The top 10 most hyped esports events of the year


By Corné Dubelaar

In 2017 esports is attracting more attention from mainstream media than ever. The big live events are often used to give esports a ‘face’ to the public. Rightfully so, many of the major events are the highlights of the esports year. Do you have any interest in esports, whether it is watching, working or investing, but have no idea what the biggest and best events are? In this blog, I will talk you through the top 10 most hyped events of the year.

10. FIFA Interactive World Cup (FIWC)

Every year, FIFA sells between 15 and 20 million copies of its newest release. Although it is heavily played and many gamers buy FIFA every year, it is a relatively small game in esports. FIFA is a console game; their player base is split between the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One. This provides a challenge for organizing tournaments.

With the introduction of Weekend League in FIFA 2016, EA provided players a way to qualify for offline regional tournaments. These regionals are qualifiers for the FIFA Interactive World Cup (FIWC), FIFA’s official World Championship. With this construction, EA has created a hype spanning multiple months preceding the FIWC. This years’ FIWC was played in London, on both the PS4 & the Xbox One. Both consoles had different brackets leading up to the ultimate final. This grand final was played on both consoles. The production quality was good and the tournament received a lot of media attention. EA smartly used former and current football pros (Ruud Gullit & Alvaro Morata) to boost its promotion. Ultimately, Spencer “Gorilla_Unilad” Ealing took home the trophy and a check worth $200,000.

9. GSL

Koreans are the best at StarCraft and South Korea is the StarCraft Mecca. The best players compete in the GSL (Global StarCraft II League). This tournament is organized three times a year, offering a prize pool of $150,000. A few years ago, at the start of the current esports hype, the GSL was easily regarded as the most intense tournament in any game. The level of skill displayed and the hype was immense. With the arrival of new titles such as League of Legends, Counter-Strike (CS:GO) and Dota 2, StarCraft 2 has lost a lot of its market share and prestige. Nevertheless, the GSL is still regarded as one of the most difficult tournaments to win and therefore, deserves a spot on this list.

8. Call of Duty World League Championship

This year, the Call of Duty World League Championship was held for the fifth time by Activision. The tournament, held in Orlando (Florida), would determine the World Champions for the Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare season. This year’s prize pool reached a total of $1,500,000. A hefty prize pool, but Call of Duty was also the bestselling console game in 2016.

Call of Duty is a very fast-paced game in comparison to more strategical shooters like Counter-Strike. There is a constant stream of action for the viewer to enjoy. Teams compete in a series of intense objective game modes, each with its own rules, styles, and strategies. Hardpoint is the fastest playing game mode in competitive Call of Duty, with a series of rotating objectives that keep players on the move. Throughout the course of a match, players from both sides attempt to hold these positions to earn points for their teams.

There are few things more exciting than a Hardpoint game decided on a final hill. Everything is on the table at that point. So often it comes down to that one gunfight that makes the difference between a heart-stopping victory and a heartbreaking defeat. Explosive and fast gameplay combined with a high production value earn the CoD world championships a place in the top 10.

7. PGL & ESL Majors

The PGL Majors are organized by the tournament organizers PGL (Professional Gamers’ League) and the ESL Majors, to nobody’s surprise, are organized by ESL (Electronic Sports League). They are not the same tournament, but they are highly comparable and therefore, share a spot on this top-10-list. Both PGL and ESL collaborate with Valve to organize these majors. The events feature Valve’s Dota2 and Counter-Strike (CS:GO) and are organized a couple of times a year. Both tournaments have big prize pools ($1,000,000 to $3,000,000), good casters, panel desks and have quality productions. These tournaments can be identified as your bread-and-butter high-level tournaments. These tournaments provide a production level every tournament should strive for.

6. Dreamhack

The oldest tournament on this list is Dreamhack. This event is the grandfather of gaming LAN’s & esports events. Since its start in 1994 (!) Dreamhack evolved from a small LAN into a ‘digital festival’. It is a bi-annual event (a winter & summer edition) and every edition lasts 4 days.

During the event, many tournaments are organized across a wide range of games. Not only featuring the big titles but also featuring smaller, lesser known titles. During the tournament, thousands of gamers play their games on their own computers connected to the Dreamhack LAN. Combine this with the cold Swedish weather in Jönköping and you have a recipe for an awesome indoor event capable of creating many interesting storylines.

5. EVO (Evolution Championship Series)

EVO is the largest and longest-running fighting game tournament in the world. It features fighting games such as Street Fighter, Tekken and Super Smash Bros. Melee. The official EVO website features an interesting quote: “Evo brings together the best of the best from around the world in a dazzling exhibition of skill and fun, as players and fans gather to honor the competitive spirit in an open format and determine a champion."

"Our tournaments are about more than just winning. Evo is open to anyone, feature stations available for relaxed free play, and offer unique opportunities to meet people from different countries and different walks of life who share your passion. Established champions face off against unknown newcomers, and new rivals that might have only talked or fought online meet up and become old friends.”

This quote really depicts the spirit of EVO. It is more than just a tournament. People go there to share their passion for fighting games. This makes EVO special. The public is very knowledgeable and passionate about the games, giving the tournament setting an extra spark. Over the years EVO has created its own stars like Justin Wong, Daigo and Armada. Each year people speculate if these heroes can still do their magic or if a newcomer can crush the tournament.

