period with limited access on April 7, 2020, followed by an official release on June 2, 2020.
Valorant is a team-based FPS set in the near future. In the main game, players are assigned to a team of five, either attacking or defending, while having the liberty to choose from any one of the 18 characters/agents available in the game. These agents have unique abilities—each requiring charges—as well as a unique ultimate ability that requires charging through kills, deaths, orbs, or by completing objectives.
Riot Games decided to create the first tournament called “First Strike” to establish a foundation for an eSports scene to be created with the game. In November 2020, Riot Games announced the tournament series called VALORANT Champions Tour (VCT), which is a year-long competition consisting of three levels:
- VALORANT Challengers: regional competitions which are qualifiers for Masters
- VALORANT Masters: international competitions in mid-season, divided into many stages
- VALORANT Champions: the world championship of the year
The 2021 VALORANT Champions was hosted from December 1-12, 2021, in Berlin, with Acend defeating Gambit Esports with a score of 3-2 in the finals to become the first-ever world champion of Valorant eSports.
#4 Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege is an online tactical shooter video game developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft. It was released worldwide for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on December 1, 2015, while the developers also released versions for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S exactly five years later, on December 1, 2020.
The game puts its emphasis on heavy environmental destruction and cooperation between players, with each player assuming controls of either an attacker or a defender in different gameplay modes ranging from rescuing a hostage to defusing a bomb and taking control of an objective within a room.
To create authentic siege situations, the team consulted actual counter-terrorism units and looked at real-life examples of sieges such as the 1980 Iranian Embassy siege. Powered by AnvilNext 2.0, the game utilises Ubisoft’s RealBlast technology to create destructible environments.
Almost seven years since the game’s release, some critics still regard Siege as one of the best multiplayer games in the modern market due to the improvements brought by the frequent post-launch updates. In December 2020, Siege surpassed 70 million registered players across all formats, while Rainbow Six Extraction, a spin-off game featuring Siege characters, was released in January 2022.
#3 League of Legends
League of Legends (LoL) is a 2009 multiplayer online battle arena video game developed and published by Riot Games. Since its release in October 2009, the game has been free-to-play but is monetised through purchasable character customisations.
Players compete in LoL as part of a team against another team—each team consisting of five players—controlling role characters known as “champion”, with unique abilities and different styles of play. In the game’s main mode, Summoner’s Rift, a team wins by pushing through to the enemy base and destroying its “Nexus”, a large structure located within.
The New York Times once described the game as one of the world’s largest eSports, while the Harvard Business Review said that LoL epitomised the birth of the eSports industry. As of April 2021, Riot Games operates 12 regional leagues internationally, four of which—China, Europe, South Korea, and North America—have franchise systems in place.
The 2019 and 2020 League of Legends World Championship finals reported 44 and 45 peak million concurrent viewers respectively. The company also sells streaming rights to the game, with the North American league playoff broadcast on cable television by sports network ESPN. In China, the rights to stream international events such as the World Championships and the Mid-Season Invitational were sold to Bilibili in Fall 2020 for a three-year deal reportedly worth US$113 million, while the exclusive streaming rights for the domestic and other regional leagues are owned by Huya Live.
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#2 Defense of the Ancients (DotA) 2
One of the most sought MOBA games, DotA 2 has millions of players from all around the world joining in to play every day. Every month, the game attracts around 11 million unique players. As of August 2021, the game had been played by over 8.7 million players as an eSport according to its official website.
DotA 2 is played in matches between two teams of five players, with each team occupying and defending their own separate base on the map. Each of the ten players independently controls a powerful character known as a “hero”. There are currently 122 possible heroes to choose from, each with unique abilities and differing styles of play.
DotA 2 is huge on the eSports scene, with teams from all around the world playing in various professional leagues and tournaments. The game’s developer, Valve, manages an event format known as the DOTA Pro Circuit, a series of tournaments that award qualification points for earning direct entry to The International, the game’s premier annual tournament. The International features a crowdfunded prize money system that has seen amounts in upwards of US$40 million, making DotA 2 the most lucrative eSports game.
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#1 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO)
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) is a multiplayer FPS developed by Valve and Hidden Path Entertainment which was released in August 2012. It is the fourth game in the Counter-Strike series, developed for over two years, with the Linux version released in 2014.
CS:GO is a team-against-team multiplayer battle arena where the game pits two teams, Terrorists and Counter-Terrorists, against each other in different objective-based game modes.
CS:GO is one of the most popular games on the global eSports scene, consisting of leagues and tournaments hosted by third-party organisations as well as Valve-sponsored tournaments known as the Major Championships.
The Majors are considered to be the most prestigious tournaments in the Counter-Strike circuit and have some of the largest prize pools. Having originally started at US$250,000, the prize pools for the Majors have risen to US$1,000,000 since MLG Columbus 2016.
Astralis, a Danish eSports team, is the most successful CS:GO team of all time, with its core members having won four Majors in total.