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Esports 101: An Illustrated Guide for Beginners

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Esports as an industry can seem daunting to someone not familiar with it. There are dozens of games, hundreds of competitions, thousands of players, millions of fans and so on. Things can get confusing fast – especially for someone who doesn’t know much about esports today.

Thankfully, you don’t need to know much to really get started with your new esports hobby, whether you want to play, watch, or just chat with your friends about esports. Here are some of the most common questions that brand-new esports fans like to ask… and we have the answers!

What are esports?

Esports or electronic sports are competitions that take place on a video game platform of some sort. The term covers a wide variety of different games – that’s part of what makes esports so great! There’s something for everyone, both in regard to genre and in regard to type of competition.

Esport Game Types

Just about every video game that features some form of competition can be an esport, however, only a relatively small number of games finds success as an esport. It takes several things for a game to achieve esports status. First off – a significant fanbase. Most major esports have millions of fans around the globe.

They also need significant support from the developers – both in the form of cash and of course the organisation of actual tournaments. Continuous updates, patches and so on are also necessary – for titles like Overwatch or League of Legends, adjustments need to be made to the characters and balance of the game in order to keep things fair and competitive.

Where did esports come from?

Competitive esports have been around almost as long as video games themselves have been. Of course, they didn’t start out in the form of multi-million-dollar competitions with thousands of attendees and hundreds of thousands of fans watching.

The very first ‘official’ esports tournament happened in 1972 and featured the 1962 game "Spacewar!". 24 players competed for the grand prize of a year-long subscription to Rolling Stones magazine, sponsored by the Lab for Artificial Intelligence at Stanford University, where the competition took place.

First Official Esports Tournament

Since then, esports have come a long way. In the 1970s, arcade gaming and console gaming became more and more popular, and by the 80s, national scoreboards had appeared in the US, along with the first professional gamer team – the US National Video Team.

It wasn’t until leaps in technology in the 90s made esports and gaming more accessible that things really took off – by the 1990s, familiar names like Super Mario Bros had made their appearance on the esports market.

In the late 90s and early 2000s, esports finally really started to take off and exploded into the giant industry it is now. The largest esports event held (to date) was the League of Legends World Championship – it saw over 43 million unique viewers and had a prize pool of more than $6.7 million.

Which esports are the biggest?

There are several ways to determine which esports are the biggest – number of players, number of tournament stream viewers, live event attendees and so on. Money earned is another indicator – in other words, it’s not so easy to rank esports by which are biggest.

Here are some of the biggest ones by most metrics, and what you need to know about the games to get started!

League of Legends

Released in 2009, the game has awarded over $75 million in prize money over the years. The multiplayer real-time strategy action was developed by Tencent-owned developer company Riot Games – also the makers of Valorant.

Particularly in Asia, the game is incredibly popular and has competitions between teams of 3 or 5 players each. It’s relatively similar to Dota 2, and has players fighting on a unique map, in several lanes. The many different characters allow for a variety of nuanced gameplay strategies.

Dota 2

Dota 2, the sequel to Dota or Defense of the Ancients, was released in 2013. Since its release, Dota 2 has seen over $225 million dollars awarded in competitions. Like League, it is a MOBA game – the map, characters, items and gameplay mechanics are, however, quite different. Dota 2 (and the original Dota) were created by Valve, the company behind Steam.

Where League of Legends is popular in Asia, Dota 2 is more popular in Europe and North America. For many, it’s the quintessential ‘esport’, as it has millions upon millions of fans.


Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is the latest in a series of popular Counter-Strike games – the most popular by far. Like Dota 2, CS:GO was created by Valve. That’s where the similarities end though – CS:GO is a first-person shooter, that has teams of five players competing as terrorists and counter-terrorists for control of a map over several rounds.

Released in 2012, CS:GO is one of the most popular shooters in the world. Across its lifetime, it has seen more than $96 million dollars awarded to its players. Especially in Europe, where many of the most notable CS:GO tournaments are held, CS:GO is one of the top esports.


Though much more recent than most other esports on this list, Fortnite is still a huge esport. Released in 2017 by Epic Games, Fortnite is a third-person shooter with some unique resource and building mechanics.

So far, over $89 million dollars have been awarded in tournaments – and some of the biggest esports tournaments in the world have been Fortnite ones. The Battle Royale game has 100 players competing on one island until only one winner remains (or in some cases, teams of 2 or 4 players).

Honorable Mentions

In addition to the ones above, there are several more esports with considerable fanbases and earning numbers. Among them are games like Overwatch, Hearthstone, Rocket League, Rainbow Six Siege, PUBG, and StarCraft II. Each of them has millions of fans and major worldwide competitions.

