The Most Popular Esports Games in 2021

Gaming has been around since the 80’s, and there have been large tournaments for all sorts of games. Whether all these fall into the category of esports is unclear, however. Esports implies a higher level of competition, as well as the chance to win major prizes, and a more systematic league or tournament structure.

The last few years have seen more and more competitive games getting the esports treatment. There is an ever-increasing number of professional leagues, with players competing for huge prizes, getting sponsors, and attracting devoted fan followings. Meanwhile, esports games are being broadcast on network TV, as well as streamed on platforms like Twitch or Youtube. They have even garnered attention from esports betting sites, who now offer odds on major esports events, which means that you can bet on who will win your favourite esports events.

Esports Definition

Esports are competitive games where players can win real prize money. They usually consist of professional teams who make at least part of their living from prize money, as well as sponsorships. Often, these sports are set up around a league, allowing pro players to compete for the best ranking. Almost any competitive video game could become an esport, however not all of them count as esports games.

 

Esports Games List

While Dota 2, LoL and Counterstrike are the most popular esports, with top teams earning millions, there are actually dozens of other games that attract plenty of attention. Often, the game developers try to get more attention for their game by organizing a tournament, though many tournaments grow more organically, due to the popularity of the game.

Here we have ranked the biggest and most popular esports games. To compile this list, we looked at the total prize money for the past years, the viewership, and how popular the esports games are at esports bookies. 

 

1. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO)

CS:GO is by far the most popular esport game. Dating back to the early 2000s, its current iteration has been entertaining players since 2012. The game sees frequent patches and updates and also has a lucrative market in weapon skins. Every year sees major events, such as IEM Katowice, DreamHack Anaheim, ESL One Rio de Janeiro and ESL One Cologne, alongside major leagues such as BLAST Premier and ESL Pro League.

Most major events see prize pools of $1 million, with major events such as the IEM Katowice often garnering over a million viewers. Taking all of this into account, it comes as no surprise that CS:GO betting is the most popular category at esports bookies.

Bet on CS:GO at bet365

 

2. League of Legends (LoL)

LoL is immensely popular all over the world, especially in Asia. In fact, the game has over 20 times as many players as Dota 2, making it the most popular PC game across the globe, with 8 million players worldwide. It is one of the two multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) titles that dominate esports, as such making LoL betting extremely popular at esports bookies.

Since the game was launched 12 years ago, more than $80 million has been won over thousand of events. In terms of popularity and most prize money won, Korea takes the number one spot, with 8 of the top 10 global earners. In fact, only one top 10 player (Luka “PerkZ” Perkovic) is not from Asia.

Bet on LoL at GG.Bet

 

3. Dota 2

Dota 2 is a close second to CS:GO, both in terms of viewership, prize money and interest from bettors. Developed by Valve, this game is enjoyed all over the world; its 25 top earners hail from 16 different countries, which include the US, China, France, and Romania. Meanwhile, Dota 2 betting is the second most popular option at most international esports betting sites.

While we have ranked Dota 2 in second place, the game actually exceeds all others in terms of prize money. The annual International has a gigantic prize pool, which is funded by fans purchasing the in-game Compendium, containing all sorts of goodies, including new modes, skins and challenges. 25% of the Compendium goes to the overall prize pool, which has exceeded $34 million in the past years. Any ranked player can compete for a share.

Bet on Dota 2 at 1xbet

 

4. Fortnite

While some people debate whether Fortnite is a true esport (due to the fact that Epic often makes changes to the game prior to big events), the fact remains that the game has awarded millions to its top players, and that for a game that has only been around for 3 years. In terms of prize money, it is only surpassed by CS:GO and Dota 2. While the general hype over Fortnite has died down a bit, the esports scene for the game is still thriving. The game is still very popular, with over 250 million registered users spread over several platforms. Epic still organizes regular Fortnite tournaments, of which some are open to all players. Meanwhile, Fortnite betting is available at most esports bookies.

