Esports is the competitive arena of video gaming that has been slowly taking over the entertainment industry. To this day it’s still often discussed as a niche interest, somehow separate from the mainstream but the truth – and the figures – prove otherwise.
At South Korean PC bangs – sprawling public LAN gaming centers – Starcraft and League of Legends reign supreme but what esports are the most popular in North America. We take a look at the highlights of the professional gaming leagues in the USA and Canada.
ESPN, America’s leading sports broadcaster announced in 2016 that it would begin esports coverage, a move for many that could be interpreted as the sector’s acceptance into the mainstream. And since then the leagues have only grown in popularity and support.
To some extent a question mark remains over whether online poker can or should be considered an esport. The game is, after all, a faithful replica of a real world activity – but so are the FIFA soccer titles to a degree.
And other card games also exist within the sphere, Blizzard’s Hearthstone is one of the most widely supported esports, a title with many similarities to Magic: The Gathering which, coincidentally, also has its own online equivalent. Some online poker tournaments serve as stepping stones to real world competitions – as was the case when Chris Moneymaker became the first player to win a World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event bracelet that qualified in an online satellite tournament.
This event, now coined the “Moneymaker effect” was key in attracting a whole generation of new players to the game. And now online only tournaments are afforded the same prestige as their conventional counterparts, with similarly eye-watering prize funds.
Canadian poker players are just as likely, if not moreso, to play a game of poker in Ontario online from the convenience and comfort of their own home as they are to make their way to a brick and mortar casino and play in person. Swedish poker pro Simon Mattsson won the online only main event for the WSOP schedule of this year, outmuscling 4958 other entrants and taking home $2,793,574 in prize money.
An unlikely hit, Rocket League is a game that can be described simply as soccer played with rocket cars. Developed and published by Psyonix in 2015 up to eight players per team attempt, using a series of boosts and maneuvers, to navigate a ball across the map into the opposing team’s goal.
In 2016, the official esports league was launched, and by 2018 the game had amassed over 40 million players. The structure of the pro leagues is such that eight regional divisions compete in their own leagues.
At the end of each season the regional winners take part in a major LAN competition, and the top teams from each region go on to compete in the world LAN. On August 14 of this year, the French Team BDS came away as world champions winning a grand prize of $600,000.
The free-to-play Fortnite title from Epic Games has made headlines over the past few years with a series of high profile players. Canadian pop star Drake famously teamed up with Tyler “Ninja” Blevins to play the game and over 600,000 people tuned in on the streaming platform Twitch to witness it.
Fortnite is a third-person Battle Royale style shooter, based loosely on the concept of the 2000 Japanese movie of the same name, where solo players or teams scramble to be the last ones standing on a map that slowly decreases in size. Although most popular with content creators and high profile streamers, the competitive wing of the game culminates in the Fortnite Championship Series Grand Finals.
The North American East finals was won this year by Commandment and Avery in the duos on August 13th, claiming the grand prize of $160,000. Mero and Bugha narrowly missed out on the top spot but still earned $100,000 from their showing.
League of Legends
League of Legends commonly referred to as LoL or simply “League” is a team game in the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre. Originally released in 2009, the game still enjoys worldwide support from an enthusiastic fanbase.
Two teams of five players each choose their own champion with unique strengths and weaknesses and work together to destroy the opposition’s Nexus (base). One of the largest esports on the planet, this year’s Worlds will culminate on November 5 at the Chase Center in San Francisco, California.
Riot, the game’s developer announced the prize pool for this year’s competition at $2,225,000 which the top three teams from each region will be battling for a share of.
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Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Beginning life as a mod for Half-Life in 1999, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or CS:GO is the fourth first-person shooter in the series from developers Valve. Teams take on the role of terrorists or counter-terrorists in a series of objective based game modes.
The pinnacles of the game’s esports schedule are the official Majors. Each Major has a guaranteed prize fund of at least $1 million and the next date is the Intel Extreme Masters Rio Major 2022 which kicks off in Brazil on October 31.
Times are changing and the definition of what it means to be a professional athlete has morphed. One thing is certain with the top prizes in each of the esports disciplines at the level they are, it’s a viable career option for those willing to dedicate the time and effort in reaching the top.