Competitive gaming has been around since the PAC-MAN and Space Invaders days. But even Billy Mitchell and the rest of those pioneering players never could have predicted the heights to which eSports (as they are now called) would rise.
With such a low barrier to entry, global appeal, and increasing amounts of sponsorship and prize money at stake, the growth of competitive eSports appears to be exponential.
For those after gaming fame and fortune, here are the five most competitively played eSports that will reward you handsomely (if you can unlock the required achievements).
More gamers probably dream about reaching the pinnacle of Dota 2's competitive scene than that of any other eSports. It's not hard to see why given that the battle arena game has the largest prize pools, highest-profile tournaments, and most well-known star players.
The game's chief competition, The International, packs one chosen arena each year. In 2016, the tournament's final match had over 5.7 million tune in to watch online (which doesn't factor in those watching TV broadcasts). Some universities around the world have even taken to offering Dota 2 classes that aim to help students develop professional-level skills.
League of Legends
While Dota 2 may have larger cash prizes, League of Legends' massive player pool arguably makes it even harder to break into the game's upper echelon. For scale, if the game's 100 million monthly player base decided to band together and start its own country, it'd be the world's 14th largest.
The game's competitive scene has become such a global phenomenon that Olympic bid committee LA 2024 said they would try and include eSports in the 2024 Olympics if Los Angeles won the bid, citing the success of recent LOL tournaments. The game's 2016 World Championships were the most watched video game tournament in the world, drawing in 43 million online viewers and bringing 21,000 more to LA's Staples Center.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
The CS franchise has remained successful across multiple generations and platforms, and the latest installment in CS:GO has taken the series to unforeseen heights. GO's in-game purchase model helps funds massive tournaments hosted by developer Valve, such as the ELEAGUE Major Series. The most recent of these majors saw just 16 teams playing for a $1 million purse in front of 60 million viewers on YouTube, Twitch, TBS, and GOTV (CS: GO's in-game spectator mode).
These tournaments (and those for many other major eSports) can even be wagered on at most online sportsbooks like 888. The game's own betting system, where players wager in-game currency that can be used to buy rare skins, has also ramped up the series' competitiveness.
eSports have long been dominated by MOBAs, fighting games, FPSes, and RTSes, but Blizzard'sHearthstone is helping break that mold. Released in 2014, the collectible card game builds off Warcraft's lore in a free to play game that began being played competitively while it was still in beta.
The game's rapid growth to now over 70 million players has coincided with more tournaments and huge prize pools, such as the $1 million pot at stake at the 2017 World Championship. Crazy popular on Twitch and at Major League Gaming and Electronic Sports League events, Blizzard themselves have stated that the game's success as an eSports has been a pleasant surprise.
Blizzard has also been coy about the growing popularity of Overwatch. But the unique-looking FPS and distinct Blizzard-ness proved to be a recipe for eSports success shortly after its release in May 2016. The game's first international competition was held just months later at Gamescom, hosted by ESL with $300,000 in prizes.
Since then, US cable channel TBS had broadcasted live the final of their own Overwatch Open tournament, Blizzard has been pursuing team franchise owners for their Overwatch League, and according to Gametrics.com it has overtaken LoL as the most played game in Korea's several thousand public gaming centers (PC bangs).