What is esports: A complete guide

If you are one of those people who still think that esports is “watching other people play video games.” Oh boy, oh boy you are in for a ride.

Don’t take me wrong, I have been an avid video game fan since I booted my first PC game, which was Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines after ditching my trusted PlayStation. I thought the same way, for a very long time. I got thrown into esports whilst playing local CoD 2 tournaments. I didn’t even know what we were doing back then was esports, and yes that was esports at least for the mid 2000s.

Esports turning into a mainstream entertainment that span multiple platforms and businesses were simply beyond any Sci-Fi writer’s imagination –except maybe Phillip K. Dick, that author can imagine anything– Huge arenas, thousands of fans, millions of viewers, sponsorships, real life athletes switching their careers into digital ones, Singers giving concerts in the digital realm.

Here’s a comprehensive guide to finding your way into the complex ecosystem of esports.

What is competitive gaming or esports

The landscape of competitive, organised video gaming with a live audience is referred to as esports. You could take it a bit far and call it modern day gladiatorship of the digital realm:

Competitors from various leagues or teams compete in the following games, which are popular between gamers: To name a few, Counter-Strike, Call of Duty, DOTA 2 Overwatch, StarCraft, Fortnite, and League of Legends. Millions of fans watch and follow these gamers from all around the world, whether they attend live events or watch them on TV or online.

Viewers may watch their favourite gamers play in real time on streaming platforms like Twitch, or Youtube Gaming and recently TikTok Gaming to name some platforms, and this is often where popular players grow their fan bases.

The classification of video games as sports is an ongoing issue. Proponents believe that esports is a rapidly expanding "non-traditional sport" that necessitates "careful preparation, exact timing, and precise execution." Some argue that sports require physical fitness and training, while others prefer to categorise esports as a mind activity.

Difference between gaming and esports

A person is gaming whenever they play a video game:

Everything from the $47,000 Dota 2 Championships to random people on the metro playing Solitaire on their phones or crushing the sugar out of candies in Candy Crush falls into this category.

Gaming also can be competitive, and it can be played solo or in groups.

Image credit: Stem List on Unsplash

It's important to remember that when someone competes in esports, they're also gaming. Someone who plays video games isn't always an esports athlete or in recent lingo: A cyber athlete.

Competition is what defines esports. Electronic sports, like actual sports, pit teams or individuals against one other. This can be direct toe-to-toe encounters, such as when League of Legends teams pull off a Wombo Combo.


They can also take place indirectly: Such as when speedrunners battle for the fastest times but never really interact within the game.

There are living, breathing people who were born out of biological wombs that can pull off stuff like this:

History of esports

In the year 1972 anno Domini, after 1.7 million years from the first Homo erectus controlled the element of fire and defied the Water Nation… Okay back on point:

Origins of esports: 1972 to 90s

The All Japan TV Game Championships, a countrywide arcade video game competition hosted by Sega in 1974, was a predecessor of esports. Television sets (colour and black-and-white), cassette tape recorders and transistor radios were among the prizes given out. But this was not the beginning.

On October 19, 1972, at Stanford University, the first documented video game tournament took place for the game Spacewar. Stanford students were invited to a "Intergalactic spacewar olympics," with Bruce Baumgart winning the five-man free-for-all event and Tovar and Robert E. Maas won the team competition, with the grand prize being a year's membership to Rolling Stone.

via Rolling Stone

High Score chasing marks the beginning of esports

The high point of this era was Taito's - Space Invaders, released in 1978, ushered in the golden age of arcade video games. By developing and promoting the usage of a persistent high score for all players it gave worldwide esports an official start.

Several video games followed suit over the next several years, adding new ways to monitor high scores, such as high score tables that featured the players' initials in 1979's Asteroids.

High-score chasing became a popular pastime and a competitive sport. Atari's Space Invaders Championship in 1980 was the first large-scale video game tournament, gathering over 10,000 competitors from throughout the United States and established competitive gaming as a widespread hobby.

In 1980, Walter Day, the owner of an Iowa arcade, decided to travel across the United States to record high scores on various games, and upon his return, he founded Twin Galaxies, a high score record-keeping organisation. The organisation went on to promote video games and publicise its records through publications like the Guinness Book of World Records, eventually forming the United States National Video Game Team in 1983.

