By Cody Perez
January 1, 2020
Competitive multiplayer has been at the core of video games since the moment that Pong had two players battling it out simultaneously. Since then, the concept of multiplayer has evolved from sitting next to each other on the couch to hooking up PC’s together to the online infrastructure we have today.
Though competition has always been at the core of video games, it wasn’t until this past decade that esports truly took off. Sure, there were major competitions in the 1990s and 2000s for games like Starcraft, Quake, Halo and so on, it didn’t take off until the 2010s.
In the past 10 years, competitive esports has taken off in a way that we haven’t seen before. Becoming closer to a mainstream port of the gaming industry, it is matching the overall appeal of video games, in general, that has also made its mark on worldwide culture in this past decade.
Gone are the days of the occasional tournament that happens locally or in major cities, in large part due to the dedication and money from major publishers and the advent of streaming. In 2020, not only are players playing games more than ever before, but they are watching others play them, too.
With the state of the gaming industry and esports game, specifically, where it is as we head into a new year and decade, we decided to look back at what is one of the most important decades. The 2010s kicked off esports in a way that we won’t see the full results from until decades from now.
There are dozens of games that are getting millions and millions of dollars poured into each year. There are only more games on the way that should be joining the group like Overwatch 2 and more.
To understand where we are going, we looking at the 10 games that we think defined the past 10 years of esports games. These are the biggest esports games of the past decade. If you were to look at history books, we think these are the ones that would have shaped the decade the most.
Of course, there is important criteria for each game listed below that you should keep in mind. The first and most important one is that these 10 biggest esports games had to have released from the beginning of 2010 through the end of 2019.
This does mean that games like the widely popular League of Legends aren’t eligible for this list even though it is, arguably, one of the most important games of all time because it was released just a few months shy of being part of this list.
Other than that, several factors went into determining what games made the list. There is the factor of how much money has been awarded in total, how popular the game is overall, how many players are competing in the game and the impact it has had on the esports community.
Without further ado, let’s dive in and look at the 10 biggest esports games of the past decade.
Note: We are only covering one game per franchise, so series that have numerous esports entries like Call of Duty are limited to one game.
Kicking off this list is a massive one: Fortnite. If you’ve read our posts in the past about the best online games, you know we typically have this game at the bottom of the list at No. 1. For this list, though, we are not going in any order.
Fortnite is a game that is not only one of the biggest esports games of the past decade but one of the biggest games of all-time. It released in 2017 after years of teases, announcements and more in a form that no one expected.
It was initially billed as a survival, defense-building sort of game in the veins of Minecraft and the like. And it released mostly as such but with the sudden addition of a battle royale mode to capitalize on the success of PUBG (more on that one in a bit).
What no expected was how massive Fortnite battle royale would become. It has not only become a household name around the world, but it has changed the lives of countless content creators and professional players who have become great at the game.
The best part is that Epic Games has dedicated so much time, effort and money into making the competitive scene of battle royale so amazing. With things like the World Cup 2019 and more, this game is not only here to stay for a while, but it will continue to shape esports as we head into the 2020s.
While Fortnite is a game rooted in looking to the future, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is a game that is firmly planted in looking to the past. The first-person military shooter series is a testament to one of the most important properties from Valve.
While it doesn’t have the most amazing graphics and it features some rather old-school style gameplay, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive represents a significant portion of the esports niche that shouldn’t be ignored. The amount of money poured into this game’s competitive scene is astronomical.
And the crazy part is, that even years after releasing in 2012, it still has one of the most dedicated and competitive communities of players that we have seen for any game. Though the future of the series is uncertain at this time, you can rest assured that CS:GO will remain a staple in esports for a long time.
The first of several Blizzard games on this list, we have Hearthstone. This card-battling game took the tried and true formula of physical card games like Magic: The Gathering, Yugioh, and the like, and transferred it to a consistently high-quality digital experience.
Hearthstone is a digital card game that is on both mobile and PC platforms, fitting perfectly on both. Blizzard has done a fantastic job of making sure that both the mobile and PC versions are continuously in sync with one another so that players can enjoy the game wherever they like.
Also, Hearthstone has grown to be one of the biggest esports games of all-time. It is crazy to think that a card game is standing toe-to-toe with first-person shooters and MOBA’s in terms of money spent on competitions and sheer popularity.
But this is the case and it has caused other similar games like Shadowverse and even MTG Arena that originally inspired it to pop up for their share of the esports pie.
