Esports is a relatively new term that was coined in the early 2010s to describe the rise of gaming as a competitive medium. Games have evolved over time from pixelated DOS games to the modern fast-paced multiplayer action games of today. Once gaming was noticed as a viable form of competition, the esports scene has only been growing larger since its inception.
Now, esports is a recognized medium of competition all over the world. There are several games that fall into the category of esports, several of them branching out into different genres, but there are only a few that are considered competitively viable, To know which ones are fun enough to play and to watch, there are a few things to look out for.
The top 10 esports games of 2023
While there is an abundance of multiplayer games today, there are a fair few of them that are popular and competitive enough to warrant an expansion into the esports sphere. Of the ones that stand out, we will be listing out the 10 best esports games of today in terms of the player base, tournament frequency, and prize pool.
The games listed here encompass several different genres and playstyles as well, so there is a lot of variety to choose from if you decide to watch these games or play any of them yourself.
While the Pokémon franchise is a very well-known and old franchise, their foray into the competitive esports side of gaming has been fairly recent in comparison. Ever since the link cable era of the GameBoy ended and we moved on to true online capabilities, Pokémon has been able to show off more of its competitive side beyond local battle sessions.
The online battle sessions finally evolved into full-blown Pokémon tournaments across several generations. While the majority of the competitive scene comes from the mainline games, spin-off series such as Pokémon GO and Pokémon Unite have had their fair share of tournaments in the esports scene. As the roster of Pokémon grew bigger, so did the tournament scene.
The esports scene of Pokémon has only grown over the years to include major Pokémon tournaments all over the calendar years and it only seems to be getting bigger as time passes.
9) Dota 2
Dota 2 is the sequel to the highly popular mod of Warcraft III back in the early 2000s titled Defense of the Ancients, or DotA. Unlike its predecessor, Dota 2 is a fully-fleshed-out MOBA game released in 2011 and made popular by the massive tournaments that followed. The esports scene has remained fresh over the years, unfortunately, the player base has dwindled compared to its peak in 2015.
While it may not be the most popular multiplayer game today, Dota 2 still boasts the biggest tournament prize pool in esports history, a record that the game itself kept breaking till 2021. The state of the game is generally very stable, with most metagames lasting anywhere between three to six months. If balance and variety in over 120 heroes is what you’re looking for, Dota 2 is your thing.
Related: The top 10 highest prize pools in esports
The esports scene is thriving as well, with multiple tournaments taking place throughout the year. There are also seasonal leagues that culminate in three major tournaments leading up to the biggest event of the year: The International, an annual event that has sported the biggest prize pool in esports history.
Blizzard’s contribution to the MOBA genre with its first-person team shooter series, Overwatch, is a prime candidate for a rapidly growing esports series. Since the release of the original Overwatch in 2016, the series only grew in popularity. This spike in popularity led to the foundation of The Overwatch League, a major global esports league centered around city-based teams.
This made it easier for up-and-coming regional teams to make it to the bigger global LAN tournaments where the best teams in the world fight it out. While not as popular as some of the other games further down the list, the game’s popularity has only been increasing, especially with the release of the original game’s sequel, Overwatch 2.
Overwatch 2 introduced several new changes to the series. Firstly, the game is free-to-play, unlike its predecessor, making it accessible to anyone with a Battle.net account. Secondly, the team size was reduced from six-person teams to five-person teams, making every teamfight mean more since there is one less role now. The series continues to evolve and is frequently updated every few months.
VALORANT is one of two of Riot Games’ masterpieces. Even though it is not as well-known as their other hit game, VALORANT is by no means an unpopular title, boasting a player base bigger than Overwatch and it is only steadily growing. A futuristic, tactical shooter game with several mechanics unique to the game, VALORANT has acquired a sizable global audience as well for their tournaments.
When it comes to VALORANT‘s esports scene, there is no doubt that it is already well-established and flourishing as well. This can be seen with several major and minor tournaments taking place throughout the year with new and established players taking part each time. With over 50 esports events taking place annually, the scene only keeps growing bigger.
6) Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, or CS:GO, is the third mainline game in Valve’s original Counter-Strike series. Starting off as a humble Half-Life mod back in the early days of Counter-Strike 1.6, the series skyrocketed in popularity in the early 2000s as a competitive first-person team shooter game. The basic concept of terrorists versus counter-terrorists and unique objectives for each side carried over to its later iterations and were even adopted by other games.
CS:GO has surpassed its predecessors in popularity and it now has a thriving esports scene with multiple tournaments and leagues annually. Being the most-played game on Steam speaks for itself, with CS:GO having a bigger daily player count than any other game on the platform. As a result, the game routinely crosses the one million concurrent players mark on a daily basis when the player base is at its most active.
5) Call of Duty
Call of Duty is a series initially developed by Activision and the original game was a single-player first-person shooter, narrating the events of a World War I veteran. From these humble beginnings, the game evolved into a long-running series, spanning several time zones and weapons, both ancient and futuristic, depending on the iteration of the game you played.
The series got so popular that eventually, it branched out into the esports sphere with a competitive esports environment in several of their later games that included multiplayer and battle royale modes. Games in the series like Call of Duty: Warzone/Warzone 2 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 are being competitively played with a league that accepts experienced and new players alike.
Call of Duty is also a series that has a populated esports scene on the mobile with CoD: Mobile. With so many options, the series has something for everyone.
4) Apex Legends
Apex Legends is Respawn Entertainment’s magnum opus, a free-to-play multiplayer battle royale game that spans several platforms and supports cross-platform play between all of them. While several players initially pointed out that the game was a Fortnite clone, those claims were quickly culled after a few important updates rolled out and brought some unique features.
The esports scene of Apex Legends has been steadily growing as well. The Apex Legends Global Series is a competitive tournament series for players on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox with a $5 million prize pool that finally culminates in the ALGS Championship.
If you are an aspiring professional player looking to join the major leagues, starting out in the Challenger Circuit is your best bet. You will be pitted against other rising stars and eventually come face-to-face with other professional players if you climb up the ranks.
3) League of Legends
League of Legends, abbreviated to LoL, is the other Riot Games candidate on this list. Taking inspiration from the original Defense of the Ancients, one of its creators Steve “Guinsoo” Feak was the original developer of League of Legends as well. From humble beginnings, the game has grown to become the juggernaut of the MOBA genre in modern times. League of Legends is currently the most watched, most played, and most streamed MOBA of all time.
Naturally, the esports scene of League of Legends is one of the biggest in the current gaming sphere. The peak of its popularity was during the 2019 League of Legends World Championship which garnered a total viewer count of over 100 million viewers including a maximum of 44 million concurrent viewers during the grand finals.
Since then, the viewer count and player base of League of Legends have remained steady, with more and more professional teams entering the scene every year. The game shows no signs of slowing down and now is a good time as any to get involved.
Fortnite is Epic Games’ most popular game to date. Many players claim Fortnite pioneered the battle royale genre today, with many features of the game being adopted by other games today, the most famous example being Apex Legends. It is currently one of the most popular games in the world, boasting a massive player base of over 250 million players.
The esports scene for Fortnite is quite big too, with competitive tournaments in various brackets. There are solo, duo, and even trios tournaments that take place throughout the year in different series and brackets. All of these lead up to bigger tournaments that cover regional areas and eventually head to global tournaments that are viewed by millions of viewers every year.
1) PUBG: Battlegrounds
PUBG: Battlegrounds is the game that has the biggest player base in the world today. With over 350 million hardcore fans of the game, both PC and mobile, PUBG is basically a household name in several countries around the world. The game had an even bigger player base until it got banned in a few countries like India, where it was the most-played game for years before the ban.
PUBG also hosts some of the biggest tournaments in modern esports. Just like the other esports games, they have several brackets to choose from. There is a competitive season that runs all throughout the year in different modes. All of the annual tournaments and the season culminates in the PUBG Global Championship, where the best teams from all over the world come together.