Online games and growth of esports in the 90s

Quake… no, no, no. Not yet. Let’s go back even further:

In 1991, the fighting game Street Fighter II popularised the idea of two players competing directly at a tournament level. Until 1991, video games depended on high scores to decide the greatest player. That changed with Street Fighter II, when players began confronting each other directly. "face-to-face," to establish the best player.

In 1996, the international Evolution Championship Series (EVO) esports event was founded in response to the success of fighting games such as Street Fighter and 1992's Mortal Kombat. Here’s the legendary Battle by the Bay tournament:

Esports, Internet and the birth of Deathmatch

Deathmatch: A lovely word used to describe a group of people virtually killing each other for fun. 1993’s DOOM actually coined the term, it was christened as “Deathmatch”.

id Software's John Romero created competitive multiplayer in online games. For the first time in history you could dial-up into your friends computers and kill them over the internet.

Image credit: id Software - Bethesda

Tournaments such as the Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL), QuakeCon, and the Professional Gamers League were formed in the late 1990s. Counter-Strike: Source, Quake, StarCraft, and Warcraft were among the PC titles played during the CPL.

Okay enough history. Let’s jump back to the present day and see how esports work in our contemporary world.

How esports leagues and teams get shaped

But how does the road to esports even take shape? How do you even compete in esports and what do esports competitions look like? How to go professional in esports? You may ask and you shall get your answer:

Apart from the obvious path of turning your gaming hobby into a competitive job title/cyber athleticism with a monthly salary and benefits: Gaming teams and/or larger gaming groups are frequently affiliated with professional gamers, or "pro gamers.". At some point everyone is a free agent in this sector.

Several pros make up teams like FaZe Clan, 100 Thieves, Evil Geniuses, Cloud9, Fnatic, T1, and Natus Vincere. Bigger teams have over 3 million followers on twitter, such as OpTic Gaming. Within tournaments and leagues, these teams frequently cover numerous esports games, with different team makeups for each game.

Most organised play in team-based esports is premised on the use of promotion and relegation to transfer sponsored teams between leagues within the competition's organisation based on how the team performed in matches; this follows professional sports practises in European and Asian nations.

Teams will play a number of games over the course of a season in order to compete for first place in the league at the end of that season. Those who do well may be promoted to a higher-level league in addition to receiving prize money, while those who perform poorly may be demoted downward.

Esports leagues and circuits vs tournaments

Image credit: Danny Howe on Unsplash

Esports are also usually played in tournaments, where potential players and teams compete for a spot in the event by competing in qualification matches. From there, tournament forms can range from single to double elimination, with group stages thrown in for good measure.

Esports competitions are nearly always physical events that take place in front of a live audience and are overseen by referees or officials. The competition might be part of a bigger event, such as Dreamhack, or it could be the whole event, such as the World Cyber Games or the Fortnite World Cup. At gaming and multi-genre gatherings, esport tournaments have become a popular attraction.

Then there are leagues and circuits, where teams compete against each other throughout the course of a year, or a season, or any predetermined time period. Then win by scoring the highest points or score.

Or it could be a mish-mash of both. Where the high scorers of leagues from different regions, different divisions face each other in playoffs. Then the winners of those regional playoffs face each other in a world championship tournament, etc.

Your best bet to understand a league is to read its official format because all of them tend to change slightly or majorly every year. Some rules get obsolete, some new ones take their place.

Then COVID hits and boom, everything changes.

Esports economy: How big is esports

If we look at the predictions for 2022 from two reliable financial sources in their fields.

via Statista

According to Newzoo, which almost accurately predicted the market growth of esports since 2018 and backed up by current market research: The worldwide esports sector is expected to produce about $2 billion in sales by 2022. Insider Intelligence published this statistic, which is backed up by current market research.

According to reportlinker.com: The Global Esports Market size is expected to reach $3,574.9 million by 2027, rising at a market growth of 21.3% CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate is the rate of return (RoR) that would be required for an investment to grow from its beginning balance to its ending balance, assuming the profits were reinvested at the end of each period of the investment’s life span.) during the forecast period.

Acumen Research and Consulting predicts a much higher number of $7,131.8 Mn by 2028

TL:DR The worldwide esports sector is expected to produce about $2 billion in sales by 2022.

