Largest Esports Events in Gaming

Updated: August 03,2022

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Did you know that video gaming is one of the most heavily watched sports in the world? And with good reason – esports events are thrilling to watch. Whether it’s a hotly contested one-on-one battle between StarCraft 2 professionals or an all-out team clash in Dota 2, these competitions offer something for everyone. 

But, how profitable are these gaming events, and how many people actually watch them? What are the largest pro gaming tournaments out there? Read on to find out.

The International

Games: Dota 2
Established: 2011
Largest prize pool: $40 million
Peak viewership: 2.7 million
Teams: 20
Current champion: Team Spirit (The International 2021)

The International is an annual esports gaming tournament for Dota 2 organized by Valve Corporation, the game developer. The first competition was fully sponsored by Valve and held as a promotional event for the game at the 2011 Gamescom in Cologne.

It became a standalone competition in 2012 and moved to Seattle, where it was held until 2017. After that, the tournament became an international event held in a different country each year.

While the first tournament had a ‘modest’ $1 million grand prize awarded directly by Valve, a battle pass called Compendium was introduced in 2013. This opened the game up for crowdfunding and quickly made it the esports competition with the highest prize pool in the history of gaming. 

The International is traditionally held in August each year. However, the 2020 tournament had to be postponed until October 2021 due to COVID-19. It broke all funding records, with a combined prize pool of over $40 million, and the winners, Team Spirit, took home $18.2 million.

The tournament underwent many structural changes over the years. The initial setup involved 16 teams invited to compete by Valve, but later on, the contest added wild cards and qualification rounds. 

The number of players increased to 18 in 2017, with 12 qualifying from the Dota Pro Circuit and six from the Regional qualifiers. For the 2022 edition, two more teams will join through the Last Chance Qualifier. 

As with most video game tournaments, the competition format also changed every year. Even so, the grand finals are always played as a best-of-five.

League of Legends World Championship

Games: League of Legends
Established: 2011
Largest prize pool:  $6.45 million
Peak viewership:  4 million
Teams: 24
Current champion:  EDward Gaming

While not as profitable for the players as The International, the LoL World Championship (or LoL World Worlds as it's often called) is arguably the largest esports championship in the world and certainly one of the most beloved esports tournaments in history.

Hosted and sponsored by the League of Legends creators Riot Games, the tournament draws record crowds each year, with nearly 100 million people watching the 2018 finals. It is traditionally held between October and November each year at venues around the world.

The main idea is similar to the ATP Finals at the end of the tennis season, mixed with, say, the World Cup in soccer. The tournament gathers the best teams worldwide, who compete in a month-long race for the title of world champion and the coveted Summoner's Cup.

As with most gaming competitions, the number of teams varies each year. There were just eight in 2011, whereas there are currently 24 teams. Regrettably, two Vietnamese teams weren’t able to make it due to travel restrictions last year. 

After the qualifiers, there are two play-in rounds and a group stage where four teams from the Play-In Stage join 12 teams with direct entry. This is followed by the playoffs, where eight teams play in a single elimination bracket with group winners playing runner-ups from other groups. All matches in the playoff stage are played in a best-of-five format.

Intel Extreme Masters (IEM)

Games: Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, StarCraft 2
Established: 2007
Largest prize pool:  $1 million
Peak viewership: 1.2 million
Teams:  24 (Rio Major 2022 - CS: GO)
Current champion: Counter-Strike: FaZe Clan; StarCraft 2: Lee "Rogue" Byung Yeol

One of the oldest gaming tournaments on our list, the IEM dates back to 2007. It was a simpler time when keyboard vs. controller debates were not really a thing in first-person shooters. Back then, professional gamers didn’t bother looking for a good controller on PC since keyboard and mouse were undisputed kings of the esports sector.

These Electronic Sports League (ESL) sanctioned tournaments began when Intel sponsored the 2006 ESL tournament in Europe. By 2008, the IEM had already become a worldwide event, with players and teams from Europe, North America, and Asia competing.

Unlike most esports competitions, the IEM doesn’t have a fixed list of games, though Counter-Strike has been present in all tournaments in its various forms. It is currently accompanied by StarCraft 2, but the competition previously saw the likes of Warcraft 3, Dota, Quake Live, World of Warcraft, and League of Legends.

