THE BIGGEST VIDEO GAME TOURNAMENTS IN THE WORLD
(AND HIGHEST PAYING)
Over the last few years, the video game market has been unstoppable, reaching a value of $175.8 billion in 2021. The boom period has shown no signs of slowing down either, with analysts predicting the market value of the global video game industry to crack the $200 billion mark by 2023.
Out of this unprecedented growth, a new profession has risen—Esports player. Esports is a form of competition where people play video games in organized multiplayer and solo tournaments. Over $200 million in prize money was awarded across 5,400 tournaments in 2019, and that number has only increased in subsequent years. All over the world, new and old Esports competitions are offering record-breaking prize money for players.
Biggest Prize Pool to Date: Over $40 million is being offered for the 2021 tournament
Game Played: Defense of the Ancients 2 (Dota 2)
First Established: 2011
Number of Tournaments so Far: Nine
Description: The International is arguably the largest Esports competition in the world, or it at least has the biggest prize pool, with over $40 million on offer in 2021. Since The International in 2013, the prize pool has been crowdfunded through microtransactions in the regular game during the year, with 25 percent of the funds funneling directly into the pot. This system has seen the overall prize money grow every year since the competition's debut in 2011.
Millions of fans tune in every year to watch the annual World Championship and witness teams battle it out in the virtual world of Dota 2 for millions in prize money, the Aegis of Champions trophy and ultimate bragging rights. The tournament's standard format has 12 teams earning a direct invite based on the Dota Pro Circuit results, and six from regional qualifying playoff brackets in North and South America, Southeast Asia, China, Europe, and CIS regions.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, The International was postponed in 2020, leaving the winners of the 2018 and 2019 events—OG—as the reigning champions. However, that could all change in 2021, with the latest tournament scheduled to take place in Bucharest, Romania after a last-minute change from the original location in Stockholm, Sweden.
LEAGUE OF LEGENDS WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
Biggest Prize Pool to Date: $6.45 million in 2018
Game Played: League of Legends
First Established: 2011
Number of Tournaments so Far: Ten
Organizer: Riot Games
Description: League of Legends is one of the oldest multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games on the market. Coming out in 2009, the game still has a solid following, which has helped make the League of Legends World Championship one of the most popular tournaments in the history of Esports. The 2018 event reached viewership numbers to rival an NFL Super Bowl, with an estimated 90 to 200 million people watching the event at different times.
The annual tournament welcomes the best League of Legends players from the regular Esports season to fight it out for millions in prize money, and the Summoners Cup, which weighs 70 pounds and requires the whole team to lift. Like other large Esports competitions, part of the prize money is raised through regular players using microtransactions throughout the year, buying skins and other add-ons for the game.
Through this format, the overall pot for the League of Legends World Championship hit an all-time high of $6.45 million in 2018. COVID-19 restrictions have disrupted recent events, but the Championship is still going strong with a shift to online play and reduced spectator numbers for 2020 and 2021.
PUBG GLOBAL CHAMPIONSHIP
Biggest Prize Pool to Date: Over $6 million on offer in 2021
Game Played: PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG)
First Established: 2018
Number of Tournaments so Far: Three
Organizer: PUBG Corporation
Description: The final event of the regular PUBG Competitive Season, the PUBG Global Championship, invites the best teams throughout the year to compete for the top prize. Despite PUBG’s popularity, the prize pool has yet to reach the eye-watering sums of other Esports tournaments. However, with $6 million on offer in 2021, the competition still offers some of the most lucrative prizes in the professional video games scene. Like Dota 2, most of the PUBG Global Championship’s prize pool is generated through microtransactions in the game.
CALL OF DUTY LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP
Biggest Prize Pool to Date: Over $4 million in 2020
Game Played: Call of Duty
First Established: 2013
Number of Tournaments so Far: Eight
Description: An annual Call of Duty tournament held at the end of each competitive season, the Call of Duty League Championship attracts the best players in the world. The first Championship was held in 2013, with teams playing Black Ops II on Xbox 360s; Fariko Impact ultimately won the day and the $400,000 championship prize. Each subsequent tournament has used the current generation console and the latest Call of Duty game.
