The games that professional eSports athletes compete on aren't just netting them tired thumbs and a few pixelated coins. The collegiate and professional eSports industry that's on the rise in Dallas is fueled by games from a multibillion-dollar media industry, and it's starting to rival the revenues of film and television distribution.
Pro-gamers compete across multiple genres that range from complex strategy games, where plotting careful moves and assigning roles to the right player can mean the difference between victory and defeat, to violent shooters where being the first to drain all the life from your enemy will net you millions in winnings. These are some of the most popular games being played on both the eSports circuit and among everyday gamers.
League of Legends
Riot Games' signature multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) has been around since 2009 and it is the most popular eSports title on the planet. Unfamiliar eyes might just see it as a simple hack-and-slash-your-way-to victory-in-an-online-fantasy world title. However, League of Legends offers deep opportunities for strategy with a large library of different champions that have unique abilities and open up as players level up through the ranks.
The massive community built around this game has turned it into a sport all its own, with global tournaments that offer prizes in the millions; sponsored teams that can attract the likes of Mercedes-Benz and T-Mobile; and even its own language, with terms that refer to specific stats and game moments like "creep score" (the number of minions killed) and "kiting" (the act of fleeing an enemy attack while still dealing out damage on them).
"It's the biggest game of the world," says Benjamin Kratsch, the global content director of eSports.com. "Thirty-three million people just watched the world championships. Airbus has bought a team. It’s a phenomenon."
StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm
Blizzard's sci-fi themed spinoff of the popular WarCraft war-strategy game became one of the company's biggest hits in the late '90s and early 2000s, and one of the first eSports games. Other titles have since surpassed its popularity in eSports, and this expansion pack was designed to get the StarCraft franchise back into the competition. The multiplayer expansion adds a bunch of new recruits to the game's traditional warrior types and five terrain maps that present different challenges to virtual alien warfare. Just like traditional sports, the game's concept and goals are simple, but only the most intuitive and talented players can master its skills and strategies.
"Easy to learn, hard to master," Kratsch says. "It’s the perfect Blizzard formula for a very fast-paced, super complex strategy game."
Heroes of the Storm
This MOBA from Blizzard aims to knock League of Legends from the very high pedestal it has built for itself in the eSports and gaming markets by diving into the Blizzard vault of classic games. Two teams of five players face off on a series of maps, with the shared goal of destroying their enemy's "Core" or home base, by slashing and shooting through their opponents and waves of their minions. The game takes different heroes from other Blizzard classics like World of WarCraft, Diablo and The Lost Vikings and pits them against each other in a series of battleground maps, each with its own special currency that can be spent on special minions for armies of golems, dragons and a "Predatory mech."
Even though it's one of the newer titles on the eSports circuit, it's quickly becoming one of the most lucrative games for eSports teams. The University of Texas at Arlington's eSports team took the top prize at Blizzard's Heroes of the Dorm tournament in Las Vegas last April, earning each player a $75,000 scholarship.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
Some of the first eSports titles to score their own major league tournaments were first-person shooters like id's Quake III Arena and some of the early Call of Duty games. Activision's latest contribution to Call of Duty's eSports line offers some of the most lucrative prizes to players who are good at killing their opponents with high-grade military weaponry on an interplanetary battleground. OpTic Gaming, a competitive eSports team that's relocating its headquarters to Dallas, won the 2017 Call of Duty World League Championship and a $600,000 grand prize.
"It's super fast and super competitive," Kratsch says. "It’s the biggest console shooter in the world."
This sequel to Valve's DotA (Defense of the Ancients) is one of the eSports world's most complex titles that only a handful of dedicated players have been able to master. The game has more than 100 playable characters and an even larger collection of weapons,
"It's very tactical and has very deep mechanics," Kratsch says. "It's a game made for eSports pros."
Hearthstone: Heroes of WarCraft
If you're one of those old fogies who fondly remembers a time when kids could only battle each other in board games, you'll be happy to learn that Blizzard also has one of those to play on a pro-level. Blizzard's digital strategy game turns the WarCraft universe into a very deep and complex fantasy-themed card game. The goal is simply to kill your opponent by collecting enough mana to unleash your heroes and minions'
"It's perfect to play on an iPad and fun to watch," Kratsch says. "It’s the opposite of the high-energy, super fast-paced eSports games out there."
Sports games have been a part of video games since the days of the Atari 2600 and titles like EA Sports' Madden and NBA Live franchises have gained a foothold in competitive gaming. However, Rocket League gave the gaming world a frantic, high-energy sport that can only be played in the gaming world. Two teams drive a series of high octane vehicles around an enclosed soccer arena as they try to bump a giant ball into their opponent's goal. They can pick up some speed with nitro boosters that pop up on the field as they try to position the ball and their teammates into scoring positions. The game lets players customize their vehicles to look as crazy or cool as they want, with everything from sporty car models to flame decals, boosters that shoot green slime from their exhaust and car toppers like a fez or a "Thug Life" pair of pixelated sunglasses.
