Esports Tournament Formats – All You Need to Know

Back in 2015, esports tournament formats were quite simple. However, in this day and age, and with over 15 different esports titles available, we are seeing a lot more being done in order to make things more competitive and enjoyable for both the players and the viewers. In this guide, we are going to talk about how esports tournaments work, how many stages they have, and much more.

Where to Bet on Esports Tournaments?

Let’s answer the ever-burning topic first. We all want to have a betting site that will cover a wide range of esports tournaments. On top of that, we are looking for a decent variety of betting markets and payment methods we can use, right?

With all of that in mind, we compiled a list of five esports betting sites that tick all of these boxes. Without further ado, here is the list.

  1. Pinnacle
  3. Rivalry
  4. Thunderpick
  5. Dafabet

What Are Esports Tournament Formats?

Esports tournament formats represent a set of rules that determine in which way the event is going to be played. This structure differs from one tournament to another. If we add leagues and qualifiers to the mix, we basically have an incredibly wide range of esports formats.

In this section, we will talk about the basics in regards to the most popular events. Bear in mind that this will help you a lot with esports betting as you will know what to expect and what matches you should pay attention to.


This is the most popular type of esports tournament. The way this type of event works is as follows. Everyone is able to qualify via the local or regional qualifier. ESL Challenger Melbourne has hosted quite a few regional qualifiers for their upcoming CSGO event. Everyone can apply for the qualifiers, but only a set amount of teams will come out on top and qualify for the main event.

These types of events are interesting for esports betting and here is why. The fact is, we will see a lot of uneven matches as a couple of not-so-good teams will qualify for the tournament. Use this information wisely when looking for potential bets.


This is not a common type of esports format. Not so long ago, the Roobet Cup took place. This CSGO tournament gathered a total of 16 teams that were all invited by the host. As expected, it was very hard to predict who is going to go all the way in this one as the skill gap between the top contenders was non-existent.

Another great example of a closed esports tournament structure can be found in the franchised Call of Duty League where all the teams competing are basically paying for their slot in the event. On top of that, League of Legends utilize a buy-in structure across every region they cover. LoL esports uses a unique way of competing as all of their leagues are franchised. There are four main regions(LEC – Europe, LCK – South Korea, LCS – North America, LPL – China) that had to buy their slot in these leagues, depending on the origin of the team they are fielding. It is important to note that all of this revenue will be split between the competitors, organizers, and Riot Games.

Let's talk money. The latest information regarding the price of LoL league slot happened back in 2021. Schalke 04 Esports sold their slot for the price of €30,000,000. The reality is, most esports teams do not have the amount of money needed to get in one of LoL esports league.

Mix of Open & Closed Esports Tournaments

Based on their prior showings and performances, certain teams will get invited to the tournament while a couple of spots are left for the teams that will qualify. In recent years, this has been a go-to option for most tournament organizers, especially in regards to CSGO, Dota 2, and VALORANT.

Understanding Tournament Stages

To make things easier for readers that want to learn more about esports tournaments and the way they work, we decided to create a three-step guide that should provide you with everything you need to understand how the tournaments work.

First and foremost, we already explained that most events have qualifiers put in place. This is the first stage of the event, getting a list of teams that are going to compete for the main prize pool. Let’s not forget to mention that this is not a necessary step for the invitational tournaments as there are no qualifiers there.

With that being said, let’s move toward the next step, that being the group stage. This is where the underdogs try their best to clinch a spot in the playoffs. In most cases, teams are split into a couple of groups. Teams from one group compete only against each other in the same group. Depending on the tournament, either one, two, or three teams from each group will book themselves a spot in the playoffs.

The third stage or so-called playoffs will commence after the group stage has been concluded and we have a list of teams that booked themselves a spot to compete on the big stage. Keep in mind that this is the final stage and the winner will be determined here.

Types of Matches

Not all esports games are based on winning maps, so we can’t apply this knowledge to the battle royale genre such as Fortnite, PUBG, or Apex Legends. As for the other popular titles for esports betting like Dota 2, League of Legends, CSGO, CoD, etc… the game itself is based on winning the map.

When the tournaments are announced, alongside the structure itself, we also get information about the types of matches that are going to be played. Most esports tournament formats use a combination of these types of matches that we will break down below.

Best of 1

This type of match can be found in many LoL leagues (LCS, LEC, LPL, LCK, etc.). Basically, teams are only playing one match to determine the winner. This format is also used in many VALORANT and CSGO events for the opening matches.

There is no denying that this method will allow for more matches to be played, it is much faster, but it is not very good for esports betting, especially if you only bet on the favourites. The risk-to-reward ratio for best of one matches is not as rewarding as there is no room for mistakes.

Best of 3

When it comes to esports betting, this should be the go-to format for anyone who wants to make money while wagering. A maximum of three matches can be played in this type of format. If both teams win one map each, then a decider must be played. To make it easier for you to understand, whoever wins two maps first has won the series.

If you are wondering where this format is used the most, let us help. As we already mentioned, CSGO tournaments often use the best of one format for the opening matches. After that, the teams will proceed to play in the best of three format. Dota 2 is also known for using this format in most of its events.

Best of 5

The fact is, you are not going to see this format used that often. It is mostly designated for the playoffs of certain events such as LoL Worlds. Bear in mind that the tournament with the biggest prize pool in esports history also relies on the best of five format, but only for the grand finals.

One of the main reasons why this format is only used in the later stages of esports tournaments is to make it more appealing to the viewers. If you have two teams going at it over the course of five maps, and all of the matches are really tense, then you are probably having a great time as a fan, right?

Best of five format works the same way as best of three. However, in order to win the entire series, one team needs to win three maps first.