For an even extensive look at how big is esports financially, take a look at my esports market analysis article. Go invest in crypto, ditch your family and move to Vietnam, or even better invest in esports, and don’t ditch your family. Be a decent human being, because esports is BOOMING:

Esports economy: Biggest esports leagues, tournaments and organizations

Some team game leagues include ESL Pro League (CSGO), League Championship Series (LoL), Call of Duty League (CoD), Dota 2 Pro Circuit, PUBG Global Championship and so on.

Some tournaments include: The International (Dota 2), CSGO Majors, Fortnite World Cup Finals, and Evolution Championship Series  (Fighting games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat) are some of the most well-known Esports competitions..

They may also represent single players in one-on-one esports games such as StarCraft, Evolution Championship Series (EVO) fighting games or Hearthstone tournaments.

Players in these teams and organisations may be paid a separate team wage in addition to prize money from tournament wins.

Esports economy: Biggest prize pools

Here’s a look at some of the biggest prize pools of esports in recent years.

  • The International 2021 – $40,018,400.00 – Dota 2 – 18 Teams – 90 Players
  • Fortnite World Cup Finals 2019 - Solo – $15,287,500.00 – Fortnite – 100 Players
  • Honor of Kings World Champion Cup 2021 – $7,728,000.00 – Arena of Valor – 12 Teams – 66 Players
  • PGI.S 2021 Main Event – $7,068,071.00 –PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS – 32 Teams –136 Players
  • LoL 2018 World Championship – $6,450,000.00 –League of Legends –24 Teams – 131 Players
  • Call of Duty League Championship 2020 – $4,600,000.00 – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare – 10 Teams – 50 Players
  • Overwatch League - Season 2 Playoffs – $3,500,000.00 – Overwatch – 8 Teams – 77 Players
  • Six Invitational 2020 – $3,000,000.00 – Rainbow Six Siege – 16 Teams – 80 Players
  • StarCraft II – $36,171,794.04 – 2115 Players – 6280 Tournaments

There are also games that give out huge prize pools but are unpopular in the West compared to the East. Such as Arena of Valor.

Esports economy: Highest paying esports games

#1 Dota 2 (Valve)

  • Prize Money Awarded: $278,650,000.65
  • 4179 Professional players
  • 1588 Tournaments

#2 Counter Strike (Valve)

  • Prize Money Awarded: $129,265,791.89
  • 14,698 Professional players
  • 6073 Tournaments

#3 Fortnite (Epic Games)

  • Prize Money Awarded: $111,159,316.05
  • 4929 Professional players
  • 748 Tournaments

#4 League of Legends (Riot Games)

  • Prize Money Awarded: $90,041,272.98
  • 8018 Professional players
  • 2665 Tournaments


  • Prize Money Awarded: $42,981,357.41
  • 3052 Professional players
  • 388 Tournaments

Esports viewership

when we look at the number of the human population that’s watching esports in 2021, hold tight: The global esports audience peaked at 474 million people in 2021. More spectators are likely to tune-in in the coming years to see their favourite games being played by some of the top gamers in the world. Globally, over 577 million people are predicted to watch esports by 2024.

That’s half a billion people consuming esports entertainment. Who would’ve thought that? Then again who would’ve thought some guy who forgot $100 worth of bitcoin in his wallet would become a potential billionaire, if he only had not forgotten his password to his crypto wallet.

Most watched esports games, top esports leagues and tournaments by hour and peak viewers

Most watched esports games are as of 2022: League of Legends, Dota 2, Mobile Legends, CSGO, Valorant followed by Overwatch.

The League of Legends World Championships 2021 was the most viewed esports event in 2021, with over 174.8 million hours watched.

The International 10 (Dota 2), the Worlds' major challenger, placed second. Fans of the sport were looking forward to TI this year, as it had been cancelled the previous year.

While tournaments and leagues were the two most popular esports events, MPL (Mobile Legends Pro League, a mobile multiplayer MOBA game) Indonesia came in at top three.

The league's eighth season drew 76.9 million viewers in 172 hours on broadcast. It's worth noting that the MOBA genre accounts for eight of the top 10 events in the list.

It's worth noting that the MOBA genre accounts for eight of the ten events in the ranking. Only two competitions from the FPS genre cracked the top ten: PGL Major Stockholm 2021 (CSGO) rated fourth with 71.2 million hours watched, and Valorant Champions 2021 placed tenth with 46 million hours watched.

