Top 10 Esports Leagues
What are the most popular Esports leagues?
1. Electronic Sports League
The Electronic Sports League (or ESL, for short) is actually a conglomerate of many different eSports leagues and tournaments that are all owned and operated under the same name: ESL. For example, one of these, the ESL Pro League, includes separate competitions for Counter Strike: Global Offensive and Rainbow Six Siege, these are referred to as ESL Pro League: CS:GO and ESL R6S, respectively.
ESL is the largest such conglomerate in the world, with four main divisions of competitions:
- ESL Play: competitions across all levels
- ESL National Championships: limited by geographic region; allow for qualification to major championships
- ESL Pro Tour: continuous international circuit of events; only include 3 titles (Counter Strike, WarCraft III, StarCraft II)
- ESL One: offline competitions; among top competition for each game
The ESL One Series has the most money up for grabs, with over $12.5 million being awarded over the course of 60-plus tournaments.
2. League of Legends World Championship
The League of Legends World Championship (or “LoL Worlds,” for short), formed in 2011 and operated by Riot Games (which owns the game), is the largest League of Legends esports tournament in the world. League of Legends is a majorly popular game in esports, and its crown jewel of competitions dishes out an astounding $27 million-plus in prize money over just 13 tournaments.
To be included in the Lol World Championship, players must qualify through one of the regional tournaments such as the LoL Championship Series (from North America and Europe) or the LoL Pro League (from China).
The League of Legends World Championship is known for its intense and dramatic matches. These high-stakes competitions often get extremely emotional for players and fans alike.
The tournament culminates in a massive live event each year, seeing the winning team walk away with the 70-lb Summoner’s Cup and millions in prize money.
3. The International
The International is an annual Dota 2 competition hosted by Valve, who are the makers and owners of the Dota 2 game. This 18-team competition includes the single most valuable tournament payout in the esports world. The International paid an insane $140 million-plus in prize money for the 2018-19 season through 10 different tournaments, although the main event itself paid over $34 million (with the winning team earning over $15 million) in 2019 and the prize pool increasing every year.
The International is funded by its battle pass system, which allows players to directly generate revenue to play the game. One fourth of this entire revenue stream goes toward prize money, making the payouts huge. Like many other esports leagues, the International culminates in a live event setting.
The International is a prestigious invite-only competition; players must make it through the Dota Pro Circuit or their regional tournaments to receive an invitation.
4. Dota Major Championships
The Dota Major Championships are a combination of events that happen seasonally throughout a given year. The fall, winter, and spring Dota Majors lead up to The International in the summer, which is the largest of these events. The Dota Major Championships are run by Valve Corporation, the developers and publishers of the game.
The introduction of Dota Major Championships was designed to boost the overall structure and competition of the Dota 2 esports field worldwide. The format of including separate seasonal tournaments that eventually lead up to The International was changed in 2017 with the introduction of the Dota Pro Circuit, which made Majors into larger events run by Valve.
Overall, the entire Dota Major Championships series has awarded $31.5 million in prize money across 21 tournaments. Each third-party-hosted Dota Major has a minimum prize of $500k. In addition to Dota Majors, there are also Dota Minors, smaller competitions with a $150k minimum. Valve matches these bonuses for each qualifier from Majors and Minors, respectively.
5. Mobile Legends: Bang Bang Professional League
While PC and console platform games have historically dominated the esports landscape, mobile games have been on the rise in recent years, especially in the Southeast Asian market.
Chief among these mobile games is Mobile Legends, a game made by Montoon which closely mimics PC game League of Legends—so much so that Riot Games was actually awarded a $2.9 million lawsuit payout for plagiarism in 2019.
Still, the popularity of Mobile Legends has soared, and the Mobile Legends: Bang Bang Professional League is the biggest Mobile Legends league out there. It even won “Most Favorite Tournament of the Year” at the EXGCON Indonesia Gaming Awards in 2019.
Mobile Legends events fail to distribute as much prize money as other esports, but the MPL ID Season 5 Tournament garnered the most sets of eyes (about 1.2 million) of any esports event in the world in 2019, surpassing the likes of League of Legends, CS:GO, and PUBG. What's most impressive is that they held two separate events with over 1 million viewers, which no other game was able to match.
6. Major League Gaming Pro Circuit
Major League Gaming (MLG) is an umbrella corporation that encompasses a few different tournaments and leagues. It is headquartered in New York and focuses on the North American market. The largest of these is the MLG Pro Circuit, which has awarded over $9.5 million in prize money over its 17-year history.