What is the Difference Between Leagues and Tournaments?

If you are familiar with traditional sports like football, then you will have no problems understanding the difference between the leagues and esports tournaments. Basically, leagues in esports are played over a certain period of time. All of the teams are playing against each other.

Every match comes with points. Logically, if you win a match, you are getting the most points. On the other hand, if you lose, you get no points. So, the main difference between leagues and classic esports tournament formats is the fact that leagues are played over a certain period of time. There is no relegation despite losing most of your matches, which is not the case with tournaments.

It is also very important for you to know that League of Legends put a lot of emphasis on mixing their regional leagues with mid-season tournaments for the best-performing teams. This is a great way of adding something extra to standard leagues. On top of that, these events are perfect for esports betting as they provide bettors with everything they need in order to come out on top.

Esports Tournaments Structure

We already mentioned a couple of times so far that there are a lot of esports tournament formats. Add different structures to these events and you have a lot of unknowns for most punters.

In this day and age, two structures are used the most, that being single elimination and double elimination. There are also various other formats such as the Swiss format or GSL format, but they are barely ever used.

Swiss format is used in CSGO Majors such as PGL Major Antwerp 2022 or PGL Major Stockholm 2021. This is an interesting type of tournament structure because one team needs to get three wins to move on, or they have to suffer three defeats to be eliminated.

One of the main reasons why GSL structure is not used that often is because teams can play against each other twice in three matches the played in the event. What this means is that beating the same team twice will get you to the playoffs. Tournaments like DreamHack and Stracraft II League use this format the most.

Single Elimination

The way this structure works is that there are no second chances for losing teams. If you lose one match, you are out of the tournament. The way single elimination works is really simple. If team A wins the match, they are moving through to face off against the nearest team that also won their match.

As for the losing teams, they are eliminated. This structure is harsh and ruthless, but it is very effective. This structure is also great for esports betting as top contenders will have to be at their best, otherwise, they could pack their bags early on with one bad showing.

Double Elimination

This structure is formed out of two brackets that allow room for error. Everyone is starting in the first bracket called the first bracket or winners bracket. Teams that lose their first match are moved to the lower or so-called losers bracket.

Teams that have been demoted to the losers bracket must win all of their remaining matches otherwise they are eliminated. It is very important for you to know that the winners of the first and second bracket will meet in the grand finals.

League Structure

We have already briefly touched on this topic. There are not a lot of leagues in esports, but a couple of titles managed to put them to good use. The way leagues work is quite simple. All of the teams are competing against each other. This way they win points and claim placements on the leaderboard. Competitive leagues are played for 2-3 months, depending on the esports title.

Best teams are booking themselves a spot in the playoffs where they compete for big money prizes and fame. In most scenarios, there are no relegations from esports leagues, at least not in MOBA titles like League of Legends and Dota 2. However, ESL Pro League in CSGO has a relegation system for the worst performing teams.

Other Esports Tournament Formats

Not all esports are played in the same way. Game genres like battle royales can’t be contested over map victories as there are too many teams and players competing. This is why a point system has been put in place for these esports.

Several matches are played throughout the day. Based on the placement and amount of kills teams get, they earn points. After a couple of weeks of play, the points are calculated and whoever earned the most points won the event. There has been a lot of debate in regards to this type of structure for battle royale games as certain teams would just hide and get placement points. However, all of this has been fixed and battle royale esports are looking better than ever.

Best Esports Tournament Formats For Betting

Hopefully, you learned a lot about esports tournament formats in this article. With the basics out of the way, it is time for us to point you in the right direction, betting-wise. First and foremost, betting on favourites in the best of one matches is not worth it. The risk-to-reward ratio is simply not there, especially when the favourites have no room for mistakes. This is why the smart money in these types of matches is definitely on the underdogs.

Best of three and best of five matches are built for favourites. By doing the research, you will notice how big of an advantage one team has over their opponents. If you can constantly put in the work in regards to the research you do, these types of formats are going to be very profitable for you.

Prize Pool Distribution in Various Esports Formats

There is no denying that most esports teams compete in tournaments and leagues in order to win money. Every single tournament is structured in a similar way where everyone is earning a piece of prize money despite the placement.

The amount of money the team wins depends on their placement. Logically, the higher they place, the more money they will win. The most important information you need to know is the fact that one team will never win the entire prize pool. In most scenarios, the team that wins the event gets from 40% – 60% of the entire prize money.

Esports Tournament Formats FAQs

What are the Most Popular Esports Tournaments?

The most popular esports tournaments are The Dota 2 International, The League of Legends World Championsip, The CS:GO Majors, Overwatch League, and Call of Duty League.

Best Esports Tournaments to Bet on?

When it comes to betting on esports tournaments, you want to place your money in smart positions. Events that are based on best of three and best of five matches give the best risk-to-reward ratio for your bets.

Which Betting Sites Cover Most Esports Tournaments?

Esports betting sites that cover most esports tournaments are Pinnacle, LOOT.BET, Rivalry, Thunderpick, and Dafabet.

How Many Stages do Esports Tournaments Have?

Esports tournaments are usually played in three stages. The first one relates to qualifiers where teams fight for their chance to claim a spot in the tournament. After the teams qualify, the group stage will commence, and this is the second stage. The third and final stage is dedicated to the playoffs. The best teams from the group stage will battle it out in order to find out who is going to win the entire tournament.

Which Esports Tournament Has the Highest Prize Pool?

The International 2021 provided us with the highest prize pool in the history of esports. With a total of $40,018,195 up for grabs. Bear in mind that the winners (Team Spirit) won a total of $18,208,300.

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