What are eSports Tournaments?

Every year we hear more and more about electronic sports (eSports), video game tournaments, and big money involved. So, what is it all about, exactly?

eSports tournaments are events highlighting a form of competition, in which the competitive medium is video games. Such tournaments can take place live by gathering all participants in one place or online. In eSports, there’s a place for both multi-player teams and individual competitors, depending on the game’s rules and competitive system.

Most Popular eSports Tournaments

eSports tournaments have crowds of enthusiasts all over the world, both players and spectators. The most popular eSport discipline are MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) games such as Dota 2 or League of Legends. Compared to classic sports, they also have their popular leagues, followed by millions of fans worldwide.

EU League of Legends Championship Series (EU LCS)

The EU LCS, formerly known as the League of Legends European Championship, is by far the largest eSports league in the world. Ten of the best European League of Legends eSports teams play against each other in two seasons — Spring and Summer. The stake of each season is a slot in the League of Legends World Championship, which we will write about later in this article. The prize pool is $200,000, and the last LCS tournament (Spring 2021) had an average audience of about 180,000. The LCS passed peak viewership in 2015 during the Fnatic vs. Origen match — nearly 1 million watched it live.


The Dota 2 International

The International tournament is the annual world championship in Dota 2, the second most popular MOBA game right after League of Legends. The top 18 teams (12 directly invited and 6 qualified through specific qualifier tournaments) from different parts of the world compete against each other for a prize pool of over $40 million, which is 40 times more than 10 years ago during the first “International”! The current Dota 2 world champion is Team OG, who have won the last two Internationals and got the Direct Invite for the next one, which will take place on August 5, 2021, in Stockholm, Sweden. Dota 2 and its eSports scene is popular mainly in China and CIS regions, but not only! The final of the last The International, the OG vs. Team Liquid match, was watched by over a million people on the Twitch platform alone.

League of Legends World Championship

The League of Legends World Championship (often called “Worlds”) is a tournament with a similar premise to The Dota 2 International described above. It’s happening continuously every year, and its first edition took place at Dreamhack 2011, an important event for all eSports enthusiasts. The prize pool of the first tournament was only about $100,000. However, interest in the very initiative of organizing an annual world championship in League of Legends was so great for the community that the next Worlds had a prize pool of 2 million dollars. Nearly 50 million unique viewers watched the last edition of LoL Worlds, and in the opinion of many, the grand final match was one of the most exciting in League of Legends history. This was one of the few eSports events that happened despite the COVID-19 pandemic, but it showed that interest in this type of competition is absolutely not waning.


ESL ONE Series tournaments are prestigious events for many eSports titles — although here, the most significant interest and the largest prize pools are for games created by Valve, namely Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Dota 2. It is organized by Electronic Sports League, which has been creating eSports competitions worldwide for over 20 years. All right, the best teams, the most popular titles, but what about the prize pools? Well, there is something to talk about here as well, as the figures range from half a million to a million dollars. The venue for the first tournaments in the ESL One series was Germany. These events contributed to how popular eSport is in Central Europe today.

ESL Intel Extreme Masters (IEM)

Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) is another creation of the German organization Electronic Sports League. It is a series of international eSports competitions that, just like ESL One, takes place in various cities worldwide. Since 2013, the IEM annual finals are held in Katowice, Poland, in late February / early March. Besides major tournaments, Intel Extreme Masters is a meeting place for eSports fans with the most popular players and gaming content creators. Moreover, the ticket prices for the event are not that high — they are about $15 for one day. In addition to watching the big games, testing hardware, and meeting with famous personas, you can also compete in the side tournaments and win smaller prizes! Thus, Intel Extreme Masters is an event with everyone in mind, both at the forefront of the eSports scene and those aspiring to polish their skills.

Types of eSport Tournaments

Most eSports tournaments have their matches played either BO3 (Best-of-three, up to 3 games) or BO5 (Best-of-five, up to 5 games). They also often have their two phases — group and play-off, which work on the same principle as classic sports. However, the way of counting group points may differ depending on the tournament format.

