Go back ten years and very few gamers would have seen a future in which the world’s best players competed in front of one million viewers for millions of dollars. However, as the popularity of competitive gaming increased, the games industry took note and backed the tournaments, offering big cash prizes for the best players. Since 2011, the eSports scene has exploded with eight $1m tournaments taking place over the past three years. Here are the landmark tournaments that have propelled eSports in the mainstream.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3: CoD XP - $1m
Activision's inaugural $1m tournament. Until Call of Duty XP, the publisher of one of the most successful gaming franchises in the world quietly observed a thriving scene of competitive players battling each other in independent events. Spearheaded by Major League Gaming and European Gaming League in North America and Europe respectively, an increasing number of live events emerged to satisfy gamers who were hungry to compete and prove their worth on the international stage.
Activision's involvement was inevitable. Hosted in a 12-acre hanger in Los Angeles, props and replicas from the series adorned the venue to create an authentic Call of Duty experience. With a share of $1m on offer for the eight best teams and professional commentary from Ryan 'Fwiz' Wyatt and Mike 'Hastr0' Rufail, this was very different from earlier tournaments. This was a pro gaming tournament for the 32 best teams in the world.
Optic Gaming, the most popular team in the world, eventually triumphed to claim the $400,000 jackpot. Outside of North America, the real story came in the form of Infinity's fairytale run. Due to the nature of their qualification, Nick 'XLNC' Ward and Tom 'GunShy' Jones were paired with William 'FerLuff' Freestone and RSoul, neither of whom had any experience in the top-flight. A stellar performance by the two veterans, plus solid play by their team mates, steered them all the way to the grand finals. Despite falling short at the final hurdle, the silver medallists could never have dreamed of walking away $200,000 richer.
Final standings: 1) Optic Gaming, 2) Infinity, 3) Icons, 4) Infused, 5) Apex, 6) Obey, 7) MoB, 8) Mythix
DOTA 2: The International 2011 - $1.6m
This was the largest prize pool for an eSports tournament and, unbelievably, it was for a game that hasdn’t even been released. Valve, developer and publisher of the DOTA series, would host DOTA 2's first public viewing in the form of a $1.6m competition at Gamescom in Cologne. 16 of DOTA's finest teams were invited to participate for a chance to win the grand prize of $1m as a global audience enjoyed the action through a live broadcast presented in four different languages: Chinese, English, German and Russian.
Players entered the fray with no prior experience of the game, relying on skills learned on its predecessor to adapt to the unknown terrain while trying to grasp a range of new gameplay tools. Familiar eSports powerhouse, Natus Vincere (Na'Vi), relished the challenge and scooped the lion's share of the prize pot.
Final Standings: 1) Natus Vincere, 2) EHOME, 3) Scythe Gaming, 4) MeetYourMakers, 5) Invictus Gaming, 6) Moscow Five, 7) MiTH Trust, 8) Online Kingdom
DOTA 2: The International 2012 - $1.6m
The second edition of Valve's DOTA 2 invitational took place in Seattle. Hosted in parallel with Riot's League of Legends World Championship regional qualifier, the two behemoths of PC eSports took centre stage at PAX Prime to showcase some expert MOBA entertainment. The tournament mirrored the format of the original, offering $1.6m to the eight best teams as fans watched the multilingual live broadcast. Na'Vi returned to familiar territory but failed to defend their title in the grand final, falling to 2011 finalists Invictus Gaming. Valve went on to release the Free to Play documentary of the event.
Final standings: 1) Invictus Gaming, 2) Natus Vincere, 3) LGD-Gaming, 4) Team DK, 5) EHOME, 6) Team Zenith, 7) TongFu Team, 8) Orange Esports
League of Legends: Season 2 World Championship - $2m
The second season of Riot's online and live event circuit culminated in a world championship final in Los Angeles. $5m in total was on offer throughout the season, including a $2m prize fund at the finals, usurping The International as the richest eSports tournament.
12 finalists were joined at the event by an all-star cast featuring some of the game's leading commentators and eSports host-extraodinaire, DJ Wheat and Seltzer. With an audience peaking at 1.1 million concurrent viewers, it became the most watched eSports event in history.
All 12 teams were guaranteed a slice of pie but, after defeating Azubu Frost of South Korea in the championship final, Taipei Assassins were awarded the $1m jackpot. The competition was not without controversy, though as the runners-up were fined $30,000 following an incident in a previous match, where Jang 'Woong' Gun-woong turned to look at the spectator display screen in an effort to sneak a peek at the mini-map.
