eSports is a sporting phenomenon that has taken the younger generations by storm and has such an attractive force that it can fill a stadium that had never previously reached design capacity with roaring, shouting, screaming spectators. In its earliest days, eSports was commonly mocked by the mainstream media, who laughed at the prospect of video gaming becoming a sport. They were wrong. They said that watching other people play video games was ridiculous, and that it would never catch on.
Even when eSports events were packing out Wembley Stadium in London, the pastime still had its detractors. Arguably, the final hurdle was swiftly jumped when the major bookmakers began accepting bets on eSports matches, players, and tournaments via their land-based shops and online betting websites. If a sportsbook is taking bets on it, I’d say it’s a sport – wouldn’t you?
A Super Quick Re-Cap
Even dedicated online news sources and gaming blogs were forced to admit their surprise each year, however, when the hobby/industry’s intense growth continued to show a stunning upwards trend year after year. Today, this has now come to be expected; indeed, the next shock as far as interest and viewership of eSports is concerned will now only come when the numbers begin to fall, not rise. So what next for eSports?
The Most Popular Titles of 2021
Not so fast there. Before we talk about what’s next, we’re going to need just a little more context. Ranking video games can be a difficult task, not least because everybody has different tastes and opinions on what makes up a great video game. Traditionally, elements such as graphics/visuals, story, and realism have been much-desired elements of a great game, but the DNA of eSports titles can be very different.
While playability is something that is of critical importance in every video game, the multi-player playability of any eSports title is its lifeblood and will eventually always come to determine which games go the distance, and which end up being little more than a flash in the pan. Patches can sometimes help address urgent balancing issues, but sometimes mistakes are made at such a rudimentary level that only a brand new game will suffice.
Defense of the Ancients 2 (or DOTA 2, as you almost always hear it called) has been one of the hottest eSports titles for nearly a decade now, leading many to wonder if Valve is planning a sequel any time soon. The company did wait around a decade between the first DOTA game and its sequel, so it’s not an unfair question; at the same time, the title had 80 ultra-elite tournaments in 2021 made up of 904 players, with a combined prize pool of over 47 million dollars. It feels like this one might have a little bit more life left in it yet, wouldn’t you say?
A distant second in terms of prize money is another almost ancient game by modern standards – Counter-Strike: Global Offensive was built on a reworked Half-Life 2 engine and will celebrate its own tenth birthday next year. Player numbers have been dropping off over the past couple of years, but we have seen this happen before, only for things to turn around again the following year.
In third and fourth place is Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), which would take second-place if it were not for the somewhat arbitrary rules that say console and PC games must be ranked differently from those developed for mobile platforms such as smartphones and tablets. The Console/PC side had a prize pool circa. $16 million compared to $14 for the mobile tournaments, with tournament/player numbers of 37/493 and 18/554 respectively. It’s interesting to note the higher number of top-level players on mobile, despite the lower number of competitions.
The Most Hotly Anticipated eSports Titles of 2022
The trouble with trying to answer a question such as this is that eSports games tend to BECOME eSports games over a long period; it is unlikely that any game released next year will develop into a top-flight eSports competition game in under a year, not least because of the sheer scale that these events have now become.
Venues have to be booked months in advance at the very least, players need to get up to speed with the new game and learn how to play it to an elite standard, and a viewer base also has to grow – not something that happens overnight, even if we are talking about a sequel to an already extremely popular title.
Another thing that you may notice about eSports games is that they tend to be quite old; this isn’t a requirement as such, as newer games can be coded to have relatively minimal system requirements, but older games tend to run really, really, well on modern hardware – well enough for players to be able to achieve frame rates of 144hz and above, for example – this is one of the most important desires of all elite eSports champions.
The eSports scene in 2022 looks set to focus on many of the same games as in 2021, although expect there to be some movement and jostling for position amongst the games in the top 20 (sorted by total prize money).
Specifically, Apex Legends, CS: GO, DOTA2, Dragon Ball Fighter Z, Fortnite, The King of the Fighters XIV, League of Legends, Mortal Kombat 11, Overwatch, Rocket League, Samurai Shodown, StarCraft II, Street Fighter V, Super Smash Bros.: Ultimate and Tekken 7 are named as the games to watch, with multiple tournaments already confirmed for each of these games in 2022.