What Are the Biggest Esports Games?

by Fabio

Esports have become an international phenomenon. As a growing market, they attracts ever more viewers and fans. The backbone of this industry is, of course, the competitive games. Without the likes of CSGO and Dota 2, there would be no esports at all. Esports come in all shapes and sizes. Strategy games, card games, shooters, racing games, there is a huge variety in what people want to compete in. The player bases also range from a few hundred thousands to hundreds of millions. Similarly, prize pool output is different between the games and some have made actual, literal millionaires of their players. So what are the biggest esports games?

The answer to this actually not as straightforward as you might expect. How do you measure ‘big’? Is it the amount of players or the amount of tournaments? Do you rather evaluate the viewing figures or the prize pool output? We try to tackle this question from four different angles.

What Are the Biggest Esports Games By Player Base?

For this category, we are considering only the most recent data on active players and player accounts. Here, Fortnite undoubtedly takes first place. Epic Games have reported over 350 million registered accounts and is said to have peaked at over 10 million concurrent users for a live in-game event. 

League of Legends closely follows suit. It is said to have reached nearly 8 million peak concurrent players in 2019. In 2017, a player base of 115 million summoners was reported, although this was the last time that RIOT have published any such figures. Reports have indicated that the player base has shrunk slightly since then. This may be a reason for the developers’ silence on the topic. 

The following titles were all released and playable through Steam, a company which makes all the player figures public. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds should theoretically be third in our list, as it has had an all-time peak of 3,236,027 players. Unfortunately, that was in 2017 and the numbers have dropped severely since then. In the last 30 days (as of writing this article), the peak was at 533.000. In comparison, Counter Strike Global Offensive has recorded 1.1 million concurrent players within the last month and had its all-time peak of 1.3 million in April of 2020. This is incredible, considering that the game is now almost eight years old. Dota 2 has had a similar success story. Although its peak of (almost) 1.3 million was way back in 2016, it is still going strong with up to 800.000 concurrent players per day. 

But of course, playing figures are not the only useful metric. Especially when it comes to esports, the total amount of players isn’t representative of the number of esports competitors and fans. 

What Are the Biggest Esports Games By Esports Hours Watched?

For the player base category, it was hard to come across solid and trustworthy data. Fortunately, Twitch viewership statistics are easier to obtain. In order to calculate the total esports hours watched for a specific time period, one would only have to list all the tournaments and add their figures together. Fortunately, Esports Charts have already analysed the most popular esports titles of 2019 by hours watched. Thanks for making our jobs easier!

Most popular esports games by hours watched in 2019 (via esc.watch)
Most popular esports games by hours watched in 2019 (via esc.watch)

Here, we can observe that League of Legends has been watched most during last year’s esports tournament circuit. Out of those 478 million hours, 137 alone can be attributed to the League of Legends World Championship. Worlds 2019 was the most-watched esports event of all time. While CSGO competitions have never received this much attention from fans, the sheer volume of events alone brings them to a comfortable second place. Dota 2 is just shy of that figure and has recorded similar watching hours throughout the year. The next esports titles are a considerable step down. With 81 and 72 million hours watched, respectively, Overwatch and Arena of Valor close out the top five. 

Some might argue that watching hours are an imperfect metric when it comes to gauging audience interest levels. But peak concurrent viewers only tell the story for one single moment in time and adding up all the individual viewers doesn’t let us measure how many of them actually tuned in for more than a few minutes.  

What Are the Biggest Esports Games By Prize Pool?

In the prize pool department, Dota 2 shatters all records. According to EsportsEarnings, Dota 2 tournaments have awarded over $224 million in prizes. CSGO is second in line, but with a mere $96 million it is more than $100 million behind. Fortnite, despite only featuring tournaments as of 2018, comes to a whopping $88 million, while League of Legends has only given out about $75 million so far.

In Dota 2, there are multiple Major events throughout the annual circuit, which always feature a six-figure prize pool. In addition to that, The International features record-breaking prize purses every year. Quite literally, the tournament would set the record and then break it each year, ever since The International 2013. 

Even the League of Legends World Championship doesn’t come close. Despite adding a percentage of in-game-revenue into the mix, the highest ever reported figure was at $6.54 million (for Worlds 2018). Fortnite has been able to catch up because of its World Cup Finals. The Solo and Duo tournaments each had a prize pool of $15 million, which made instant millionaires of the winners.  

After that, the figures fall drastically. StarCraft II comes in fifth with just $32 million. The original Counter Strike, Rainbow Six Siege, Overwatch, Hearthstone, and Heroes of The Storm have also totalled at over $10 million individually.  

What Are the Biggest Esports Games By Tournament Density?

Another category that we might think of is the amount of tournaments held per year. The more events, the more players can attend, the more fans can support, the more players can make a living off of the game. For this statistic, we’re combing through esportsearnings.com again and adding up all the bigger and smaller events for the year 2019.

It’s amazing to see how close the biggest esports titles are. In 2019, Dota 2 and League of Legends held 126 and 124 tournaments, respectively. This is overshadowing the figures from Overwatch, for example, which has only hosted 34 events throughout the year. Rainbow Six: Siege got 70 events done and PUBG went slightly ahead with 81. Fortnite and StarCraft II have achieved similar figures as the MOBA giants, with 114 and 123 events, respectively. 

But this is all shattered by the ridiculous 347 CSGO events that have taken place in 2019. With all the regional and domestic tournaments, DreamHack stops, trade fair events, show matches and Major events, the game has established itself as one of the most successful esports titles of all time. We should, however, note that StarCraft II has hosted the most events of all time. Over 5800 competitions were held with StarCraft II, which was released 10 years ago. 

But esports is an ever-changing landscape. As with Heroes of the Storm, some games just slowly fade away until the developer cuts support for the pro scene once and for all. All those numbers above tell us about the past of esports, but what about the future of these games?

Promotional image for the game 'Valorant'

What Are the Biggest Esports Games of the Future?

In the next few years, the esports landscape will likely change a lot. Some games are on the rise and about to firmly establish themselves as esports centerpieces, others have started their gradual decline. For instance, PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS has seen a sharp decline in viewership. The 2018 Global Invitational had recorded over 750.000 peak viewers, but for the Global Championship 2019 that number had dropped to 197.000 already. 

If RIOT do things right, we might see a new shooter gain esports stardom soon. With their new game, VALORANT, they appear to have struck the right mix between realistic shooters like CSGO and the fantasy, ability-based combat that we know from Overwatch. Judging from their success with establishing League of Legends as an esports classic, we can arguably trust in them to succeed with their newest title as well. Several notable players have jumped ship from CSGO and Overwatch, aiming to become VALORANT professionals. SK Telecom T1 and Sentinels have already established their squads, even though there haven’t been any official tournaments yet. With RIOT’s backing, this game is definitely set up to grow into one of the biggest esports of all time. 

Read this: Organizing an Esports Tournament, a Helpful Guide

Staying in the domain of shooters, Rainbow Six: Siege has also built up quite a committed esports fan base. It has taken them years to grow the game into a big competitive title, but their patience has paid out. Player numbers have reached peak values and their biggest tournaments attain six-figure viewership numbers.

While these games like to change ranks, the overall esports scene has been on a steady rise ever since its inception. Already, teams are playing each other in giant sports arenas. One day, we might see our favorite esports team battle it out in a SuperBowl-style fashion. Nobody knows what the esports landscape will look like at that point. Maybe the biggest esports title is yet to be developed.

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