A beginner’s guide to watching esports online

by Dean Evans
Technology Writer

According to Statista, esports made almost $700 million in 2017 and competitive gaming was broadcast to an audience of over 385 million people. And it’s growing all the time. By 2020, it could top $1.5 billion with 500 million fans tuning in.

If you’ve not yet taken the plunge, you can get into watching esports online at any time by viewing various competition matches online via Twitch and Facebook. Here are some of the biggest tournaments to look out for in 2018…

Intel Extreme Masters (IEM)
Did you know that the Intel Extreme Masters is the longest running global pro gaming tour in the world? Since 2006, it has been bringing together the world’s best gamers to compete against each other in games of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, StarCraft II, Heroes of the Storm and League of Legends.

In season 11 (2016-2017) of the IEM, competitions in Shanghai, Oakland and Gyeonggi led to the $650,000 World Championship in Katowice. A whopping 173,000 fans attended the stadium event and surrounding festival over two weekends, while the tournament reached more than 46 million viewers online. Over 340,000 people tuned into VR broadcasts.

Season 12 of the Intel Extreme Masters culminates in Intel Extreme Masters Katowice 2018 in March.

ESL (aka the Electronic Sports League) is the world’s largest and oldest esports company. It hosts competitions across the globe, including ESL Pro Leagues for games including Overwatch, CS:GO, Gears of War and Mortal Kombat X, as well as premier Dota 2 and Counter-Strike tournaments under the banner ESL One.

In 2018, these ESL One competitions include: ESL One Genting in January (the first ever Malaysian Dota 2 Minor); ESL One Katowice in February (Poland’s first Dota 2 Major with a prize pool of $1 million) and ESL One Cologne in July (one of the year’s biggest CS:GO events).

Overwatch League
Developed by Blizzard, the Overwatch League is an international competition contested by 12 six-player teams. These currently include the Houston Outlaws, London Spitfire, Seoul Dynasty and Philadelphia Fusion, all of which stumped up $20 million for their franchise and the opportunity to compete for a $3.5 million prize pool.

Twitch agreed a $90 million deal with Blizzard for exclusive rights to stream the Overwatch League and in its debut week, viewer numbers peaked at an impressive 441,000.

“The Overwatch League represents not only the pinnacle of Overwatch competition, but also a genuine career opportunity for the most skilled Overwatch players,” said Mike Morhaime, CEO and cofounder of Blizzard Entertainment. “We’re building a league that’s accessible to players and fans, sustainable, and exciting for everyone involved.”

The International
Esports tourneys don’t get much bigger than The International, the annual Dota 2 championship hosted by Valve. The 2017 event (TI7) hit the headlines by offering the largest prize pool in esports history — over $24 million. Fans packed out the 15,000-capacity Seattle KeyArena and 400,000+ people watched the finals on Twitch as Team Liquid triumphed.

The 2017-2018 Dota 2 season continues until June 2018, across 11 Majors and 16 Minors that all offer Qualifying Points to determine who bags the eight invites to The International 2018 (TI8), which takes place in August. Follow the action on Facebook.

The ELEAGUE (aka EL) is a pro sports league in the US that is principally devoted to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, but also includes smaller Rocket League and Injustice 2 competitions. It’s a testament to the popularity of watching esports online that the final of the EL Boston: Major in January 2018 was watched by a record 1.13 million concurrent streams on Twitch, as Cloud9 came from behind to beat FaZe 2-1.

WoW Arena Championship
The World of Warcraft Arena World Championship challenges WoW teams to battle their way to the $100,000 Arena World Championship final at Blizzard’s annual BlizzCon gathering. The 3v3 arena matches are typically broadcast live on Twitch with winning teams amassing points that count towards their progress.

In 2017, team ABC from Europe beat Panda Global 4-0 to take the trophy.

The Swedish DreamHack digital festival regularly features esports competitions alongside a vibrant gaming expo, live music and cosplay events. In the past, the festival has hosted tournaments for CS:GO, Heroes of the Storm, Super Smash Bros. Melee and Hearthstone. The DreamHack Open event scheduled for DreamHack Summer 2018 in June will see CS:GO teams battle it out for a $100,000 prize.

Hearthstone Championship Tour
In addition to the Overwatch League, Blizzard also runs the Hearthstone World Championship, the largest Hearthstone tournament in the world. Like many of the esports series here, players compete in ranked games and official tournaments to earn Hearthstone Competitive Points that qualify them for Season Playoffs.

The Tour is capped by the World Championship event, where the 16 players with the most points compete for a $1 million prize pool and the title of World Champion.

You might not have heard of the National University eSports League, but it’s been active since 2010. The student-run organisation runs the UK’s university competition for League of Legends, added Hearthstone in 2015-16, and will support Overwatch and CS:GO tournaments in 2018.

Want to get started watching esports online? One of these competitions will be the gateway to a whole new world of exciting gaming stories.

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