You’re in the final match of the World Championship. It was close up to this point, but things have taken a turn for the worst. The enemy team is closing in and you’re surrounded. It’s all but over.
Then, a faint glimmer of hope as a care package drops from the heavens, a gift from the gaming overlords. You make a mad dash for it and get there first. Inside? A tactical nuke! You grab the remote control and press down on the button. Rockets rain from the sky, wiping out the entire enemy team in a blazing ball of fiery fury! The crowd goes wild as you clinch the dub and take home a cool $1 million.
Sound like a far-fetched dream? Not necessarily. As the best eSports games grow in popularity, so do new and exciting possibilities. Just think about titles like Fortnite and League of Legends, and how many pro gamers got their start in these two games alone. For players willing to put in the time, a career as an eSports professional or streamer is within reach.
The first step? Knowing where to start, of course! That’s where this list of top eSports games comes into play. In this article, we’ll talk about the most popular titles, and show you some top-tier games you might’ve missed. Sound like a plan? Let’s get started.
Drafting the Top Picks
Out of all the options, how did we choose which games to feature?
We looked at three primary factors: popularity of the game, number of events and tournaments, and estimated amount of prize payouts. After crunching the numbers, we decided on this top 10 list of eSports games. We hope it serves as a comprehensive look at the competitive gaming scene in 2021. Enjoy!
10 Best eSports Games in 2021
Let’s dive in and start with the 10th best and work our way up to our #1 pick for 2021.
10. Super Smash Bros.
- Website: www.smashbros.com
- Genre: Fighting
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Prize Payouts: $6 Million
Every Nintendo fanboy knows about Smash Bros. Heck, even casual gamers know and respect the esteemed franchise. What makes it so popular? Smash Bros. combines characters from your favorite video game franchises in an all-out brawl to the death. Pick from over 75 character, and gear up for epic spats of Mario vs. Zelda, Pikachu vs. Pacman, or Sonic vs. Joker. There are tons of different attacks, saving movies, and finishers that make each match unique, and it’s always an exciting romp to see which player (and character) takes the crown. What’s not to love?
That said, not all Smash Bros. titles were created equal, especially when it comes to the competitive scene. In particular, two versions stand out among the crowd: Melee and Ultimate.
Smash Melee is the GameCube version of the game, which still attracts a considerable following due to its hardcore mechanics. Smash Ultimate is the latest Switch rendition, and its regular updates and DLCs make it ideal for competitions.
As for the potential spoils? Don’t be fooled by the relatively small amount of prize payouts. Despite endless controversy, Nintendo still doesn’t sponsor official matches. That means Smash Bros. tournament funds are entirely community-generated. Even so, Smash is so popular that tournaments always attract top talent from teams like Cloud9, Evil Geniuses, and Misfits.
9. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
- Website: www.pubg.com
- Genre: Battle Royale
- Publisher: PUBG Corporation
- Prize Payouts: $21.5 Million
PUBG brought the battle royale genre to the masses. While it wasn’t the first BR hit, it was the first one to garner such a thriving player base and following.
PUBG follows a tried-and-true formula. One hundred players drop into an island arena and fight to the last man standing, Hunger Games style. Load up on guns and ammo, and fight ’til the death! You’ll need to chart the 4 epic maps and use the environment to your advantage if you hope to survive the encroaching storm. It’s an action-packed firefight that’ll push you to the limit.
As for the competitive scene? Unlike most of my in-game opponents, it’s alive and thriving. The 2019 PUBG Global Championship featured 32 teams and 128 total players duking it out for $6 million in cash prizes. And 2021’s Invitational promises an even bigger turnout, with all the typical fanfare included.
Interested? Check out our best PUBG settings page to get started on the right foot.
8. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege
- Website: www.ubisoft.com
- Genre: FPS
- Publisher: Ubisoft
- Prize Payouts: $11 Million
The Six Invitational 2020 just wrapped up. In first place, a North American team called Spacestation Gaming took home $1 million in cash prizes. Split five ways, that’s a cool $200,000 each. Not bad for a day’s work.
Rainbow Six Siege is a tactical shooter that follows the typical team deathmatch format – with a few unique twists. Depending on the mode, Six Siege features various objectives, ranging from saving hostages to defusing bombs. But one thing always remains consistent: you’ve got to work together if you want to win. Use your comms to communicate enemy movement, strategize your game plan carefully, and remain on high alert. Teamwork makes the dream work, as they say. And with prize payouts hovering around $11 million, that’s a big dream.
