The international health crisis has stripped us of the ability to travel, and thus of the opportunity to attend our favorite esports events in person. For many countries, it seems the situation will remain unchanged for months to come. Closed stadiums, clubs and event halls forced professional gaming organizations to switch entirely to an online format. While we sit at our homes watching competitions online and contributing to the huge spike in popularity of streaming platforms, let’s have a closer look at some of the most iconic esports events of recent years.
League of Legends World Championship
“Worlds” is one of gaming’s biggest annual events, gathering huge audiences both in front of computer screens as well as in person (at least when it was still possible). The latest event in the series took place throughout September/October 2020 and was held in Shanghai, China. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the audience was only allowed to participate in limited numbers in the finals – a total of nearly 6,500 fans were allowed to enter the newly opened Pudong Football Stadium, which has the capacity of 33,765. 24 teams from the entire world were invited to battle inside China’s newest event arena. The total prize pool for the 2020 event was a hefty $2,225,000. The combined viewership reached 49.95 million concurrent viewers according to Riot Games, and the event was broadcasted through more than 21 platforms, in 16 different languages, making it the most-watched esports event of that year. In 2021, the developers are hoping for another record-breaking tournament, which is also going to be held in China.
The International (Dota 2)
The International is another large MOBA event on our list. The original Defense of the Ancients, conceived as a Warcraft III mod, gave birth to the whole genre, and its successor continues to attract huge crowds. Unfortunately, the 2020 event was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the 2021 edition is planned to be held at the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, Sweden. Whether or not the tournament actually takes place will largely depend on the ongoing health crisis. The first edition of the International was announced in 2011 and the tournament also served as the first public viewing of Dota 2. The 2019 edition was held in the Chinese Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai, and the total prize pool reached an astonishing sum of $34,330,068. The viewership peaked at 1 million concurrent viewers during the finals, which were streamed on Twitch. It may come as a surprise to some, but with the combined prize pool for all recorded tournaments currently at over 231 million USD according to esportsearnings.com, Dota 2 continues to be the top game in terms of prize money awarded, leaving other titles far behind (the second highest is CS:GO, with slightly above 111 million USD).
ESL One Cologne
A series of international esports tournaments for CS:GO and Dota 2 that has been organized by ESL since 2014 and frequently sponsored by Valve (who owns both games) and Intel. Compared to the two tournaments mentioned above, this one can boast a “modest” prize pool of 1 million USD, split between four regions – Europe, North America, Asia and Oceania. 2020 was a turbulent year for the event as well – it was eventually postponed until the end of August and moved to an online format. The organizers hope to return to the Lanxess Arena this year and make it accessible to everyone, but with the current health situation in Germany it is highly possible the 2021 edition will also be held online.
Though not exclusively an esports event, BlizzCon is one of the largest gaming celebrations every year and holds a number of tournaments for Blizzard games, including World of Warcraft, StarCraft 2, Hearthstone and Overwatch. In 2020, similarly to other companies, Blizzard made the decision to organize the event entirely online, and to postpone it until February 2021. This was the first online edition in history, and the company called it BlizzConline. The opening ceremony peaked at nearly 1.5 million spectators spread across Twitch and YouTube. Unfortunately, the esports events were cancelled this year.
The minds behind DreamHack like to refer to the event as the world’s largest digital festival that gathers gaming enthusiasts, artists and professional players from all over the world. The whole undertaking began as a small gathering of friends in a basement of an elementary school in Sweden in the early 1990s, later moving to the cafeteria and eventually becoming a large regional event. In 1997, it became the largest LAN party ever organized in Sweden. Across its rich, 25-year history, DreamHack has been organized in such places as Stockholm, Valencia, Moscow, Bucharest, Austin, Montreal and more. In 2020, ESL merged with DreamHack, but the brands operate separately. In 2021, the company is preparing for DreamHack Atlanta and DreamHack Winter, and is ”working on a new online experience”. DreamHack has set a Guinness World Record in 2013 for the biggest LAN party, with 22810 people.
The season finals of the Intel Extreme Masters that takes place in Katowice is one of the largest gaming events of the year, gathering fans of CS:GO and StarCraft 2. History has been made on this stage several times, with some of the most memorable moments in gaming. The 2021 esports competition ended in February, with a prize pool of 1 million USD for CS:GO, and 250,000 USD for SC2. IEM has a rich history, it is a well known event in Poland, loved by fans and advertised in the country’s largest media outlets. Despite the lockdowns resulting in the fans inability to participate in the event in person, the 2021 edition was considered a huge success by the organizers, with very high online viewership. IEM is one of the largest and most highly-anticipated events in Europe.