4. IEM Katowice

Every year, in Katowice, Poland, ESL organizes arguably the most all-round tournament of the year. For two weeks, this tournament features many different games like League of Legends, CS:GO, StarCraft II and Heroes of the Storm and a spread prize pool of $688,750. The stadium is perfectly suited for esports events and ESL spares no expense on making sure the visitor gets the experience of a lifetime. Googling for the best esports pictures will likely show pictures from Katowice.

Many players regard winning an IEM as a milestone and many esports enthusiasts love to visit IEM Katowice. So, it’s not a surprise that the tournament keeps growing in popularity. The only thing stopping it from becoming the number one, is the lack of world championships. Those are held in different places. Nonetheless, if you ever have the chance, go visit it. This Polish tournament won’t disappoint. 

3. League of Legends World championship

League of Legends is the most played esports in the world and receives a lot of media attention and investor money. While North America, Europe, China and South Korea all have their own domestic competitions, they all lead to one goal: The World Championship, with a prize pool of over $5,000,000. This flagship tournament really showcases a lot of talent. Out of millions of players, only a select few get to play on this big stage. The production value is sky high, with nice decors and professional commentary.

It can boast impressive viewership numbers. It is the most watched esports event in the world with the 2016 League of Legends World Championship achieving 43 million unique viewers, peaking at 14.7 million concurrent viewers.

In the last four years the Korean scene, led by SK Telecom T1, has been dominating the international League of Legends tournaments. Only few active followers believe the Western teams can seriously compete for the gold medal. This does hurt the popularity and hype a bit, but other than that, this is a tournament you definitely don't want to miss.

2. BlizzCon

BlizzCon is a video game convention held by Blizzard Entertainment to promote its major franchises Warcraft, StarCraft, Diablo, Heroes of the Storm and Overwatch (combined $2,750,000 prize pool). It has been held yearly in Anaheim, California since 2005.

The convention features game-related announcements, previews of upcoming Blizzard Entertainment games and content, Q&A sessions and panels, but most importantly, very big tournaments featuring above mentioned Blizzard games.

Blizzard makes games with a certain vibe and people who love it, really love it. This can be felt during the tournaments at BlizzCon. The atmosphere is very positive and the competition is ruthless.

Because the tournaments are a part of the convention, the building is filled with Blizzard art. This adds a whole extra dimension to the experience. Well worth putting BlizzCon very high on the hype list.

1. The International

Dota 2 is a competitive action/strategy game, with two teams of 5 players competing head to head, played professional and casual by millions of passionate fans worldwide. Although it is not the biggest game in terms of active players, its maker, Valve, does host the biggest tournament in terms of prize money. The International has existed since 2011 and every year the tournament gets larger and attracts more attention.

And oh boy, this tournament delivers in terms of hype. Valve came up with a fantastic strategy to create hype and buzz around their highlight of the year.

First, Valve created a structure of (qualifying) tournaments throughout the year that leads up to The International. Because of this structure the hype for the international (organized in August) starts months before. Many fans start to get hyped if their favorite teams do well during the qualifications.

Secondly, and at least as important, is the Compendium (also known as the Battle Pass). Players can purchase this item in game for real money. This item gives the player the option to do many extra things in game. But a purchase of this item also supports The International. 25 percent of the money spent on these items goes into the prize pool of The International. Together with a baseline prize pool financed by Valve ($1,600,000) the total prize pool reaches record-breaking numbers each year. This years' prize pool was an astonishing $24,787,916! Making this years’ winners – Team Liquid - instant millionaires. No other event comes even close to this number.
The prize pool helps to attract the attention of mainstream media, but the real reason why the International has the number one spot on this list is the gameplay and the battle between West and East. Dota 2 (same goes for CS:GO & League of Legends) has a gameplay which allows for showcasing a high level of skill. Great plays lead to wins, comebacks that seem impossible happen all the time. This leads to memorable moments at a frequent pace. You don't want to miss a second of the game as you might miss the highlight of the tournament. Combine this with great commentary and you will understand the hype of this YouTube-movie, even if you have no idea what is going on.
In many of the other tournaments mentioned in this list either Western (Europe & America) or Eastern (South Korea, Japan, China) teams dominate a game. But Dota 2 is one of the very few games in which both parts of the world go toe-to-toe in achievements. One year the Western fans can cheer while their teams win and the next year an Asian team can emerge victoriously. This makes up for a very cool dynamic. Once you start to know Dota 2 and watch the International you're hooked and hyped and will watch it every year! You have been warned.

… and predicting newcomers in 2018

One title that has been steadily growing in esports is Rocket League. This game is a direct competitor to FIFA. Essentially, it is a football/soccer game, but instead of football players, you play with cars. It is easy to watch and play, but difficult to master. It has the tools to become a major esports. It is already featured in some tournaments but has not received the level of hype of some of the other tournaments on this list. It is probably a matter of time before an existing major tournament starts to feature Rocket League or a new Rocket League tournament rises to the spotlight.

Finally, PUBG (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds) is a multiplayer survival game in which the goal is to survive the longest by eliminating your opponents. This game is becoming increasingly popular among gamers. It is currently the most played game on Steam. This king-of-the-hill play style is suited to be used in an esports-format. This years’ Gamescom featured a pilot tournament and the viewer base on Twitch was gigantic. With some tweaking in the gameplay, we can expect this to be one of the breakout games in esports in 2018.

Corné Dubelaar

Pioneer and Business Developer eSports

"Streaming is the future of entertainment."

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