Although it released five years ago, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege has gone from strength to strength, gaining new fans while keeping old ones entertained. It’s the best eSports game on our list for players who enjoy teaming with pals and working together, and we highly recommend giving it a shot.
- Website: www.playhearthstone.com
- Genre: Digital CCG
- Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
- Prize Payouts: $20.5 Million
Remember that Blizzard controversy awhile back? The one about Hong Kong and China. Do you know where it all originated? At a professional Hearthstone tournament! Yes, Hearthstone maintains a huge eSports presence on the international level and is one of the most influential games on the market.
What makes it unique? It’s literally the online card game. Modeled after traditional tabletop CCGs like Magic the Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh, players construct decks and use them to battle other players from all around the world. There are tons of different ways to play, ranging from ranked matches to team battles, to casual single-player campaigns. The unifying theme? A mystical fantasy world inspired by Blizzard’s Warcraft mythology. And, an assortment of minions, monster, weapon, and hero cards that you can use to take out the comp.
Since its launch in 2014, total prize payouts exceed 20 million. If you’re seeking a mobile eSports game or just want something a bit more casual, Hearthstone is the way to go.
6. Call of Duty
- Website: www.callofduty.com
- Genre: FPS
- Publisher: Activision
- Prize Payouts: $29 Million
Call of Duty – the game that
never goes away keeps on giving. The latest addition to the series is called Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (yes, again).
If you’ve played one CoD, you’ve played ’em all, right? Wrong. Modern Warfare introduces several exciting new mechanics unseen in previous iterations. There’s a greater emphasis on the physical environment and map exploration, and the developers blurred the lines between Campaign and Multiplayer modes.
And that’s not even the best part! Activision is soon to release an exciting new Battle Royale Mode called Warzone! It’s rumored to feature the same kill-or-be-killed mechanics on an entirely new map (complete with an assorted array of new hazards, of course).
Since the first game’s introduction way back in 2003, Call of Duty tournaments have paid out over $29 million in cash prizes. An impressive number, to be sure. But that’s not the only good news! If the franchise’s longevity is any indicator, new CoD players can rest assured knowing their careers will still be relevant 10 years down the line.
- Website: www.playoverwatch.com
- Genre: FPS
- Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
- Prize Payouts: $21.5 Million
Do you enjoy co-op games? If so, you’ll want to try your hand at Overwatch, Blizzard’s action-packed team-based FPS.
What is Overwatch? It’s an online shooter that revolves around heroes. Overwatch features over two dozen heroes, and each one is unique. What’s that mean, exactly? Well, some specialize in offense, some in defense, and some in wacky skills you don’t understand ’til you jump into a match and try them out yourself. But no matter which hero you choose, the mission is always the same: wipe out the enemy team and score the most points. Oh, and keep a positive K/D, else you risk handing victory to your opponents.
Like many Blizzard games, the development team actively supports the competitive scene, and potential winnings are generous to say the least. If you enjoy classic comic-book-style heroes and fast-paced competitive action, this is one game you don’t want to miss.
4. Dota 2
- Website: www.dota2.com
- Genre: MOBA
- Publisher: Valve Corporation
- Prize Payouts: $221 Million
Inspired by a community-run mod for Warcraft: III, and developed by Valve Corporation, Dota 2 is unique to its very core.
What is it, exactly? Dota 2 is a MOBA that pits two teams of five against one another in a fight to the death. Your objective? To defend your base while simultaneously inching your way towards the enemy “Ancient,” a sacred structure and the source of their power. Destroy it, and your team wins! Choose one of 117 unique heroes (each with their own magical move pools), enter the game, and defend your lane to the last breath. Your team is counting on you!
Though it’s only seven years old, Dota 2 is among the most lucrative eSports games around. Prize payouts exceed $200 million and counting! Naturally, competition is fierce, with major players from Team Liquid, OG, and other formidable teams joining the mix. Whether you want t play competitive or not, Dota 2 is a ton of fun and one you don’t want to miss.
