Competitive gaming has been a popular pastime for decades, but the money and industry around the top esports games is a relatively recent development. Esports doesn't mean some pals playing Mario Kart in a bedroom; esports is a multi-billion dollar industry that includes a plethora of titles in every genre, from shooters to simulators and everything in-between. In no particular order, here are the top esports games in 2020 based on a number of factors, including viewership, events, and overall success.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Eight years since the launch of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) and it has maintained its position as one of the top esports games in the world, with frequent updates to the game, a lucrative market in weapon skins and knives, and a flurry of events every year. Alongside ongoing leagues like the BLAST Premier and ESL Pro League, 2020 has plenty of top tier tournaments like IEM Katowice 2020, DreamHack Anaheim, and both ESL One events in Rio de Janeiro and Cologne respectively.
When it comes to viewership, the biggest tournament in 2019 for CS:GO was the IEM Katowice major, which accumulated 1.2 million views with a $1 million prize pool. This is another million in the total prize money awarded since 2013, which is currently at just over $91 million. The HLTV events (opens in new tab) page has all of the upcoming CS:GO esports action you can tune into or if you fancy competing yourself, jump in-game and play some ranked to test your mettle.
League of Legends
Perhaps the most famous esport in the world, League of Legends (LoL) is one of two Massive Online Battle Arenas (MOBAs) dominating the esports industry. It's been almost 11 years since LoL launched, and the grand total prize money awarded is a whopping $73.5m across over 2,400 events. South Korea is by far the most popular and successful market for LoL, with eight of the top 10 earners hailing from the nation. In fact, only one player in the top 25 — Luka "PerkZ" Perkovic — comes from a country other than South Korea or China, showing the popularity and dominance of the two Asian countries within LoL.
When it comes to active players, a report (opens in new tab) from last year states that there's around eight million concurrent active players in League every day, so while that's less than Fortnite (which is available on almost every platform under the sun), it's by far the most popular PC game. If you're interested in watching some League of Legends esports, head on over to the official League of Legends esports schedule (opens in new tab). Alternatively, you can play ranked in-game to see how you stack up.
Some will say Fortnite (opens in new tab) isn't a proper esport due to Epic's tendency to roll out changes right before big events and reluctancy to maintain a healthy competitive metagame, but that doesn't detract from the fact that over $80 million has been given out in rewards in just over two years. The game took the world by storm when it launched in September 2017 and while the buzz in the general media has died out, the esports scene is still thriving.
Last year saw the biggest Fortnite esports event ever; the Fortnite World Cup in New York City. Nothing has been confirmed yet for 2020 but everyone is expecting Epic Games to ramp up the stakes for the next World Cup. Thanks to the amount Epic gave out during 2019, Fortnite quickly surpassed most other esports titles to have the third all time highest prize total, surpassed only by CS:GO and DotA 2.
How many people play Fortnite (opens in new tab) is a question plenty of people ask, and as of March 2019 – so almost a year ago – Fortnite had 250 million registered users. Ask any random person on the street and chances are they'll have heard of Fortnite, even if they're not able to tell you exactly what it's about, which shows just how quickly Fortnite grew. The official Fortnite competitive (opens in new tab) page lists all the upcoming events and has everything you need to know, or play some of the in-game tournaments to see if you're good enough to compete yourself.
Dota 2 is the only direct competitor to League of Legends and it comes from Valve, the same studio behind CS:GO. While LoL is immensely popular in Asian regions, the top 25 earners in Dota 2 are spread across 16 different nations, including the U.S.A, China, France, and Romania.
When it comes to prize money, Dota 2 blows every other title out of the water thanks to the method of funding used. The International is the name of the annual event and in the build-up, fans can purchase what is known as the "Compendium" in-game which contains all sorts of content from new modes and consumables to cosmetics and challenges. 25% of all proceeds go towards The International prize pool, which meant that The International 2019 had a whopping $34.3m available, on top of the $200m+ that has been on offer over the years.
Despite having the largest prize pools, Dota 2 doesn't shine a light to LoL's player count. The average player count for the last few months is just under 400k according to SteamCharts (opens in new tab), approximately 5% of what LoL allegedly gets. To tune in to any upcoming events, take a look at the Dota 2 Liquidpedia page (opens in new tab). Fancy a wedge of that enormous prize pool yourself? Play some ranked and see if you can handle it.
Call of Duty
One of the only esports to be played on console, the competitive Call of Duty scene is unique in the fact it moves on to a brand new title every year. Thanks to Call of Duty's annual release schedule, players have to learn the ins and outs of a whole new game every October. Right now, we're on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (opens in new tab) and just like Activision has been doing with Overwatch for the last few years, the COD League has moved to a franchise-based system.
This means there's 12 location based teams across North America and Europe such as the London Royal Ravens, Los Angeles Guerillas, and Toronto Ultras. While previous years have had a few large scale events throughout the season, you can tune into live Call of Duty esports almost every two weeks as the 12 teams compete for a total of $6 million. Check out the full schedule on the official Call of Duty League page (opens in new tab) and take a look at our guide on how to watch the COD League (opens in new tab).
When it comes to the Call of Duty player count, since it's played across so many different platforms and Activision doesn't release official numbers, there's no way to know for certain. We do know however that the game has passed the $1 billion mark and that Call of Duty is still one of the most popular franchises in the world. At the time of writing, Modern Warfare doesn't have a ranked queue in-game, but you can enter via the CDL Challengers (opens in new tab) open league.
Overwatch 2 (opens in new tab) may be on the horizon this year, but the first game is still succeeding as an esport and has been for a good few years now. The Overwatch League has a whopping 20 teams that compete over 26 weeks for their share of $5 million and now we're into the third season, it means things should be fairly smooth sailing. Long gone are the days of the Shanghai Dragons losing 42 matches on the bounce (opens in new tab) because every team is more than capable of winning each match.
When it comes to Overwatch esports, South Korea and the U.S.A are the dominant countries, with 24 of the top 25 top earners hailing from either one (the only other player is from Sweden). Almost $22 million has been dished out so far and while the seasonal playoffs are the culmination of the top teams, the Overwatch World Cup (opens in new tab) is perhaps the most exciting tournament to watch as a fan so you can root for your country.
Coming up in the Overwatch League schedule (opens in new tab) are matches starting on February 8 running all the way until mid-August, followed by the World Cup later in the year. Although every platform has ranked play, Overwatch esports is only on PC. You can get stuck in by competing in the Overwatch Open Division (opens in new tab) once you're confident enough in your abilities.
Of course, these aren't the only esports. There's hundreds of games played at a competitive level, including Farming Simulator – seriously (opens in new tab). Titles that just missed out on a spot in the top list include both PUBG (opens in new tab) and Apex Legends (opens in new tab), two successful battle royale games that are unfortunately living in the shadow of Fortnite. There's also PUBG Mobile, which is impressively even more popular than its mainstream counterpart.
FIFA 20 (opens in new tab) deserves a mention too, as the most successful sports esport, with multiple tournaments throughout the year including the ePremier League in partnership with the actual Premier League. Then there's Hearthstone, Blizzard's Warcraft inspired card game; Rainbow Six Siege, a tactical shooter with countless events throughout the year; and Rocket League, a sports-driving hybrid that is one of the easiest esports to watch and understand. That's not even mentioning the number of fighting games like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Super Smash Bros, and the like.
If a video game can be played competitively online, there's a big chance it has an esports scene, even if it's not one of the biggest. Scour the web and you'll undoubtedly find something for your favourite title.