2020 saw esports up its game in SO many ways
© Hugo Hu/Riot Games
The past 12 months have certainly been momentous – here’s what made 2020 a standout year for pro gaming.
The last year has been nothing if not disruptive and that’s certainly been true in the world of competitive gaming. The spring saw a huge shift in events once held offline moving online, but the community took it all in its stride and continued to level up.
Now, as 2020 finally comes to a welcome close, it’s time to look back at one of the strangest years in esports history, when tournaments went remote, some games went months without major tournaments and the players just got better and better. There have been surprise wins, total domination and everything in-between and it really has been an incredible year for esports when it comes to the level of competition. Let’s revisit it.
G2 Esports win back-to-back LEC splits
G2 Esports have long been the best team in Europe, with only Fnatic ever really able to challenge them on a regular basis. This year some new contenders entered the fray in the shape of Mad Lions and Rogue, who at one point looked to be the favourites for the Summer Split, but in the end, there was no doubting that G2 remain at the top of the LEC, winning both the Spring and Summer splits in convincing fashion.
When it comes to the playoffs G2 were unmatched this year, destroying pretty much every team they faced in the end of split competitions. In both split finals, they took down Fnatic 3-0 and dismantled the likes of Mad Lions and Rogue with ease. G2’s performance this year was without a doubt one of the best we have ever seen.
T1 goes global
After years of primarily focusing on the South Korean scene with top tier League of Legends and Starcraft 2 teams, T1 this year became a truly global organisation, signing a number of Western teams and players – and of course joining the Red Bull family.
Yet again in the world of LoL Lee 'Faker' Sang-hyeok proved he remains one of the best players in the world, despite the team narrowly missing out on Worlds, while the organisation also expanded into another Riot game, Valorant, with great success and one of the most promising rosters in the world. Add in a new and upcoming Dota roster and some big-name Fortnite players and you can see why T1 had a great 2020.
Sim racing goes mainstream
With many stuck indoors and traditional sports being put on hold for months, the world of esports took advantage. But one space did much better than others, thanks to how closely it mirrors its real-world counterpart and that's sim racing.
With sim racing titles being almost indistinguishable to the real thing in many cases, the esports scene exploded, as traditional competitions were on hold. The F1 scene was arguably the biggest beneficiary, with thousands of people tuning in for virtual races and even some of the real-life F1 drivers getting involved in exhibitions.
This allowed for some big crossovers from the Red Bull family, thanks to world-class racing stars and esports players coming together to join forces online.
The rise of Valorant
Amidst the chaos of 2020, Riot Games made the bold play of dropping a brand new game, tactical shooter Valorant. The risk paid off in a big way: even during the closed beta there were multiple major events and big-name teams signed rosters early on.
And 2021 looks to be the breakout year for Valorant, with the Valorant Champions Tour kicking off a true Riot-managed competitive ecosystem and the likes of G2, Cloud9 (across multiple teams including the all-women Cloud9 White) and T1 will all be looking to become the first-ever Valorant world champions.
OG’s quest for a third straight TI continues
OG already did the impossible in 2019 by winning back to back TIs, but their quest to do it once again was delayed this year with The International 10 being delayed. With all Dota LANs being put on hold for most of this year, OG became online warriors, having fun with all of their matches with the pressure off somewhat and becoming innovators of the meta.
Recently, they pulled out the crazy Morphling and Earth Spirit combo that saw them make it to second place in the Epic League and they've been one of the most entertaining teams to watch all year. But now with the DPC set to start up once again, their quest for a third TI victory in a row resumes and based on their recent form you wouldn’t want to count them out.
CS:GO goes from strength-to-strength
In a year when major esports were mostly put on hold, CS:GO continued to host top tier events that were almost on par with the big LAN events we see when things are normal. Just take a look at the recent Blast Premier Fall tournament that Team Vitality won – the action was some of the best we've ever seen.