- Website: www.epicgames.com
- Genre: Battle Royale
- Publisher: Epic Games
- Prize Payouts: $84.5 Million
Though other games propelled the gaming industry upwards, Fortnite shattered the glass ceiling. And then it built a whole new structure in its wake. Needless to say, we have Fortnite to thank for the explosive growth of eSports these past few years.
Board the Battle Bus, and jump into a wacky world that bridges several genres. You’ve got the silly antics with emotes like Flossing and Dabbing, genuine third-person shooter mechanics complete with a dazzling array of weaponry (also wacky in nature), and… building, a mechanic that takes the game to whole new heights. Build your own forts to defend against enemy fire, or and rain down terror from the high ground!
Fortnite has a robust competitive scene, and top eSports leagues maintain dedicated teams. Why? Just look at the Fortnite World Cup, where Epic Games awarded $30 million in cash prizes (the biggest payout in gaming history at the time). Fortnite is a fantastic game and an excellent place to start for players seeking a fun, playful community combined with high-stakes competitive action.
Want to get good fast? Check out our page on the best Fortnite settings for an instant upgrade.
2. League of Legends
- Website: www.leagueoflegends.com
- Genre: MOBA
- Publisher: Riot Games
- Prize Payouts: 73.5 Million
Riot Games’ massive hit, League of Legends, is 10 years in and going strong. In addition to topping the Twitch viewer charts several years in a row, it’s consistently ranked one of the most popular eSports games around.
League of Legends is a top-down fantasy-inspired MOBA or multiplayer online battle arena. At the start of each match, players select their characters, choose a battle lane, and the countdown begins! The objective? Each team must make it across the map and destroy the enemy’s Nexus before they destroy yours. Take out opposing turrets and minions as you go, and always keep an eye on the tall grass – you never know where danger lurks. It’ll take inspired maneuvering and top-tier tactics if you hope to succeed.
While DOTA 2, the other wildly popular MOBA, dwarfs LoL’s total prize payouts, LoL is more popular as a whole. It’s also where several pro teams got their start – including heavy hitters like TSM and 100 Thieves. Overall, League of Legends is one of the best PC eSports games for competitive thrill-seekers.
1. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
- Website: www.counter-strike.net
- Genre: FPS
- Publisher: Valve
- Prize Payouts: $92 Million
Widely regarded as one the best FPS games ever made, CS:GO takes the #1 spot on our list of best eSports games.
Download the game via the Steam Launcher, jump into a match, and choose your side: terrorist or counter-terrorist. Then shoot it out against the opposing team in pursuit of any number of high-stakes goals. Depending on the game mode, this may include IRL-inspired deathmatch scenarios complete with friendly fire or intense bomb defusal situations.
What makes CS:GO so competitive? Well, when you die, you’re out until the end of the match! This creates opportunities for individual players to clutch out some amazing 1 v 2 (or more) victories. Grab an AWP and Flip Knife from the Steam Community Market, then shoot/swipe your way through intense matches with everything you’ve got. It’s truly winner takes all.
These high-stakes scenarios combine with CS:GO’s classic FPS gameplay to make playing in tournaments a sensational thrill. Even for the viewer, it’s always a great show. Heck, CS: GO’s unpredictable gameplay may be the reason so many of today’s top entertainers – including Shroud and Summit1g – got their start in the game.
High Ground View: eSports Games
In its purest form, an eSport is a competition based around video games. These competitions may be a simple challenge to see who can achieve the highest score, as was often the case in the earliest days of eSports. Or, players may use the internet (or a dedicated local area network) to battle it out in real-time virtual cyberspace. Given today’s global interconnectivity, with players competing from all over the world, this is the most popular way to play.
In addition to moving online, the industry has grown in numerous other ways. For one, pro teams are quickly becoming commonplace. Like traditional sports teams, professional eSports organizations offer funding and training for talented players hoping to make it big time. And with prize pools often numbering in the millions, the potential payoffs are insane. Another area of rapid development? Dedicated eSports stadiums and facilities, like the new 100 Thieves Compound in Southern California.
Pretty cool, right? But what’s the future hold for eSports?
Once VR and Augmented Reality hit the mainstream, you’re sure to see many exciting new eSports games – and maybe even entirely new ways to play. Moreover, you should expect to see the industry as a whole continue to gain momentum as the Xbox Series X and PS5 hit the market. In the grand scheme of things, the industry, and the competition, has only just begun.