When we look at the peak numbers the ranking is a bit different. By popularity alone Mobile Legends surpasses all of its esports peers. The Free Fire World Series 2021 Singapore, the first worldwide LAN in mobile battle royale in a few years, was the most popular event of 2021. The tournament attracted 5.4 million Peak Viewers, a new high for the whole esports industry (not taking into account the statistics from Chinese platforms, you know…)

Over 4 million Peak Viewers tuned in to see the Worlds 2021 final between EDward Gaming and DWG KIA. This is also a new esports high, as well as the biggest total among competitive desktop games.

Season 0 of the PUBG Mobile Global Championship came in third (its statistics were heavily affected by the distribution of in-game gifts for watching streams in the game client). On the first day of the finals, it drew 3.8 million Peak Viewers.

Surprisingly, Peak Viewers only ranked four PC events in the top ten, while the other six were all mobile esports. Mobile Legends: Bang Bang ranked first in terms of the amount of tournaments, with four.

The second most important international competition in the League of Legends esports season, the Mid-Season Invitational 2021, brought the Top 10 to a close. Over 1.8 million people tuned in to see the final between Royal Never Give Up and DWG KIA.

Top companies, teams and brands in esports

This topic is a bowl of information. I don’t want to say a total Clusterf*** but it is: There are partnerships, sponsorships, Huge gaming conglomerates such as Tencent developing games that are purely for esports such as VALORANT.

Then there are beasts like Google through its acquisition of Youtube now effectively controlling some of the esports market by providing a huge streaming platform for the professionals and big leagues to live stream their events. There is Microsoft, Valve Corporation etc. That sign deals with individual pros for advertisement.

Then there are leagues such as ESL partnering with gargantuan tech firms such as Intel.

Teams such as Faze, Cloud9 etc. have become corporations on their own that now they team up with other companies or get sponsored by them. Then there’s music biz getting involved, and stream platform giants such as Netflix, running about LoL’s lore such as Arcane.

This is getting crazy right? Because it is.

List of top companies in esports

Microsoft and its recently acquired Activision Blizzard – United States

Activision Blizzard's esports strategy is centred on its popular IP, such as StarCraft, Warcraft, Hearthstone, Overwatch, and Call of Duty, as well as the leagues that surround them. Now owned by Microsoft, which is expanding aggressively into the esports market.

Google's parent company, Alphabet – United States.

YouTube is the exclusive focus of Google's esports aspirations. It's spending a lot of money to narrow the content and market share gap with Twitch. In the tiny mobile esports streaming area, YouTube already has an advantage over Twitch. It drew 88 percent of spectators to the Arena of Valor World Cup 2019, for example, 80 percent.

Amazon – United States

Twitch, owned by Amazon, is the most popular esports streaming service, with a 73 percent market share based on viewing hours in 2019. Twitch's average daily concurrent users surged by 12% (according to Twitch Tracker) in March 2020, when the COVID-19 outbreak forced lockdowns throughout the planet.

Tencent – United States (But China)

Tencent has reaped the benefits of the esports boom owing to its investments in venues, tournaments, and streaming platforms, as well as its interests in numerous key game producers. It joined the Global Esports Federation as a founding member in 2019, with the goal of regulating players, organisations, and commercial partners in the ecosystem.

Valve – United States

Dota 2 and CS: GO, two extremely successful esports titles, are published by Valve. In addition, the corporation is beginning to follow its peers into franchise leagues, such as Activision Blizzard and Riot Games. The International, a regional league concept for the Dota 2 tournament, was announced in February 2020. The league is set up such that clubs may play in their own time zone, which should attract more domestic spectators.

Some of the most famous esports teams

Here’s some of the most famous and popular teams/organizations and their worth.

TSM (Team Solo Mid) – $410 million

TSM stands for Team SoloMid, a professional esports team headquartered in the United States. Andy "Reginald" Dinh created it in September 2009. League of Legends, Apex Legends, Valorant, Hearthstone, Super Smash Bros., Fortnite, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, PUBG Mobile, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege, Magic: The Gathering Arena, and chess are among the games in which TSM has players.

Cloud9 – $350 million.