Bet on Fortnite at 1xBet

 

5. Call of Duty (CoD)

Call of Duty is one of the only major esports that played exclusively on consoles, and it is also unique in that it moves to a new iteration of the game each year, the latest version being CoD Black Ops Cold War. The game publisher, Activision, has created a professional Call of Duty League, consisting of 12 official teams from various locations in Europe and North America. Each team has its own unique name and logo, reminiscent of American football or basketball teams. The total prize money for each season is $6 million, and there are live CoD esports events every week.

Bet on Call of Duty at bet365

 

6. Valorant

Valorant is a relative newcomer to the esports scene. Similar to both CS:GO and Overwatch, players can use agent abilities to dramatically alter the game outcome, though aiming shooting and team strategy are still massively important.

The game was launched in 2020, which means it has not had the chance to see many major LAN tournaments yet, though there have already been events with $100,000 prize pools or more. Nevertheless, we can expect big things from Valorant in the coming years. As a matter of fact, Valorant betting has already surpassed the popularity of Overwatch and Rocket League betting. Read more about Valorant Champions Tour betting here.

Bet on Valorant at 1xBet

 

7. Overwatch

Overwatch is Blizzard Entertainment‘s most popular shooter. The company is responsible for some of the most epic esports games. In Overwatch, they managed to combine the shooter genre with heroic elements of the MOBA genre. The game lets you choose between a Tank hero, Damage Hero or Support Hero.

The Overwatch League (OWL) was launched in 2018, and just like the Call of Duty League, it consists of locally based teams, each named after a city with a mascot and logo. Teams are divided between the Atlantic and Pacific conferences and the league includes teams from Europe, North America and East Asia. The league has a total prize pool of $5 million, and it is still growing. Meanwhile, Overwatch betting has become a staple at most esports betting sites.

Bet on Overwatch at Pinnacle

 

8. Rainbow Six Siege

Although Ubisoft launched Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege back in 2015, the game still has a loyal following. Similar to CS:GO, in this 5v5 shooter, each team must assume the role of attacker or defender and perform various objectives such as planting / defusing a bomb, rescuing hostages or eliminating the enemy.

The Rainbow Six Pro League was launched in 2016 and has enjoyed exponential growth, with majors teams from 7 regions competing for a total prize pool of over $3 million. What will happen for the 2021 season has not yet been announced, though it is rumoured that Ubisoft will launch an entire new format. That means we will have to wait for Rainbow Six betting options in 2021.

Bet on Rainbow Six at 1xBet

 

9. Hearthstone

Hearthstone is Blizzard’s collectible card game. You can play it for free at PlayHearthstone.com, though you will have to pay for certain decks and expansions. The game is 1v1, with each player controlling 30 cards and a hero. The aim of the game is to destroy the other player’s cards and ultimately, their hero.

The game was released in 2014 and has become one of the most popular esports games in the world, reaching 18 million players in 2018. The cards are based on Blizzard’s iconic fantasy video game series, World of Warcraft.

Competitive Hearthstone is played over 3 levels, from Masters Qualifiers, to Masters Tour, to Grandmasters. In Masters Qualifiers, all eligible players compete for a slice of the $250,000 prize pool and a chance to play in the Masters. In the Masters, players compete at 6 live marquee events, with a $250,000 prize pool each. The grandmasters sees 48 of the world’s top players compete for a slice of the $500,000 prize pool. The game draws thousands of viewers, and Hearthstone betting is available at select bookies.

Bet on Hearthstone at Pinnacle

 

10. Rocket League

Rocket league may be one of the most unique esports. Its developer, Psyonix, describes the game as soccer with rocket-powered cars. In the game, two teams try to push the ball in the opposite team’s goal. Each player controls a single car, which can drive and boost around the map.

Rocket League esports consist of the Rocket League Championship (RLCS) and RLCS: the Grid. The RLCS sees 3 seasonal tournaments (consisting of 3 European and 3 American events, followed by a major), while the RLCS: the Grid has weekly events. The annual prize pool is $4.5 million and any qualifying team can sign up.

Bet on Rocket League at Betway

 

11. FIFA

FIFA 20 (and soon, 21) is another highly successful esports worldwide, boasting millions of loyal fans. With yearly updates to the game itself, thousands of bettors try their luck at FIFA betting on any major event.

