The rapid development of esports in recent years dismantled stereotypes about players being nerdy kids living at their parent’s house. This is now a multi-billion dollar industry with fans all over the globe and young gamers striving to become so-called e-athletes.
Data compiled by PuntForFree shows that esports generated $950 million in revenue in 2020 alone. Giants like Mercedes Benz are now sponsoring esports teams and events. In short, it’s a big deal.
A major component of this gaming gold rush are esport tournaments where participants are cashing in on everything from the competition to lucrative sponsorship deals. So, what are the biggest tournaments every esports fan should know about?
This is the largest Dota 2 tournament of all time. First held in 2011, The International was quickly crowned as the record-breaking esports event thanks to its massive prize pool. The 2014 edition was the first esports event to break the $10 million mark.
From there, the only way was up, and in 2019, The International hosted the top 16 teams that competed for nearly $35 million in cash prizes. That year, the winning team OG took home $15.6 million.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, getting to The International is no easy task. Over the course of several months, the teams need to compete on the Dota Pro Circuit to earn qualifying points. Valve, the organizer, invites 12 of the highest ranking teams after the season ends, while the four remaining teams qualify through regional qualifiers.
Thanks to The International, Dota 2 is king. This year’s edition of the tournament is set to break another record with a $40 million prize pool, according to Liquipedia. Aside from the main event, there are several Minors and Majors – these are localized tournaments where up-and-coming teams can prove their worth to get in the big leagues.
League of Legends World Championship
Dota’s biggest competitor, League of Legends, is another MOBA with big prize pools and spectacular esports events. The biggest one is, of course, the final event of the year – the League of Legends World Championship or Worlds for short.
While the prize pool for Worlds isn’t nearly as big as The International’s, this year it starts at a rather humble $2.2 million – there is a big difference in how Riot Games handles its leagues. All of the teams that qualify for the League of Legends Championship Series or LCS earn a salary directly from the organizer.
Teams will first need to enter the LCS by playing in the Challenger Series. The top 20 competitors form the European and North American divisions of LCS. Aside from that league, three more Asia-based leagues feed into the final pool for Worlds.
Fortnite World Cup
The world’s most popular battle royale game was bound to join the esports world sooner or later. It’s now synonymous with making millionaires out of tournament winners.
Fortnite World Cup has two brackets – solos and duos – each with their respective prize pool of $15 million. Like in regular Fortnite matches, 100 players enter the final, and only one of them emerges as the winner. The duos have two winners.
In 2019, Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf took home the title of the best Fortnite player in the world and a juicy $3 million prize, while Emil “nyhrox” Pedersen and David “aqua” Wang split the $3 million prize as the best Fortnite duo.
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the Fortnite World Cup is on hold. Since this is an in-person event with hundreds of players, Epic Games postponed the next edition to hopefully no later than summer 2022.
Intel Extreme Masters
Moving on to the highly popular Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. This competitive FPS has seen so many amazing tournaments and leagues, but Intel Extreme Masters or IEM stands out.
It’s also the longest-running Counter-Strike tournament, dating back to 2006 before most of the games on this list were even conceived. This was an Electronic Sports League event, and although games like Quake, Warcraft, and Starcraft made appearances throughout the years, the event has always been dominated by CS players.
The IEM is currently in its 16th season with three ongoing regional tournaments, one for Europe, one for Southeast Asia, and another in North America. For the main events, Katowice and Cologne are regular hosting cities, each with a $1 million prize pool.
A proverbial dinosaur among esports events, Evolution Championship Series or EVO is the longest-running tournament in both the world of esports and fighting games. It started out as a friendly gathering of Street Fighter enthusiasts and quickly grew to become a force to be reckoned with.
Every year, EVO runs several tournaments for contemporary fighting games. This year, the roster includes Street Fighter V, Mortal Kombat 11, Tekken 7, Guilty Gear, and Skullgirls. Players are free to participate in as many games as they wish if they manage to get through the excruciating qualifying rounds that precede the main Las Vegas-based event.
However, the prize pools can’t match those at MOBA tournaments. Players do have many ways to earn extra cash, though, including through side tournaments and leagues, as well as streaming.
Of course, for many, it’s not about the cash but rather the passion for the game they love. If the legendary EVO Moment 37 taught us anything, it’s that the fighting game community is hype personified.
DreamHack started as the biggest LAN party in the world where thousands of attendees would bring their own computers and play video games in the biggest local area network. Naturally, tournaments became a part of DreamHack, with the recent offshoot into professional esports with DreamHack Masters.
This is another CS:GO tournament, and its latest edition, DreamHack Masters Spring, awarded the winning team a cash prize of $100,000 along with 1,000 ESL Pro Tour points. It has also moved away from its home country of Sweden, with winter and spring events running across the globe.
DreamHack is a great place for prospective CS:GO teams to make a name for themselves and earn ESL points that help them advance in that league.
Honor of Kings World Champion Cup
If you’ve never heard of Honor of Kings or Arena of Valor, the first thing to know is that they’re the same game and absolutely huge in China. It’s another MOBA but for mobile. It’s the biggest mobile esports right now.
The World Champion Cup 2020 was held in Beijing, with a prize pool of $4.6 million. This is a game where, among its 100 million players, Asian competitors dominate the leaderboards. A few American teams have recently emerged, but the finals are usually an all-Chinese affair.
Honor of Kings players have earned a rather decent salary playing this game. The top 20 HoK players are each valued at $200,000 or more.
Overwatch World Cup
Blizzard Entertainment’s hero shooter has a rather massive following and even a professional league. But while it’s practically impossible for most players to reach the top of the Overwatch League, the World Cup is a whole other story.
An annual event held at BlizzCon, Overwatch World Cup is an invitation-only tournament where each team represents their nation in a big worldwide clash. Every nation can participate, as long as it has at least one player ranked among the top 500 in its region. The players then get to assemble a team and play to qualify for the World Cup.
In recent years, OWC was a tug of war between the US and South Korea. Both countries produced amazing Overwatch players, and it’ll be interesting to see whether the balance of powers changes once Overwatch 2 hits the scene.
This isn’t exactly an esports event but an important pro gaming event nonetheless. Twitch Rivals is a place where top streamers show off their skills.
All sorts of games are played at Twitch Rivals, including Apex Legends, Fortnite, Teamfight Tactics, Minecraft, Valorant, Call of Duty, and even chess – the ancient thinking game is soaring in popularity thanks to The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix.
Twitch Rivals is held as part of the annual TwitchCon live event. The prize pool is around $2 million, but it’s not unusual for publishers to provide extra cash incentives for their games the way Epic Games did with Fortnite during the 2019 edition of the tournament.
Naturally, a player will need to qualify through the streaming platform first before they get to play at Rivals.