The lone fighting game on this list, we have Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. While there was another game in the series released this decade, this title did more for the esports community in its single year on the market than its predecessor did in a lifetime.
Nintendo outdid itself with this fifth main entry in the series, bringing together every character to the roster from all previous games in the series plus some notable new ones. If you loved the characters from a previous game, you should be happy to know that they are here.
This has allowed the game to overtake Melee, its seemingly invincible predecessor, as becoming the mainstay game for competitions at places like EVO and so on. There is no doubt in our minds that this game is only just getting started and it should continue to shape the fighting game community – an essential part of esports – for the next decade.
Released in 2015, Rocket League is a strange game that is quite unlike any other game on this list. It took the traditional sport of soccer, mixed it up with some vehicles and voila, we have this strange competitive arena digital sports game.
Rocket League is a testament to how widespread and varied the esports community is that something like this has evolved into a core pillar of the industry. After all, it takes the common esports idea of having easy-to-grasp but challenging to master gameplay and makes it the main element.
Watching a match of Rocket League is a real treat as you will see players do things that you wouldn’t have thought possible. The skill necessary for this game to be great at it in competitions is uncanny and keeps the esports spirit going as something that is quite unlike anything else in video games.
There was a lot of Call of Duty games released throughout the past decade. There was a new one every single year from 2010 through 2019. Even still, we had to limit it to one entry and the one that has impacted the esports scene the most in our opinion is Black Ops 4.
While it is far from the best game in the series released this decade, it is one of the most important ones since it shows Activision taking esports more serious than ever before. There was a dedicated league for the game plus plenty of tournaments that were happening.
What’s crazier is that more prize money in total (according to Esports Earnings) has been offered than any other game in the series. It helps, too, that it introduced the first battle royale mode for the series that has extended the competitive scene beyond the typical multiplayer modes like Team Deathmatch.
Blizzard revolutionized and changed the RTS genre forever with the release of Starcraft in the late 1990s. Fans waited so long for a sequel to finally come out and it happened in 2010 with the first part of Starcraft II. Like its predecessor, it has been a staunch paragon for the RTS community.
Not only is one of the most prolific and played strategy games even today, nearly a decade later, but it is reportedly one of the top five games to give away money throughout all its tournaments and events. This is a game that is on a level that is leaps and bounds more generous than any other Blizzard title.
Starcraft II is an interesting case where there are no other real-time strategy games that touch this sci-fi title. As such, it has a monopoly of sorts on the esports scene surrounding it. This makes it no surprise that it is still one of the biggest competitive games around the world, especially in Asia.
For this entry, we are doing something interesting and mixing two almost different games; those games being the original PUBG that is on consoles and PC and the mobile version of it. This mix of the two titles is because they go together when it comes to esports.
For the original battle royale game, it is the one that defined the genre and prompted other games to copy its unbelievable success in 2017. But more importantly than that, it has had one of the strongest competitive scenes; rivaled only by Fortnite in terms of battle royale games.
As for the mobile version, though, it is one of the biggest mobile titles when it comes to prize money given away. In our opinion, it is even more important than the base game because it has far more success. It does for mobile players what even Epic Games has yet to do.
Hopefully, it influences more mobile esports games to offer more tournaments and events in the upcoming decade.
Though it isn’t the biggest Blizzard esports game in terms of prize money, Overwatch is by far more important for the esports community. Released in 2016, this first-person shooter not only revolutionized the esports scene in a way we didn’t expect but it changed up competitive shooter gameplay.
It wasn’t just a game where players would shoot each other with various weapons, but you had a whole slew of classes to choose from with wildly different abilities. There are healers, tanks, damage and more with each hero feeling different from the next.
This crazy, action-packed gameplay lends itself well to the Overwatch League; a one-of-a-kind league that popped up before this was a thing. Blizzard attempted to make the game into a traditional sports team branded league and it worked wonders.
Because of the success of the Overwatch League, it is still going strong today and other major games have followed a similar suit.
Ending our list is one of the biggest esports games ever to release. Known as the game that has given out the most prize money since its release in events, Dota 2 is on an unprecedented level and it has been since its release in 2013 on PC.
Valve knows how to make a popular esports game. Dota 2 is no different. The history of the game is fascinating, originating as a mod that turned into this global phenomenon. With well over 1200 tournaments and counting under its belt, Dota 2 is on a level, unlike any other game.
With a new decade ahead of us, it will be interesting to see how The International and other competitive events will evolve as the game nears being a decade old.