"It has the crazy rocket car that Vin Diesel drives in The Fast and the Furious 8 and NBC has even created their own tournament around it called the Universal Open Rocket League," Kratsch says.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
What if you don't care about deep, strategic gameplay or complex item systems? Do you just want to see a bunch of virtual good and bad guys shoot each other and respawn endlessly? This virtual warfare shooter from Valve should be on your Twitch favorites' list. It couldn't be simpler. You run around a wartorn landscape with big guns like M4s and AK-47s, try to get your enemies in your crosshairs, and pull the trigger. You can also customize your weapons to look more like personalized killing machines and earn money from kills and matches to buy bigger and
Blizzard Entertainment wasn't content with just having the most competitive and popular MOBAs in the eSports universe. They fired a very noticeable shot at first-person shooters last year with this complex, class-based team shooter that's become one of the most lucrative modern game franchises and will become a 13-team pro league next year that includes a team in Dallas called the Dallas Fuel.
The gameplay is very simple: Kill your opponents as you attempt to complete an even simpler goal, like capturing your opponent's flag or killing them until they stay dead. The strategy comes in the classes of characters and types of fighters you put on your team, which can do things like provide air support with jetpacks, place shields on the field and move through time to distract opponents.
"It’s basically a playable Marvel movie: bright colors, great effects, a ton of superheroes to choose from," Kratsch says. "It's fun to play and fun to watch and it's huge in eSports."
What happens when you take 100 over-caffeinated gamers, stick them on a virtual battlefield and leave them to fend for themselves until just one of them is left standing? You get this insane shooter from the Korean studio Bluehole. The creators drew their inspiration from the cult Japanese film Battle Royale in which a group of high school students is kidnapped by the government and forced to fight each other to the death using whatever they find in a remote, wooded area. The same happens in this game, except the players are dropped out of the sky and parachute onto the battlefield, where the massive map shrinks as the players' numbers start to dwindle. Kratsch says that unlike most virtual shooters, the stakes are much higher in this deadly game.
"It's quite bonkers but it's super popular right now," he says. "If you die, you lose all your gear."
id Software and Bethesda Softworks have been wanting to join the eSports fray since Quake III Arena fell out of popularity after a long and impressive run in the pro-gaming world. At the last QuakeCon gathering at the Gaylord Texan resort in Grapevine, they unveiled their new competitive and customizable first-person shooter, complete with a high-stakes tournament with a $1 million prize pool. Based on the classic first-person shooter from the '90s called Quake, the newest version lets teams of players frag each others' brains out in an enclosed arena with a series of powerful weapons and different challenges. The game also lets players take on unique team skins or special characters from the id Universe, such as William "BJ" Blazkowicz from the Wolfenstein games and the Doomguy from Doom.
"The competitive DNA was already in Quake," says Tim Willits, the creative director of Quake Champions. "What we focused on what was what made it a better experience, like better spectating for our Twitch streaming partnership. Heck, we even have Twitch channels in the game."
Street Fighter V
Just because video game gear has become more powerful than the computers that launched the Apollo astronauts into space doesn't mean that classic gaming experiences have gone by the wayside in the eSports world. The classic, side-standing fighter franchise Street Fighter has found its own place in competitive gaming with its latest title Street Fighter V. The goal is simple: Beat up your opponent before they beat you up, using a series of special fighting moves and deadly projectiles that take a lot of practice to master and execute at key moments.
World of Tanks
If you like your virtual warfare with machinery that's heavier than an AK-47, you can jump into a number of historic killing machines on treads in this competitive driving shooter that's become a huge money winner on the eSports circuit. Players take control of a number of different tanks from a number of different tank classes and eras of warfare and try to blast each other off the battlefield or be to the first to penetrate their enemies' stronghold.
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"You can drive World War II tanks from Germany, the UK, the U.S., Russia and so on," Kratsch says. "It's very strategic for a game for tank fans with a giant marketing budget."
Super Smash Bros.
The pioneering video game company Nintendo, which brought the world characters like Mario and Zelda, may not be the most powerful force in the gaming industry like it was in the 1980s. However, it has made a small but noticeable dent into eSports at gaming cons and Major League Gaming with this fighting gaming that pits some of the gaming world's most iconic characters against each other in a series of hand-to-sword-to-fire-flower combats. Players can choose to play as any number of memorable characters from a number of video game franchises, such as Nintendo's Mario and Donkey Kong, Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog, Capcom's Mega Man and Bandai Namco's Pac-Man. Characters are pitted against each other in all-out brawls on a series of game-themed platform stages.
"It's fun to play, pretty fast and very colorful," Kratsch says. "Nintendo isn’t too much into competitive gaming,
but this here is a little jewel."