Ranking the Scene: An Esports Tier List

by in Apex Legends | Aug, 20th 2019

Esports is an incredibly large and diverse competitive environment. Hundreds of games from all over the world and of differing play styles exist, ranging from small shooters to massive MOBAs and card games. With so many titles and genres, it can often be confusing for those unfamiliar with the scene, or even a particular game, to really understand the size and scope of some of these games. For those looking to invest their time and/or money into a title, this can also be problematic, as many a player, fan, and investor has gotten into a title only to find it dead or dying on arrival.

The general go-to for a few years now has been The Esports Observer’s Tier list. However, their list is very small and looks more at the money pool or overall player base as opposed to a more holistic approach. As such, we at Esports Arena Las Vegas have decided to take a crack at developing a more overarching tier list, as seen below. Please note that this doesn’t include every esports title, as they’d be too numerous to list in a short article, but they can all be found residing somewhere in the tier system.

Tier 1 (Juggernauts)

  • League of Legends
  • DotA 2
  • Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

The top of the food chain in esports, titles in Tier 1 have long histories of large-scale events going back at least five years with prize pools of $500,000 or more. From The International to Worlds and CSGO Majors, these games are the pinnacle of the industry.  Some of their tournaments are amongst the most watched competitions on the planet, even beating out events such as the NBA and NHL Finals. Becoming a pro in these games is a less risky venture than in other categories.

Tier 1.5 (Smash)

  • Smash Bros

Smash sits in a weird spot in the esports world. The game has such a massive and rabid competitive base, on par with many Tier 1 esports. The game also gets a lot of attention in the media, and almost every person who’s ever played a game has heard of the competitive scene for it. It’s larger tournaments also draw high concurrent viewership of over 100k+ on average.

What keeps it from being a Tier 1 esport, however, is its low prize payout, with the highest tournament so far only carrying a $50,000 prize pool, and the fact that the community still isn’t completely unified behind it, with many still attached to Melee instead of finally merging back in with the rest of the community in Ultimate. These issues though are improving the longer the game is out, so expect it to move up to Tier 1 in the next year or two.

Tier 2 (Base Line)

  • Hearthstone
  • Rocket League
  • Call of Duty
  • Starcraft
  • PUBG
  • Rainbow6: Siege
  • Mortal Kombat 11
  • Dragon Ball Fighters Z

Let me get this out of the way right now: Tier 2 games aren’t bad esports. While these titles are very successful in their own rights, they have certain factors limiting them from Tier 1 and have sustained them long enough to be considered stalled or very slowly growing/shrinking. Many have large numbers of tournaments, though these tournaments often have small prize pools of $10-$20,000 dollars or so, and/or average viewing numbers or small player bases compared to Tier 1 games. Some games here also have consistency issues amongst viewership and prizing. Others have tournaments with massive prize pools and established scenes, but just have low average viewership (aka Siege).

While these games often stay here once they arrive, the right change or a sudden resurgence in interest in the game by the general gaming community can push them upward. Inversely, the wrong change can see these fall off a cliff to tier 5 or 6.

Tier 2.5 (Developing)

  • Overwatch
  • Fortnite
  • Apex Legends

This tier is a transitional tier. These games have a lot of what it takes to be Tier 1 games: large prize pools and tournaments, massive viewing audiences, a strong player base, and high visibility amongst the general gaming population. However, these games are still relatively new competitively, with scenes only a couple years old at most, and it remains to be seen if their popularity is permanent or a fad.

If they can continue to remain consistent and relevant for a few more years, they’ll progress straight into Tier 1 with no problem, while others will fall into Tier 2, or even plunge into the lower tiers. We’ll have to wait and see how things develop.

Tier 3 (Upcoming)

  • Darwin Project
  • Magic the Gathering: Arena
  • Underlord
  • Auto Chess
  • Tactical Teamfight

These are games just soon to be or just recently released with strong competitive aspects. Many of these games have high interest from the community or have a strong developer pedigree backing them, and could be the next big thing in gaming/esports. Some have open betas that already have tournaments hosted on them as well.

Tier 4 (Local)

  • Crossfire
  • Point Blank

Tier 4 games sit in a special place in the esports environment. These titles can be incredibly massive or have strong communities, but only in their respective countries. They have little to no international scene, and few outside of their home countries have ever even heard of these titles. They still draw fandom in their places of origin and thus hold a special place on the list. If they went international, many of these games could be Tier 1 or 2 if they went international and had similar success.

Tier 5 (Dying/Published Propped)

  • Sports Games (FIFA, NBA2K, NHL, etc.)
  • World of Tanks
  • Halo
  • Vainglory
  • Paladins
  • Smite

Likely the most controversial tier, Tier 5 games are dying as esports, or those whose life is solely propped up by their creators, with little in the way of viewership. Often formerly big titles in the scene (such as Halo), these games have fallen behind on the times, with their player bases moving on to other titles.

Often these games have one large prize-pooled tournament a year, propped up by their developers to try and appear like legitimate big titles or to try and reclaim old glory. Their viewing numbers are often abysmal (ex: Halo 5’s $1,000,000 2018 World Champion drew 16.88k average viewers), and without their dev support would completely disappear. Titles that also failed to adapt such and Vainglory and Paladins also exist here, as they slide into competitive irrelevance.

That’s not to say that games in here can’t climb back out: PUBG is a great example, finding new life in its mobile version and new maps.

Tier 6 (Graveyard)

  • Heroes of the Storm
  • Artifact
  • Quake: Arena
  • Gigantic
  • Ark

These games are dead. There’s no coming back sans a complete relaunch of the game. Most either have been completely shuttered competitively, but still have regular game updates (HoTS and Quake) or are awaiting a full rework of the game and how it operates (Artifact). They’ll always hold a place in our hearts, but it’s hard coming back from here.

And that about does it for our tier list today. Again this isn’t a static list: it will change over time as new trends emerge, scenes rise and fall, and new titles that push the boundaries within well-established genres appear. Either way, the esports industry is an exciting place to be right now and has a bright future ahead of it.

What are your thoughts on our esports tier list? Think a game is ranked too high or low? Like that your favorite game is outshining its competition? Let us know on Twitter and over at our EsportsTalk Discord. Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you next time.


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