Final Standings: 1) Taipei Assassins, 2) Azubu Frost, 3) Counter Logic Gaming EU, 4) Moscow Five, 5) Invictus Gaming, 6) NaJin Sword, 7) Team SoloMid, 8) World Elite, 9) Counter Logic Gaming Prime, 10) Saigon Jokers, 11) SK Gaming, 12) Team Dignitas
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2: CoD Championship 2013 - $1m
A rebranded version of Activision's world finals arrived in the form of the Call of Duty Championship. A host of online and live regional qualifiers resulted in the 32 best teams in the world arriving to compete in Los Angeles for a chance to earn life-changing money. With a greater emphasis on community involvement, the line-up of commentators included a combination of North American and UK personalities as Call of Duty took its place alongside the biggest PC games as an eSport to be reckoned with. Five streams were available to offer viewers a choice of matches as teams progressed towards the business end of the tournament.
One of the most competitive events in the series, the grand final was a fitting climax that many have deemed to be the greatest match in history. Fariko Impact, back-to-back champions at Major League Gaming and European Gaming League on the road to the CoD Champs, suffered their first loss at a major tournament of 2013, falling to EnVyUs in the winner bracket final. Defeating former champions Optic Gaming lifted them into the grand finals for a rematch. The match went down to the wire as an 11 game epic was decided in the tenth of eleven rounds in the final map. This time, Fariko Impact restored order and emerged as the world champions.
Final Standings: 1) Fariko Impact, 2) EnVyUs, 3) Optic Gaming, 4) Complexity, 5) FeaR, 6) Epsilon, 7) vVv Gaming, 8) InFerno
DOTA 2: The International 2013 - $2,87m
The latest instalment of Valve's world championship returned to Seattle, this time allowing three teams to qualify via two west and east coast regional qualifiers to join the 13 invited parties. An interactive compendium that recounted the history of The International was available for purchase, of which a quarter of the revenue generated was subsequently added to the overall prize fund. The final sum amounted to $2,874,407, restoring The International as the richest eSports tournament in the world
Once again, Na'Vi emulated their run to the grand finals but had to settle for silver for the second time with Swedish organisation, Alliance, emerging victorious. The live broadcast peaked at over one million concurrent viewers.
Final Placements: 1) Alliance, 2) Natus Vincere, 3) Orange Esports, 4) TongFu Team, 5) Team DK, 6) Invictus Gaming, 7) Fnatic, 8) Team Liquid
League of Legends: Season 3 World Championship - $2.05m
Aside from the prize fund, Riot's Season 3 Championship might be considered to be the magnum opus of eSports. Viewing figures reached an all-time high of 8.5 million simultaneous spectators, beating Season 2's climax by almost eight times. With 32 million catching a glimpse of the action online in total, the viewing figures rivalled major sporting events such as the Super Bowl. This was a real breakthrough for eSports.
The prize fund rose slightly by $50,000 to $2.05m and two additional challengers were in contention for the winnings as part of a 14 team grand final. South Korean teams secured over half of the rewards, sharing $1,195m between three teams, including the champions SK Telecom T1.
Final Standings: 1) SK Telecom T1, 2) Royal Club, 3) NaJin Black Sword, 4) Fnatic, 5) Gamania Bears, 6) Gambit Gaming, 7) OMG, 8) Cloud 9, 9) Lemondogs, 10) Samsung Galaxy Ozone, 11) Team SoloMid, 12) Team Vulcan, 13) GamingGear.eu, 14) Mineski
Call of Duty: Ghosts: CoD Championship 2014 - $1m
For a third time, Activision returned to LA for the most important Call of Duty event of the year. The pressure was on the UK, with more teams per nation than any other in Europe, to lead the way. However, a disastrous campaign ultimately saw the flag bearers barely eclipse their mainland counterparts. North America ruled the top eight hierarchy but the international community was just about represented by Australia, following Trident T1dotters' unprecedented run to secure fifth place. Complexity, victors of all but one major event in the past 12 months, won convincingly against consecutive CoD Champs runners-up, EnVyUs.
Final Standings: 1) Complexity, 2) EnVyUS, 3) Optic Gaming, 4) Strictly Business, 5) Trident T1dotters, 6) Faze, 7) Rise Nation, 8) VexX Revenge