To determine qualification, teams play through events before the World Championship, earning their way to the most prominent Call of Duty competition in the world. The prize pool has steadily increased from $1 million at the inaugural event, to over $4 million in 2020. Unfortunately, COVID-19 restrictions have forced the tournament to an online-only format, and the prize pool lowered to $2.5 million.
The Championship has proven so popular with audiences and players, Activision and Sony Mobile created the Call of Duty: Mobile Championship as an offshoot of the original event. However, COVID-19 restrictions saw the tournament scuttled, and the $750,000 prize pool divided between the seven teams who qualified for the Finals.
FORTNITE WORLD CUP
Biggest Prize Pool to Date: Over $30 million in 2019
Game Played: Fortnite
First Established: 2019
Number of Tournaments so Far: 1
Organizer: Epic Games
Description: Fortnite is easily one of the most popular video games in the world, with at least a hundred million new player accounts registering every year since the game's debut in 2017. This popularity inspired Epic Games to hold the first Fortnite World Cup in 2019, with over $30 million in prize money on offer. The three-day spectacle ended with 16-year-old Kyle Giersdorf winning the solo competition, while David W and Emil Pedersen won the duo finals.
Players from over 200 countries competed in the Online Open Qualifiers for the chance to participate. Fans came out in force as well, with over 20,000 tickets sold, and several million watching online through streaming platforms. The 2019 was the first, and to date, last Fortnite World Cup, with COVID-19 restrictions forcing the 2020 and 2021 tournaments to be cancelled. At this stage, it's unclear if the Fortnite World Cup will ever return, but it leaves behind a legacy as one of the largest Esports tournaments in history.
EVO CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
Biggest Prize Pool to Date: $72,270 in 2015
Game Played: Fighting games
First Established: Known as Battle by the Bay from 1996 to 2001. Changed to EVO Championship Series from 2002 to present
Number of Tournaments so Far: Six Battle by the Bay’s, 19 EVO Championship Series events
Organizer: Sony Interactive Entertainment and the Endeavor esports venture RTS
Description: Unlike many other Esports tournaments, the Evolution Championship Series, or Evo, is open to anyone who wants to sign up. Focusing exclusively on fighting games, the competition began life as the Battle by the Bay, but changed to the current format in 2002. Founded by Tom Cannon, who worked at a fighting game website, the first event in 1996 had a 40-man Super Street Fighter II Turbo and Street Fighter Alpha 2 tournament in Sunnyvale, California. The competition eventually changed locations to the Las Vegas Valley around 2005.
One of the oldest organized gaming competitions still running, Evo has seen growth in players and attendees since its inception. In 2004, further changes were made to the format, with the old arcade cabinets swapped out for gaming consoles. In 2021, the event was acquired by Sony Interactive Entertainment and the Endeavor esports venture RTS. The prize pool is on the small side for an Esports competition, but players who manage to make the top five can still go home with a few thousand dollars.
HONOR OF KINGS WORLD CHAMPION CUP
Biggest Prize Pool to Date: 50,000,000 CNY in 2021 (Roughly $8 million USD)
Game Played: Honor of Kings
First Established: 2016
Number of Tournaments so Far: Six
Organizer: Tencent Games, VSPN
Description: Rounding out the list is the largest mobile Esports tournament in the world, the Honor of Kings World Champion Cup. Starting in 2016, the competition has the best Honor of Kings players battle it out in the online battle arena with their iOS, and Android mobile devices. Each year the fanbase and prize pool has seen constant growth, reaching an all-time high of ¥50,000,000 in 2021. This year's Grand Final took place on August 28, at the National Olympic Sports Center in Beijing, where team QG Happy walked away with a cool ¥21,000,000 or $3,242,344 USD.