Tournament Formats Terminology

  • Open/Closed — Open tournaments are tournaments in which absolutely anyone can participate; as the name suggests, access to them is “open.” On the other hand, close tournaments are tournaments for which you have to qualify or get an invitation, so you cannot participate just by signing up. Events like the aforementioned Intel Extreme Masters offer both Open tournaments (for spectators and eSports fans, with smaller prize pools) and Closed tournaments (main tournaments with top teams and big prizes).
  • Double Round Robin — This is a tournament system where each tournament participant must play each other twice. Double Round Robin (DRR) is the most popular format used primarily in Group Stage at eSports tournaments.
  • Single Elimination (SE)/Double Elimination (DE) — Single Elimination is a bracket system where one loss means the end of the tournament for that participant. However, in Double Elimination, such a participant has one more chance, but his path to the finals becomes much longer.
  • Swiss — It’s a system primarily used in tournaments with numerous players. The number of rounds is predetermined and depends on the number of sign-ups (more players = more matches). In the Swiss system, tournament participants get matched against opponents with similar scores.
  • Swiss seeding — Swiss seeding is a scheme used in the Playoff phase of eSports tournaments. It consists of creating a bracket based on the places taken by the participants during the Swiss phase.

eSports Tournaments

eSports Tournaments FAQs

Finally, we have prepared a list of answers to frequently asked questions about eSports tournaments.

How Long Do eSports Tournaments Last?

eSports tournaments last from 2 to 3 days, and it is usually the end of the week (Friday-Sunday). The more significant leagues can last up to half a year, where the teams play, e.g., three matches per month.

How Many eSports Tournaments Are There In A Year?

Most eSports titles have about 4 major tournaments and one World Championship-like tournament every year. As for smaller and unofficial competitions, at this point, eSports has become so popular that you could say that there are hundreds of them held throughout the year.

How Do eSports Tournaments Make Money?

The primary financial sources of eSports tournaments are sponsorships, advertisements, and media rights. Moreover, things like event ticket sales and tournament-related merchandise can also generate some small profits for the organizers.

Where Are eSports Tournaments Held?

The main venues for eSports tournaments are sports halls, hotels, and convention centers, and arenas. Over the years, many venues have dedicated primarily to eSports, such as the ESA in Arlington, Texas, which has hosted major tournaments like FACEIT’s ECS Season 6 Finals or HS Masters Tour 2020.

How To Participate in eSports Tournaments?

To play in unofficial and small/community tournaments, you ordinarily just need to sign up and show up. However, to compete in the majors, you usually have to go through a specific qualification system, often related to the games’ ranking system. If you are interested in playing online tournaments, be sure to visit sites such as Battlefy or nicecactus, which offer many free tournaments in various games; this is an excellent way to start your eSports adventure.

When Was The First eSports Tournament?

The first eSports tournament was held on October 19, 1972, at Stanford University for Spacewar. Of course, there was no such term as “eSports” yet; it was just a university form of competition in a popular game at that time. If you are curious about the beginnings of eSports, be sure to check out our article, in which we describe its entire history.

Where Can I Watch eSports Tournaments?

The biggest platform for watching eSports tournaments is Twitch.tv. In recent years, YouTube Gaming has also made a big splash by buying the rights to broadcast official eSports games such as Call of Duty or Hearthstone. Other platforms where you can occasionally see coverage of eSports tournaments include Facebook Gaming, ESPN Esports, and BBC.

How Did The Covid-19 Pandemic Affect eSports Tournaments?

A notable number of eSports leagues had their prize pools significantly reduced compared to other years during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many tournaments were canceled, and some players had to compete from their homes instead of big arenas. Esports certainly took a minor hit than classic sports, but there is no denying that tournament organizers felt the pandemic strongly.


As you can see, eSports tournaments are not just about playing games; they are much more than that. Each year there are more followers of this type of competition, both watching and deciding to try their hand at it. We expect this trend to go up; who knows, maybe in a couple of decades, eSports will be as popular as classic sports? Looking at how fast this type of competition is growing, it seems like this is the direction where it’s all going.