Multiple tournaments are held each year, and the game has even partnered with the actual Premier League to form the ePremier League. Other popular FIFA betting events include the FIFA eWorld Cup, as well as plenty of smaller FUT events. One thing that makes FIFA unique is that it is one of the only AI-assisted games, as players must deal with randomness and can only control one player at the time.

The 2021 FIFAe tournament schedule will include the FIFAe World Cup, as well as the FIFAe Nations Series, each with a prize pool of $500,000, while the FIFAe Club Series will distribute $350,000. Moreover, EA will distribute another $3 million in prizes over EA across Qualifiers, Regional Playoffs, eChampions League, and CONMEBOL eLibertadores.

Bet on FIFA at 1xBet

 

12. Apex Legends

Apex Legends is a free-to-play shooter, which you can download for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. This 3v3 team battle royale game saw its first esports series take place in January 2020. The Apex Legends Global Series offers a total prize pool of $3 million, an ambitious amount for any new esport. Anyone can participate, as EA has decided to forgo established leagues and teams.

The series will consist of Challenger Events, Premier Events and Majors. Challengers are country-based, while Premier Events are at regional (continental) level. Majors, the marquee events, are for players with the highest points at online or LAN event.

The esport’s popularity has already piqued the interest of many keen esports bettors, and you can bet on Apex Legends at several online bookies.

Check our article on free to play esports games here.

Bet on Apex Legends at 1xBet

 

13. Smite

Smite is a MOBA, slightly reminiscent of Dota 2 and LoL, though the gameplay is very different. Instead of viewing your hero (in this case a god, goddess, or other mythological figure) from above, you view your fantasy character from behind, creating a more immersive gameplay.

The most important esports event for Smite is the Smite World Championship. The SWC 2020 had an estimated prize pool of $800.000. The game draws moderate attention from bettors as well, with a few bookies offering bets on Smite.

Bet on Smite at 1xBet

 

14. PUBG

Not only is PUBG a popular battle royale shooter for PC, Xbox, Playstation and Stadia, but it is also one of the only true mobile esports, available on both Android and iOS. Solidifying its position as the number one mobile esport, in 2021 PUBG will offer one the highest mobile esports prize pool in history – a whopping $14 million.

The PUBG Mobile Pro League will have 7 regions, including South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Commonwealth of Independent States, Turkey, Western Europe, Arabia, North America, Latin America and Brazil. We expect to see more bookies add PUBG betting to their list of esports options in 2020.

Bet on PUBG at 1xBet

 

15. StarCraft II

StarCraft is one of the oldest strategy esports games in the world. Its first iteration in 1998 was a bestseller, and the game has never lost popularity, going on to release the sequel StarCraft II in 2010. Most of its top players hail from South Korea, where it is also televised and enjoys immense popularity.

The ESL Pro Tour for StarCraft II has over $4 million in prize money, with qualifiers in Europe, North America, Latin America, Oceania and ROA, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. This means plenty of options for Starcraft II bets.

Bet on Starcraft at bet365

 

16. NBA 2K

The NBA 2K League was launched in 2018 in partnership with the real NBA. The NBA owns the League, with 21 NBA teams having their own 2K League esports team. The league boasts a solid draft system, with top esports players being drafted to the league, selecting the top amateur players, similar to how the NBA recruits new players.

In it current form, the 2K League has a regular season (15 weeks), with 3 regular tournaments. The playoffs include the top 7 teams in the league, along with the last regular-season winner.  The total prize pool for the playoffs is $900,000, and the prize for winning team is $420,000.

At its start, viewership was relatively low. However, ESPN 2 started broadcasting the events due to the lack of sports content during the pandemic, which has greatly boosted interest. Many bookies have also begun offering bets on NBA 2K.

Bet on NBA 2K at 1xBet

 

17. Arena of Valor

Arena of Valor is another mobile esport. The game is one of the first mobile MOBA games, and it has a lot in common with Dota 2 and LoL. The game is most popular in Asia (especially Thailand, Vietnam and Taiwan), where most of the tournaments are hosted. The game is known by different titles (Honor of Kings, Garena ROV, Lien Quan, and others), depending on the country.

