The biggest esports games

Which esports title boasts the widest audience and biggest prize pools?

Fortnite

Whether you’re a fan of long-running titles like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Dota 2, or prefer action-packed games of competitive Fortnite or Apex Legends, 2020 is already an exhilarating year for esports.

Prize pool records are set to be broken yet again this year and more non-gaming brands have sponsored and invested in teams and tournaments. The scene, as a whole, is thriving.

The stalwarts of esports, such as League of Legends, CS:GO, Dota 2, and Overwatch have all had a great start to the year, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has shifted most events to an online-only format. Last year also saw a massive boom in the popularity of mobile esports, especially in Asia. But which is the best esports game in terms of viewership, prize pools, and audience reach throughout the year?

What are the biggest esports games?

The term ‘biggest’ can be construed in many ways. Are the ‘biggest’ esports the most watched? The ones with the most prize money? Or the ones that are most widely played?

For this particular breakdown, we’ll take all the top-tier and premier esports tournaments in 2019. We’re looking at 2019 as many of the major tournaments for 2020 are still yet to take place.  Here we’ll look at the total prize money offered and the most viewed tournament for each game.

  • League of Legends
    Total prize money: $8,948,000 (£6,917,000)
    Most viewed tournament: League of Legends Worlds (3.9 million)
  • Fortnite
    Total prize money: $64,338,000 (£49,883,000)
    Most viewed tournament: Fortnite World Cup (2.3 million)
  • Dota 2
    Total prize money: $46,150,000 (£35,679,000)
    Most viewed tournament: The International (2 million)
  • CS:GO
    Total prize money: $17,578,000 (£13,590,000)
    Most viewed tournament: IEM Katowice Major (1.2 million)

Fortnite’s entry into the esports scene has seen it dish out the most prize money collectively, despite Dota 2 holding the record for the biggest prize pot at a single event at this year’s International.

Epic’s battle royale is also second only in viewership to the behemoth that is League of Legends. The MOBA has a large amount of esports tournaments due to the multiple regional leagues that cover every corner of the globe. Despite topping the table for viewership numbers, LoL lags behind Fortnite, Dota 2 and CS:GO in terms of the amount of prize money being dished out.

Read more: Get to grips with ranks in our LoL rankings guide 

The argument for ‘biggest’ esport surely has to be won by one of these four. Which one takes the crown, however, is down to what you value the most.

What are the most popular esports by tournament?

Popularity can be defined by a number of variables, but when looking at popularity in esports, the viewership behind each game is arguably the best indicator.

The most-watched esports event of all time is the 2019 League of Legends World Championship. Excluding China, (where viewership stats are difficult to acquire) Worlds 2019 had a peak global viewership just shy of four million viewers. This year’s Worlds, which is rapidly approaching, is likely to top this.

Here’s what the most popular esports by tournament were in 2019:

RANK GAME VIEWERS TOURNAMENT
1 League of Legends 3.9 million LoL Worlds 2019
2 Fortnite 2.3 million Fortnite World Cup 2019
3 Dota 2 2 million  The International 2019
4 Free Fire 2 million Free Fire World Series 2019 Rio
5 CS:GO 1.2 million IEM Katowice Major 2019
6 PUBG 980k PUBG Korea League Phase 1
7 Arena of Valor 764k Arena of Valor World Cup 2019
8 Overwatch 612k  Netease Esports X Tournament Winter
9 Apex Legends 570k Twitch Rivals Apex Legends Challenge
10 PUBG Mobile 525k Club Open Fall Split Global Finals

Based on the above numbers, League of Legends is the most popular esport by a substantial margin. Not only did it break the record for the most watched esports event ever (excluding Chinese audiences) with coverage of Worlds 2019, it’s collective viewership is massive due to the number of regional leagues that run throughout the year.

Esports arena

Battle royale games also dominate the top ten, with Fortnite, PUBG, and Apex Legends pulling in big audiences, reflecting the games’ popularity on streaming platforms such as Twitch.

Free Fire, a mobile battle royale popular in Asia, drew in huge viewing figures despite not having much of a market in North America and most of Europe, showing how influential the Asian audience can be.

Big FPS titles, such as Rainbow Six Siege and Call of Duty, missed out on being in the top ten, likely due to the overwhelming popularity of the battle royale wave.

However, that could all change in 2020. Esports titles like PUBG and Apex Legends are on the decline and titles like Rocket League and Valorant could take their place. We’ll update this guide once we’ve had a few more Major tournaments to see what sort of impact they’ve had.