Which is the best esport to watch/follow?

Which esport is ‘best’ for you to watch depends on your interests! If you have friends that are already interested in esports, you could always ask them for recommendations for things to watch. If not, think about what you enjoy. Do you like car races? If so, an esport like eNASCAR might be right for you.

If you are more interested in realistic first-person action, a shooter like CS:GO could be right for you. Should you prefer a less graphically violent game, a strategy title might be right for you – StarCraft II is one of the most popular choices there.

If you’re just interested in the hype and aren’t too fussed about the game itself, checking out the biggest esports out there can be a great idea – Dota 2, for example, has a huge fanbase with plenty of active communities you could join.

Fighting games are relatively easy to pick up and watch, so if you are after an easy entry to esports, watching a Tekken tournament could be a good way to get started!

If you aren’t much of a gamer (yet), your best bet will probably be to have a look around and watch some popular streamers or recordings of esports tournaments in order to figure out what most appeals to you.

How does the esports industry make money?

Throughout the years, esports has become more than just an industry – it’s become its own kind of ecosystem, closely tied to several other major industries. Of course, the billion-dollar-industry didn’t come out of nowhere.

There are several different revenue and income streams that contribute to the esports industry. The biggest section of it all is the sponsorships that are popular within the industry. Some 40% of earnings come from outside investors signing sponsorship contracts with teams, tournaments and more.

Naturally, advertising and media rights are also large sectors, making up 19% and 18% respectively. Advertising is another great way for non-esports companies to contribute – by buying ad space on jerseys, streams and more.

Media rights are a little more complicated – they cover things like tournaments selling the rights to show a competition on TV to a certain station, and these deals can be very lucrative. Big networks, like Disney and ESPN, have bought media rights for major competitions, giving esports fans another way to watch tournaments, in addition to the typical streams.

What is the most well-known esports competition?

There are several major esports competitions, usually depending on the esports that are part of it. Some major names include the League of Legends World Championships – the 2018 iteration of which is the biggest esports tournament to have ever happened, the DreamHack event series is a major series with events all over the globe every year.

Much like the League World Championship, the Dota 2 competition The Invitational is also a big name in the esports world. In addition to dedicated tournaments like these, there are also compound events – tournaments that feature several different games under one roof. The DreamHack series is one such example, but other popular ones include the EVO series – a fighting game event series, and ESL One – a circuit of events around the world that feature both CS:GO and Dota 2 competitions.

Activision-Blizzard’s BlizzCon also features several events under one roof. Traditionally, the finals of several major Blizzard esports games, such as Hearthstone, Overwatch, StarCraft II, World of Warcraft and more happen at the yearly BlizzCon event. StarCraft II also has a particularly lively esports scene in South Korea – the ASL and GSL, respectively, are some of the biggest tournaments there.

What is the most well-known esports competition?

Who are the biggest esports teams?

Each esport has its own scene with different players of course, but often, really good teams will get together under one common banner and form bigger esports organizations (or be bought up by one such bigger organization). Either way, this ends up with some team names being found in different esports.

Esport Teams Logos

Here are some of the bigger team names you’ll come across in several different esports categories.

Team Liquid

One of the most prestigious esports organizations in the world, Team Liquid fields teams in games like CS:GO, League of Legends, Crash Royale (a mobile esports game), Fortnite, PUBG and more. They have had a lot of success as well – among their wins are events like ESL One Cologne, DreamHack Masters, IEM and more major tournaments.

FaZe Clan

Though FaZe Clan originally started out as a Call of Duty team, they have since also fielded rosters in games like PUBG, Fortnite, CS:GO and more. They also have contracts with several major streamers that play under their banner. Wins include the IEM Beijing, DreamHack Masters and more.


Fnatic is one of the best-known esports organizations in the world. They have teams competing in the European League of Legends circuit, in Dota 2, in Rainbow Six Siege, and in CS:GO. Particularly in CS:GO, they are a top team and have won several major competitions, such as a DreamHack Masters event.

Ninjas in Pyjamas

Originally a Counter-Strike team, NiP as they are called, also compete in Dota 2, Rainbow Six Siege and the more recent Counter-Strike iteration, CS:GO, where they have a huge fanbase. They have done well in competitions like ESL One Cologne, the Katowice Major and more.

NRG Esports

NRG is one of the few organizations that is directly affiliated with an Overwatch League team – San Francisco Shock. In addition to that, they also have CS:GO rosters, Fortnite solo players, and they compete in Rocket League. Their most notable win was the Overwatch League 2019 win claimed by San Francisco Shock. They also secured back-to-back wins in the North American Rocket League circuit, as well as some other competitions.

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