The two major tournaments are the Arena of Valor International Championship and the Arena of Valor World Cup. The World Cup managed to get a peak viewership of 764,000 viewers in its last iteration. Meanwhile, the Championship had a $1 million prize pool. The game is also popular with bettors, with many betting sites offering odds on Arena of Valor. It should be mentioned that Arena of Valor is one of free to play esports games

Bet on Arena of Valour at 1xBet

 

18. King of Glory

King of Glory is another mobile MOBA esport. It is Chinese developer Tencent’s answer to Riot Games’ LoL, from which it clearly got much of its inspiration. Just like Arena of Valor, King of Glory goes by many names, depending on the region, including Wangzhe Rongyao, Kings of Glory, Honor of King or Honour of King.

This mobile-only esport has millions of fans in China, and in terms of numbers, it may be the most popular esport on the world, though its popularity in the West cannot be compared its success in China. Still, many esports bookies offer bets on King of Glory.

Bet on King of Glory at Pinnacle

 

19. Street Fighter

Street Fighter dates all the way back to the early 90s and still has a loyal fan base, with the Capcom Pro Tour the main destination for professional Street Fighter competitors. The main annual event, the Capcom Cup, has 20 players, 18 winners of from the Capcom Pro Tour Online, the Capcom Cup winner from the previous year, and a fan favourite from the previous year. With a total prize pool of $200,000 divided between the 20 players, Street Fighter is quietly making a name for itself as a professional esport. And bookies are taking note, offering Street Fighter betting on most major events.

Bet on Street Fighter at 1xBet

 

20. World of Warcraft (WoW)

World of Warcraft is the most successful RPG game ever. The game also has an Arena mode, where teams of 3 players try to eliminate each other with spells, potions and weapons. This has led to the Arena World Championship (AWC). Each year has two seasons, with a total prize pool of $900,000 per year. In each season, four American and four European teams compete for a share of the prize. That means plenty of options to bet on WoW. Note that you can also bet on Warcraft 3.

Bet on World of Warcraft at 1xBet

 

21. Halo 5

The Halo series is a popular science-fiction action shooter designed for Xbox. However, in terms of esports, it is relatively new. Viewership is still relatively small, and most events for 2020 had to be cancelled, with many 2021 plans put on ice as well.

Still there are a few events, including Halo 5 Pro Series Season Championships for North America, and regional tournaments for LATAM, ANZ, and EMEA regions. That means at least a few options for Halo 5 betting in 2021.

Bet on Halo 5 at 1xBet

 

22. World of Tanks

World of Tanks is a one-of-a-kind third-person tank shooter, which pits teams of 15 tanks against each other for control of a map. It has over 160 million players and works with a free-to-play (freemium) model, having versions for PC, Xbox and mobile. The game was launched in 2013; however, interest in it is slowly waning, with fewer esports events that offer substantial prize money, though there are still a few options for WoT betting.

Bet on World of Tanks at Pinnacle

 

23. Heroes of the Storm

Heroes of the Storm is a popular free-to-play MOBA by Blizzard, featuring heroes from some of their most popular franchises, including Warcraft, StarCraft and Diablo. Although the game had a budding esports scene in 2019, Blizzard decided to pull the plug on its official esports league in order to focus on their more popular esports games.

In good news for HoTS fans, however, Wisdom Gaming Group has announced that they will create an independent HoTS esports league. For now, it will focus on North America, though there are plans to expand to Europe. That means at least a few options for HoTS betting in 2021.

Bet on HotS at Pinnacle

 

24. Vainglory

Another mobile MOBA, Vainglory is still a popular game that enjoyed a budding esports scene until early 2019. However, developer Super Evil Megacorp announced in 2019 that it would end suppport for Vainglory esports, though there still a few independent tournaments left, leaving a few options for Vainglory betting.

Bet on Vainglory at 1xBet

 

25. Garena Free Fire Betting

This battle royale game tells a story of 50 players fighting for survival on a remote tropical island. The game has achieved a huge popularity all over the world but especially in India after PUBG was banned in this country. Not many bookies offer bets on this mobile game yet but we have no doubts that it will change very soon as the hype around Garena Free Fire is on a constant rise. Read our guide to Free Fire betting here.

