If your parents ever disparaged your video game obsession as a huge waste of time, they’re either a) out of touch or b) lacking in vision.
That may sound overly harsh, but there’s some truth in this take. Esports, the video game industry’s competitive gaming arm, has amassed huge audiences, incredible cash pots, and sponsorships that enable elite players to transform their passions into careers. In fact, research firm Newzoo has estimated that esports will generate $1.79 billion(Opens in a new window) per year by the end of 2022.
Unfortunately, that amount will likely be affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Though many esports games have strong online components, the major competitions themselves are typically held in large venues that aren’t conducive to social distancing. Many tournaments in 2020 and 2021 were online-only or cancelled entirely to avoid turning crowded competitions into super-spreader events. However, with vaccines and declining cases, in-person esports events have started to return. For example, Evo 2022 drew large audiences of fighting game fans.
What’s a Great Esports Game?
Esports comprise many games, both popular and under the radar, in numerous genres. You like shooters? You can pop some caps in a rival playing Counter-Strike: Global: Offensive. In the mood for a battle royale of epic proportions? PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has got you covered. Into sports? In a merging of the two worlds, the NBA and Take-Two Interactive—publisher of the super-popular NBA 2K video game series—partnered to create the NBA 2K eLeague. In the esports world, there’s a video game, and related scene, for everyone.
Maybe there’s too much choice. There are so many video games on the market with a competitive, multiplayer focus that getting started in playing, or simply watching, professional video gaming may prove intimidating. Fortunately, this guide to the best esports games is designed to gently nudge you in the right direction. After all, every game going after that sweet esports money isn’t worth your time. And there are a whole lot of those.
How We Picked Our Favorite Esports Games
This guide contains several esports-worthy titles that PCMag’s staff has reviewed and wholeheartedly recommends playing. In fact, many of the titles that we suggest checking out also live in our best PC games roundup, though we also toss a bone or two to console players.
To be considered for inclusion in this guide, a game simply has to have official tournament support from its publisher. Though we love many of the smaller, community-backed efforts, such as the incredible Tecmo Super Bowl community, we had to create a cut-off point, lest damn near every competitive game be deemed worthy.
So, that’s that. If there’s a notable esports game that’s not listed below, that means we either didn’t review it yet or score it well enough to make the cut. What you’ll find below, however, are some of the best esports games played by amateurs and professionals in 2022—and likely beyond. Dig in. And, more importantly, have fun.
After developing two excellent, but overlooked, Titanfall games, developer Respawn finally achieved the success it always deserved thanks to smash-hit, battle royale shooter Apex Legends.
Set in the Titanfall universe, Apex Legends lets you control nimble mercenaries instead of hulking robots. Fortunately, these colorful characters come equipped with many unique abilities. For example, you can travel between dimensions as Wraith or cloak yourself and create holograms as Mirage. In addition, clever communication tools keep teams coordinated.
Apex Legends’ tremendous momentum continues thanks to its ongoing tournaments. Browse through the schedule(Opens in a new window) for upcoming events to see the very generous prize pools.
Call of Duty: Warzone 2.0
The original Warzone proved that Call of Duty still had plenty to offer shooter fans in the increasingly crowded battle royale space. Warzone 2.0 is a full-on sequel that launched alongside Modern Warfare II. With it, you can enjoy a new map (Building 21) and mode (DMZ).
The original Warzone still exists; a series this mainstream won’t leave so many players behind without warning. However, version 2 is the newest hotness going forward for top players who want to test their mettle in top tournaments.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (for PC)
Valve’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS: GO) debuted in 2012, backed by a strong heritage of multiplayer FPS titles, including the original Counter-Strike and Counter-Strike: Source. Years later, the fast-paced PC game still mostly holds its own against more modern titles, partly because of its established core gameplay and active community.
Visually, however, CS: GO is starting to show its age, and it’s not as thematically rich as Overwatch. Still, many folks enjoy CS: GO’s no-frills experience and its highly competitive esports circuit, which includes the Eleague Major, a competition with a $1 million prize.
“Easy to learn, hard to master.” This phrase is used to describe many things, especially in gaming. Few titles exemplify that mantra more than Defense of the Ancients 2 (Dota 2), one of the most popular multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games on the planet.
This free-to-play MOBA tasks you with selecting one of more than 100 playable Heroes to take to the battlefield, utilizing that character’s unique abilities, play style, and attributes to help your team achieve victory.
Sure, the MOBA genre proves inscrutable to viewers who are unfamiliar with the play mechanics, but the annual Dota 2 International has insane cash pots (more than $30 million!) and stiff competition that makes the game an esport worth watching if you’re willing to learn the ropes.
Dragon Ball FighterZ
Beside Fist of the Northstar and Jo Jo’s Bizarre Adventure, there are few anime properties as intrinsically suited to the fighting game treatment as the Dragon Ball series. Spanning multiple series, movies, and generations of characters, Akira Toriyama’s manga-turned-anime-turned-game series is all about buff monkey men, humans, aliens, and androids trading blows in actual earth-shattering battles.
The series’ latest video game adaptation, Dragon Ball FighterZ, ditches the Xenoverse games’ arena-brawling model in favor of 3 vs. 3 tag-team fighting on a 2D plane. The gameplay shift is just one of the many reasons Dragon Ball FighterZ is being held aloft as one of the most intriguing esports titles. Its beautiful design, intense combat, and accessible control scheme add up to a game that anyone can jump into for Super Saiyan thrills.
Besides appearing at Evo, the anime fighter has an expanded competitive scene courtesy of Bandai Namco’s Dragon Ball FighterZ World Tour
Fortnite is the battle-royale game to beat. In fact, Epic Games confirmed in early 2020 that Fortnite hosted an incredible 12.3 million concurrent players in one record-breaking session, thanks to an in-game Travis Scott concert. Fortnite’s popularity is off the charts.
Fortnite has a lot going for it, including approachable gameplay modes, bright and zany graphics, and an excellent construction system. Iffy combat and the presence of microtransactions detracts from the experience, but, as it is a free-to-play game, fans of the genre should still give it a shot. The title is on virtually every platform that plays video games.
2019’s inaugural Fortnite World Cup saw 16-year-old Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf take home $3 million from a $30 million prize pool.