With the rise of COVID-19, many people turned to the internet, especially to Twitch and Youtube. Now that we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, it looks like Twitch, the world’s largest live-streaming platform, is here to stay. With streamers exploding in popularity as the lockdown set in, another section of the internet saw a jump in viewership. Esports, the concept of playing video games in a professional capacity, saw a rise in popularity as most traditional sports floundered. I certainly watched a lot of Esports as I sunk further into my metaphorical gaming chair, and I have emerged to explain how the most popular ones work. Before we get in, a few overarching principles. Several times throughout this piece I may use the word LAN. This means Local Area Network, and is used to indicate whether a gaming tournament is occurring with all the players in the same building, which generates a fairer environment, as there is less delay between everyone’s actions. Another important piece of knowledge is how Esports break the world into regions. Certain games view the world as larger regions, which typically are North America (NA), South America or Latin America (LATAM), Europe (EU), and Asia-Pacific (APAC). Some Esports break it down into major nations, like in League of Legends and Valorant, where most countries in Asia have their own leagues. The caveat here is that the organizations that own the rosters for each game aren’t bound to a region. For example, G2 Esports, a European organization, plays in the EU bracket of Rainbow Six Siege, but the NA bracket of Rocket League. With all that out of the way, here are the Esports we’ll be covering:

  • CS:GO
    • Where to find it: free on Steam, PC only.
    • CS:GO is one of the original Esports that are still around today, the other one being League of Legends. It’s part of the inspiration for Valorant, and is the classic competitive shooter format, with an economy system, a variety of weapons, and a plethora of maps that all require a different approach. Europe is the dominant region, especially with NA CS players heading to Valorant in droves. It can be a little tough to understand, as there aren’t as many visual indicators for some of the critical info, like there are in other games. 

CS:GO has a strange Esports structure. Valve, the game’s developer, sponsors the structure you see above, with regional major qualifiers sending you to majors. Community events are also popular, as well as other services like ESL or FACEIT, who run their own events.

  • Valorant
    • Where to find it: free from its website, PC only.
    • Valorant is the newest Esport on this list. It’s an identical premise to CS:GO, but with some added features. It was built with Esports in mind, so there exists a competitive infrastructure, with a competitive format, and all the tools within the game for competitive play, with enough spectator spots for each player and two free cam spectators. Most major organizations have yet to get into Valorant, but the longer it sticks around, the more likely it is to gain popularity.

Valorant has a very default structure built for Esports. The challengers events, which occur at a local level, qualify you for masters, which occur at a regional level, and the masters events qualify you for champions, which is the World Championship. There are 3 masters events before the champions event at the end of the season.

  • League of Legends
    • Where to find it: free from its website, PC and mobile, no crossplay
    • League of Legends is one of the first big Esports. Over time, it has built a sizable competitive following all through the world. The game itself was inspired by a World Of Warcraft III mod which eventually created DOTA, another game of the same style. It’s not an easy Esport to watch, as the game itself is pretty complex and tough to understand at first glance. The competition is worldwide, but the strongest region is by far Korea. 

The year-by-year competitive schedule for League of Legends Esports. The Spring Split is a double round robin; then MSI, which is an invitational that occurs mid season to provide some international competition; then the Summer Split, which is a triple round robin; then Worlds, the championship tournament.

  • Rainbow Six Siege 
    • Where to find it: 20$ on Steam, PC and Console, but no cross-platform
    • Rainbow Six Siege is the most needlessly complicated of all these Esports. It wasn’t built with a competitive infrastructure like Valorant, and one hasn’t really been built in over time like CS:GO. Ubisoft is starting to develop the tools required, but it’s been five years since the start of competitive play. There hasn’t been a lot of data to decide what the strongest region is, due to the lack of international competition recently. All regions have equally sized scenes, and most big organizations have a team in some region or another.

Rainbow Six Siege competitive structure, as described by their website. This is a simplified version; EU, LATAM, and APAC all have additional playoffs to determine the teams that go to the majors, while the U.S. doesn’t have enough teams to justify that. 

  • Smash Bros (Melee)
    • Where to find it: Nintendo Gamecube plus certain programs on a PC for online play
    • The Smash Brothers competitive scene is a curious one, considering its depth. It has never really been able to fall under a unified banner like some of the other Esports on this list, largely due to Nintendo’s opposition to the competitive scene of Smash Brothers Melee, which is considered the most popular iteration. It’s Esports scenes run mostly on grassroots events, with power rankings of the players generally agreed on by the community. The most common tournament settings include the EVO championship, which is part owned by Sony, and Dreamhack, one of the largest Esports events in the world.
    • I don’t have a drawing for this one, because there isn’t a circuit. Individual tournaments run their own qualifying events that all look different. For example, qualifiers for part of the Summit championship just happened, which will fill part of the roster, but some people are getting invites, without having to go through the qualifiers.
  • Rocket League
    • Where to find it: free on Epic Games Store
    • Rocket League is a very simple game. If you know how to play soccer, you know how to play Rocket League. The only difference is you play as cars, not people, and those cars can fly. If this sounds at all confusing, fear not. The game is shockingly pleasant to look at when played at a high level, when most of the cars are in the air, and the ball rarely touches the ground. It’s much like actual soccer, in that blowouts are uncommon, and most of the game is passing and shooting. It only has sanctioned competitive play in two regions, NA and EU, making the pool of teams very small. It also has one of the most direct pathways to competitive play, in that anyone can sign up with a team of bros or pros and play for a shot at the championship. 

Rocket League competitive structure as described by their website. The Grid is a closed competition, while the Regionals are open to all. Performance in your respective stage earns you admission to the World Championships.

It is worth noting that not all of these games are for everyone, and that if you play any of them, it’s far more likely that you’ll be able to understand and enjoy watching their respective Esports. These are by no means the only Esports that exist, but they are some that are amongst the most popular and easiest to access. Most videogames have a small competitive niche. For example, there’s a Shrek version of Super Smash Bros, and there’s a small but legit Esports scene for Farming Simulator. The internet has something for everyone.