Outside of the action in the server, there have been some big moves to build 'superteams'. The Cloud9 head honchos seem to have watched Moneyball and undergone a complete rebuild under the guidance of CS legend Henry ‘HenryG’ Greer, OG CSGO went from strength-to-strength after forming right at the end of 2019 and G2 ripped up the rulebook and signed Nikola ‘NiKo’ Kovač, in the biggest transfer of the year.
Daigo proves he's still the master as he nears his 40th birthday
The myth that esports players have to retire in their 20s as reaction times start to fade has been well and truly smashed, with Street Fighter legend Daigo Umahera having a strong 2020 despite the lack of events and the fact that he's approaching his 40th birthday.
At 39-years-old 'The Beast' won the CPT 2020 Online Event: Asia East 1 tournament – one of the biggest online events in his region – and earned himself a spot at the Capcom Cup. They say age is just a number and Umahera is proving that.
G2 Esports sign Rekkles
G2 Esports seems to have been on a quest to become the undisputed world champions in every esport in the world. Not only did they sign Niko in the world of CS:GO to complete a super team, but they also signed Martin ‘Rekkles’ Larsson to the League of Legends squad, bringing one of the best players in the world to the best team in Europe.
The move was once unthinkable, especially as Rekkles joined from arch-rivals Fnatic and will surely further cement G2 as the best team in Europe. Now, with back-to-back top-four finishes at Worlds, G2 are in good stead to finally go the distance and become world champions in 2021.
Cloud9 sign Perkz
With G2 signing Rekkles it was time for Luka ‘Perkz’ Perković to move on to pastures new, and by doing so he ushered in a new era in the LCS. Perkz is the new star for Cloud9 over in North America and has signalled a changing of the guard in the LCS, with some big-name players retiring and Perkz leading the charge of new stars entering the league.
With Perkz in the roster, Cloud9 now have one of the scariest rosters in the LCS and should have no issues taking the LCS crown. With Perkz and the rest of the new talent in the league, it might finally be time for NA to win some big international events in 2021.
FIFA grows despite difficult year
Like sim racing, football fans found themselves turning to pro FIFA matches without the real thing on offer for months and as a result, the world of FIFA esports has grown substantially. Former world champion Musaed 'Msdossary' Al Dossary joined the Red Bull family and looked to be on course to win another World Championship after a flying start to 2020 before all LAN events were postponed.
Elsewhere more and more football clubs around the world signed FIFA players, with RB Leipzig creating the REBELZ FIFA team, featuring young players Lena Güldenpfennig (19, who also plays for RB Leipzig’s women’s football team), Umut Gültekin (17), Anders Vejrgang (14) and veteran player Richard 'Gaucho10' Horme (27). The future looks bright for this squad and 2021 will surely be a breakout year.
Age of Empires 2 explodes online
With Age of Empires 2 Definitive Edition launching in late 2019, the competitive scene really took off in 2020, with major events, ridiculous stories and an explosion of the game that was never really expected. The highlights were undoubtedly the two Red Bull Wololo tournaments that brought in a new game mode, a modified version of Empire Wars, to the pro scene.
The action was unmatched in any other AoE 2 competition this year, with Chinese Mr_Yo taking a big victory in the first event and Kai ‘Liereyy’ Kallinger taking a surprising win at Red Bull Wololo II. With the scene going from strength to strength you can expect AoE 2 to have another massive year in 2021, especially with Red Bull Wololo III on the way.
LoL Worlds breaks records
The one major LAN event that managed to go ahead this year, albeit in an incredibly controlled environment, was the League of Legends World Championship and despite the lack of major stadium events with full crowds, it still broke records.
The event brought in a staggering 45.95M peak concurrent viewers and had a 23.04M AMA (Average Minute Audience), beating the 2019 event in both metrics. Even in its reduced state, Worlds still broke records, which shows just how strong esports has been this year. 2021 will no doubt be even better as LAN tournaments start to return. Good luck and have fun out there next year.