Bet on Free Fire at Rivalry

 

Being a Professional Gamer

The path to becoming a professional gamer has never been smoother! Leagues are getting bigger all the time with more players involved, while prize money is steadily increasing. For example, even though many LAN events were cancelled in 2020, the total prize money still went up to literal millions for most esports. As you can see below, the top 10 esports games in terms of earning have still done very well.

 

  1. CS:GO – $14.75 million
  2. Dota 2 – $8.87 million
  3. LoL – $8 million
  4. Fortnite – $7.87 million
  5. CoD: Modern Warfare – $6.27 million
  6. Rainbow 6 – $5.02 million
  7. Overwatch – $4.36 million
  8. PUBG – $4.00 million
  9. Hearthstone – $3.73 million
  10. Rocket League – $2.63 million

(source: esportsobserver)

Have you ever wondered how to make money by playing games? We have a whole article on this topic. 

Esports Betting

While being a professional gamer can involve daily practice for years on end, esports betting offers an easier chance at winning money. These days, esports bookies offer odds on most esport events, and with the right strategy, you could win some serious cash. Most bookies accept a wide variety of payment methods, including PayPal and cryptocurrencies, and most also offer a welcome bonus with a free bet or extra betting cash.

 

Esports Betting Stats in 2020

2020 was a difficult year for esports. Since offline games were mostly unavailable due to travel and social restrictions, the total prize pool for professional esports players in 2020 was a mere fraction of what it was in 2019. That also meant fewer betting options, as most LAN events were cancelled.

The most popular game for bets was CS:GO, accounting for 53% of all bets. Dota 2 came in second, with 35%, and LoL came in third, at 7%. FIFA placed fourth, while newcomer Valorant came in seventh, beating both Overwatch and Rocket League.

The most popular events were ESL One Road to Rio (CS:GO), Epic League (Dota 2) and Legends Pro League (LPL) Summer (League of Legends).

 

Esports Betting FAQs

Which esport games are free to play?

Many esport games, especially mobile games are free to play. Our top 5 free to play esports are:

  1. Counter Strike: Global Offensive
  2. League of Legends
  3. Dota 2
  4. Fortnite
  5. Apex Legends

Of course, most of these games come with microtransactions. Players can use real money to buy in game features, such as gold, skins, heroes, weapons, etc., which can give players an advantage over non-paying players.

Which esport game should I play?

That really depends on which game you are willing to invest time into playing, though you should also consider which games have the biggest prize pools. There are many popular esports games and genres from which to choose.

 

What is the biggest game in esports?

The biggest game in esports is CS:GO, both in terms of viewership, the size of the prize pools on offer and bets placed. Dota 2 and LoL come in second and third.

 

Who is the #1 gamer in the world?

The number 1 gamer in the world in terms of esports earnings is Denmark’s Johan “N0tail” Sundstein, who has earned almost $7 million playing Dota 2.

 

Are esports a real sport?

While esports are certainly not traditional sports, esports qualify as a sport by every definition of the word. They are competitive games which require fast reflexes, mental and physical fitness, and strategic skills.

 

Should ssports be in the Olympics?

It has been rumoured that esports will be in the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. However, it is not clear which esports games will be included. What is clear is that there will be no shooter games, as violence is deemed incompatible with Olympic values.

 

Is esports a good career to consider?

Esports can certainly be a rewarding career – just ask the above-mentioned Johan Sundstein! Of course, not all players achieve this level of success, and we strongly recommend you stick to your day job or continue studying until you feel confident enough to go full-time.

 

What esports team does Shaquille O'Neal own?

NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille ‘Shaq' O'Neal is the co-owner of esports team NRG Esports. The team competes in Apex Legends, Call of Duty, Fortnite, Overwatch, Valorant and Rocket League.

 

Where to buy esports games?

We can recommend online platfomrs like Kinguin, CD-keys or G2A.

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Disclaimer

Please be aware that all predictions given on this website are the oppinion of the author and might not necessarily be correct.

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