Cloud9 (C9) is a Los Angeles, California-based professional esports organisation. It was founded in the year 2013. After beating FaZe Clan 2–1 in the ELEAGUE Major: Boston in 2018, Cloud9's Counter-Strike: Global Offensive lineup became the first and only North American team to win a Major.

Team Liquid – $310 million

Team Liquid was created in 2000 as a multi-regional professional esports organisation located in the Netherlands. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty was released. Squad Liquid's League of Legends team has won four LCS championships, while its Counter-Strike Global Offensive team won the Intel Grand Slam prize in 2019, a feat accomplished in only four events.

Faze Clan – $305 million

FaZe Clan (previously FaZe Sniping) is an American competitive esports and entertainment company based in Los Angeles. The group, which was founded on May 30, 2010, includes members from all over the world who play Call of Duty, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege, FIFA, Valorant, and Fortnite Battle Royale.

Team T1 – $150 million

T1 (formerly SK Telecom T1 or SKT T1) is a South Korean esports team owned and controlled by T1 Entertainment & Sports, a joint venture between SK Telecom and Comcast Spectacor.

T1's League of Legends squad has won the League of Legends World Championships in 2013, 2015, and 2016.

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What is the number 1 esports game as of 2022

Image credit: Florian Olivo on Unsplash

Ah… things get tricky here. What do you define as number one of esports? professional player count? number of viewers? common player count? or prize money?

By number of professional players it would be CSGO with 14,698 Players and 6073 Tournaments.

But… by the amount of prizes given, then DOTA 2 is the king, with 40 odd million player count versus its peer LoL’s 170 million it gave a total of mind blowing $278,650,000.65 in prizes.

Then when you take into account the number of players that are currently playing the game: LoL has a total of 150 million registered players. Over 117 Million players are actively playing monthly and 10 - 11 million active players daily.

Where I’m going with this is there is no #1 esports game. Apples and oranges, different sizes and shapes etc.

There are different MOBAs, different FPSs, different RTSs, card games, fighting games, racing games, sports games (FIFA has over 50 million players for example).

What is the future of esports?

I touched on the subject of the future growth of the esports market in this article. But how esports will change in itself, as an entertainment is a topic of sci-fi fantasy.

One of our fellow editors touched on the subject very profoundly in his What will the landscape of esports look like in 2022? article and I’d highly recommend reading it.

There’s also the incoming craze of metaverse and the question of how will it affect the esports ecosystem

The idea of VR meeting esports, and viewers becoming online spectators and seeing the competitive event unfolding through the eyes of the pro esports players themselves is extremely exciting and somewhat terrifying at the same time.

Russia, Turkey, US, France, Philippines and so on… All over the world esports is getting recognized as a professional form of athleticism and cyber athletes are being issued licenses. In 2013, Canadian League of Legends player Danny "Shiphtur" Le became the first pro gamer to receive an American P-1A visa, a category designated for "Internationally Recognized Athletes".

There are school leagues/collegiate esports teams and scholarship opportunities (mostly in China and North America) for incoming students in Universities. As of 2019, over 130 colleges have esports-based variety programs in NA only –America f*** yeah as they say over there–.

What’s not in this guide

This has already reached the point of your ordinary Wikipedia article and I will not cover how to get esports sponsorships, or health tips for competitive gamers, or how to be an esports player in the first place because that’s a whole different subject.


Esports is way past the point of being just about watching “someone else playing games”. It has become a platform unlike any predecessor, or if we take a look at it from a different perspective: It now serves as a Roman Bread and circuses (or bread and games; from Latin: panem et circenses) for modern times.

It definitely served as bread and circuses for me, since I ate about 5 shish kebabs and drank at least 6 litres of different beverages throughout the completion of this guide.

Thanks for staying with me through the ride, and I’m definitely gonna take the next day off after writing this. Good luck my fellow editors on Luckbox, since you are gonna need it after taking over my articles for tomorrow.

We have come to the end of our guide that we discussed and analyzed in depth the immense and magical world of esports. If we managed to answer your questions and tidied up the big picture even a little, then it's well done for us. We hope you'll be enchanted with the esports' spirit as we are. If you are already an avid esports fan you can watch your favourite teams and bet on them on Luckbox. If you want to read more articles and guides like this visit our news page for the latest esports news and encounters.