The MLG Pro Circuit includes many different game titles. While historically focusing on first-person shooters and fighting games, they expanded in 2011 to include multiplayer online battle arena and real time strategy games. MLG currently hosts tournaments with the following titles:
- Call of Duty
- World of Warcraft
- Heroes of the Storm
All of MLG and their assets were purchased by Activision Blizzard in 2016 for a reported $46 million. These assets include MLG.tv, which Activision hopes will become a huge esports media conglomerate. MLG still hosts their own events for non-Activision Blizzard titles.
ELeague is a unique esports league that was designed to be integrated into a television broadcast through Turner Broadcasting Systems (TBS) in the United States. Essentially, it was designed to be a TV show, helping to bridge the narrowing gap between esports and mainstream culture.
ELeague is similar to a more traditional sports league, with regular seasons leading up to playoffs, which then culminate in a final.
The ELeague began with a Counter Strike: Global Offensive tournament in 2016, and has since encompassed a whole host of games, including Street Fighter V, Overwatch, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Formula E, TEKKEN 7, Dota 2, and Rocket League. They have also hosted competitions with EA Sports FIFA and NBA 2K.
ELeague has paid out over $8.6 million in prize money since its inception over the course of 18 different tournaments. This is highly impressive considering ELeague’s relatively short lifespan in the overall picture of esports.
8. Overwatch League
The Overwatch League is an Overwatch league made by the developers of the game itself: Blizzard Entertainment. Overwatch League is a smaller league within the Major League Gaming conglomerate.
While it is not the largest league within MLG, Overwatch League stands out because of its high payouts and fan engagement numbers, as well as its unique participation format and overall structure.
The Overwatch League operates very differently from most professional esports leagues. Instead of the very common promotion and relegation model that exists in many esports leagues, the Overwatch League uses a permanent set of teams from existing cities that participate in a regular season, playoffs, and championship format. This is similar to the ELeague format, although it is still unique in the overall landscape of esports. The Overwatch League also uses conferences and divisions to divide and subdivide teams, something which is usually unique to North American sports leagues.
9. Halo World Championship
Official Halo tournaments began in 2002 with a tournament hosted by the Associates of Gaming Professionals. Major League Gaming was formed in the same year, but it was not until 2014 that the Halo Championship series was created by Microsoft and 343 productions in conjunction with the Electronic Sports League.
One year later, Microsoft used the newly formed Halo World Championships to showcase Halo 5, the newest installment of the classic Halo game. One year later, the 2016 prize pool grew to $2.5 million for this event, which was a record breaking amount at the time.
The Halo World Championship has awarded nearly $5 million over the course of 26 total tournaments, including the 2016 figure. The 2017 and 2018 tournaments both paid out $1 million each.
The Halo World Championships is one of the most successful tournaments for American competitors, who represent almost all of the world’s top earners historically.
10. PUBG Global Championship
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, better known as PUBG, is an online multiplayer game in which players compete in a battle royale format. Its availability on a variety of platforms make it an accessible and popular game for many players.
The mobile format especially garners much attention, specifically from the Southeast Asian region. The PUBG Mobile World League 2020 East tournament was the second most watched esports event of the year in 2019, with over 1 million viewers at its peak. This was second only to the Mobile Legends MPL ID Season 5 tournament.
PUBG was one of the early games that used live events to showcase competitions, gathering and matching donations in 2017 to make a $200k plus prize pool. An invitational tournament followed, and today the PUBG Global Championship is the most prestigious official PUBG esports competition in the world, already giving over $4 million in prize winnings through just six total tournaments.
What is the most popular esport?
While this is difficult to measure, League of Legends is generally considered to be the most popular esports title. Other games that might be able to make this claim include Dota 2, PUBG, League of Legends, or CS:GO.
League of Legends competitions represented four of the top 10 most watched esports tournaments in the world last year.
Only Dota 2, CS:GO, and Fortnite have awarded more total prize money (all-time) than League of Legends. StarCraft II rounds out the top five.
What is the biggest esports league?
The Electronic Sports League (ESL) is the largest third-party esports league in the world. Other large third-party leagues include Major League Gaming and ELeague.
Most esports leagues operate on an in-house system, where the game developers and publishers, who already own the rights to their own games, keep the rights and host competitions and events themselves.
The ESL has been on the forefront of two crucial parts of growing in esports: broadcasting and live events. It partners with video game companies to use their games and broadcast competitions to a massive audience.
What esports game makes the most money?
Dota 2 is the esports game title with the highest total prizes won, with over $227 million won by esports competitors. This more than doubles its second closest title, CS:GO, which has barely eclipsed the $100 million mark. The other top grossing earners are Fortnite (about $97 million), League of Legends (about $79 million), and StarCraft II (about $34 million).
PUBG, Hearthstone, Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm, and Arena of Valor round out the top ten.