Despite Valorant’s recent success and the fear that CS: GO may be a dying game, the two recent competitions in Cologne and Katowice saw peak viewership exceed 1.1 million. This showed that the IEM is still a beloved and relevant gaming tournament.

The tournament had many legendary players and clans, with Fnatic dominating the early years and FaZe Clan beating them recently, having won the Katowice and Cologne tournaments.

Other Notable Tournaments 

Compiling a short list of big gaming tournaments in 2022 is a tough task, as there are tons of popular esports titles and dozens of events that deserve mention for one reason or another. In line with that, we’re presenting additional noteworthy mentions below.

Evolution Championship Series

Evolution Championship Series or Evo is a legendary esports tournament with roots dating back to 1996. Originally called the Battle by the Bay and holding a Super Street Fighter II Turbo and Street Fighter Alpha 2 competition, it has since become the most significant gaming event in the Las Vegas Valley area.

Drawing hundreds of thousands of spectators despite the relatively modest rewards, this tournament expanded its lineup to include fighting games such as Mortal Kombat, Tekken, Guilty Gear, and Killer Instinct.

PUBG Mobile Global Championship

Like its desktop sibling, PUBG: Battlegrounds, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds quickly became a smash hit among players and viewers alike. 

After all, not many esports championships can say they’ve had 3.8 million peak viewers like PUBG Mobile: Season 0 or a prize pool of $2 million like the game’s 2021 Finals tournament.

While CS: GO veterans and Battle Royale haters may scoff at this newcomer, there’s no denying that developer KRAFTON and publisher Tencent were onto something with this game.

Fortnite World Cup

The International may boast the world's largest prize pool for team-based esports, but the Fortnite World Cup is the undisputed prize king of competitive solo games. 

Although the 2020 and 2021 editions were cut short by the COVID-19 epidemic, the whopping $30 million prize pool awarded in 2019 put the tournament on every gamer’s map and helped popularize Epic’s first-person shooter. 

Of all the competitive FPS games, Fortnite embraced controllers at the very outset and has since become a gold mine for Epic Games. Without a doubt, the game will see more tournaments with huge prize pools in the near future.

Final Thoughts

We’ve come to the end of our list of notable esports gaming tournaments that every gamer should know about. While we’ve covered some of the most important competitions on the esports schedule this year, there are dozens of others we have not even mentioned. 

For instance, these include the ESL and PGL tournaments for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, the LCS for League of Legends, the RLCS Rocket League tournament, the Overwatch League, and the FIFA World Cup. Let us know in the comments below what your favorite esports games and tournaments are, especially if they haven’t made our list - we’d love to hear from you!

FAQ

Is esports a sporting event?

Yes, definitely. A typical pro gaming tournament shares many elements with traditional sporting events. In both, highly skilled athletes compete against each other for prizes and recognition while TV (and sometimes live) audiences watch. 

What happens at an esports event?

That depends on the event in question, but generally, professional gamers compete against each other, either solo or as part of a team. They are organized in a similar way to traditional sports events, some being played like sports leagues and others like cups or knockout tournaments.

What esports events are coming up?

As of writing this article, we’ve yet to watch the Rocket League World Championships and Masters Tour 2022 (Hearthstone) in August. There are also the 2022 Asian Games starting in September, and the massive Dota 2 tournament, The International 11, in October, to name just a few.

What is the biggest esports event ever?

In terms of prizes, it would have to be Dota 2’s The International, which had a prize pool that exceeded $40 million in 2021. Regarding viewership, League of Legends tournaments tend to dominate here, with the LoL World Championship in 2016 drawing nearly 50,000 live spectators and 43 million online viewers.

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Ivan
ABOUT AUTHOR
Ivan

A true tech and gaming savant, Ivan has been fascinated by the digital world since the early days of gaming on antiques such as the ZX Spectrum and Commodore’s beloved Amiga. Whether you’re interested in the latest PC and console gaming news, antivirus software, or smartphone reviews, or simply want to learn about the newest geeky gadgets around, we at KT have you covered, and Ivan’s likely the one we’ll ask.

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