It won't be long now until eSports is bigger than anyone ever anticipated, with worldwide revenues expected to pass $1 billion dollars in worldwide revenue within the next two years.
It's because of special moments – huge, game-changing plays, and industry-shifting developments – that eSports are enjoying this level of success, making each and every tournament a must-see, and each and every announcement a major headline. After all, you never know when history will be made.
Here are the Top 10 eSports Moments of 2016, the dramatic, the the ones that show why eSports are here to stay.
10. Overwatch pays out $100,000
The common narrative on eSports is that it's established. We have a particular set of five or six games (Dota 2, League of Legends, Counter-Strike, Call of Duty, etcetera) that dominate the eSports scene and there simply isn't any room for new games to show up and make a difference. Indeed, this is one of the main narratives working against eSports – it's static.
Enter Overwatch, a revolutionary 2016 game that took both the casual and competitive scene by storm. Its place in eSports was cemented when a prize pool of $100,000 was distributed at September's Overwatch Open. Seems like the game is here to stay.
9. EG and Alliance Go Independent
In an unprecedented move, popular eSports teams Evil Geniuses and Alliance announced that they would immediately transition to independent, player-owned organizations.
What's interesting about this is the story behind the headline. Evidently, Twitch.tv pulled out of the investment in those two teams, which Twitch acquired after an earlier asset purchase, to avoid an obvious conflict of interest. Because of this, it's likely that these teams will not say independent forever, or even for very long, as there are loads of investors who see the massive profit potential of owning an eSports team who would gladly write a check in obscene amounts to become the defacto owner.
We'll see …
8. CLG Wins Fist Ever Halo World Championship
Yet another counter-argument to the "eSports static landscape" argument, Halo 5 really came on in 2016, with its World Championship series. It made serious waves in the eSports scene, with Counter Logic Gaming taking home the title.
Also significant was it's $2.5 million prize pool – the largest ever for a console gaming tournament, and larger than any other first-person shooter. And, while this number just barely missed the top-10 all time, with Dota 2 and League of Legends tournaments making up the larger prize-pools, it's important to note Halo 5's inaugural tournament had a larger prize pool than the first Dota 2 International and the first League of Legends World Championship combined.
It's an impressive start, to say the least.
7. Smite Caps Prize Pool
Smite was also one of those eSports that came out of nowhere, a lot like Overwatch. When it's first world championship tournament in 2015, developer Hi-Rez Studios came out swinging – with a massive $2.6 million dollar prize pool, which was good enough for the Top 10 ever at the time. This mirrored the Dota 2 strategy – put forth a chunk of money out of your own pocket, and raise the rest through crowd-funding.
This earned Smite a lot of notoriety, especially among eSports players, who now saw the third-person MOBA as a profitable endeavor. Oddly, enough, though, it was not to be. Smite followed up 2015's World Championship by capping the prize pool in 2016 at $1 million, reasoning that they wanted to spread the wealth around to their other tournaments throughout the year. Unfortunately, some eSports players reportedly took this as a sign that Smite wasn't for them.
The full effect of this decision – in terms of Smite's relevance on the eSports scene – remains unknown. With the way prize pools and industry spending are going though (up), Hi-Rez certainly didn't set any trends.
6. A League of Legends Dynasty Is Born
Prize pools are great, and all, but eSports may have its first real dynasty in League of Legends, on par with the Pittsburg Steelers of the NFL and Michael Jordan-led Bulls of the NBA. At the 2016 World Championship for League of Legends, eSports team SKT won the title for the second time in a row, and their third time in four years – there have only been six World Championship tournaments.
While they may have been given a run for their money, winning a best-of-five series 3-2, it seldom matters how close one's victory is, and it certainly makes no difference for SKT, who have won $4 million dollars over the last four years solely at this World Championship tournament.
Let's put it this way: when someone finally dethrones SKT, you'll read about it the next day.
5. KeSPA Shuts Down Starcraft ProLeague
Dealing a huge blow to the future of Starcraft II as an eSport, perhaps the largest and oldest-living Starcraft league abruptly closed its doors.
This is one of the bigger tragedies in eSports history. The Korean eSports Association (KeSPA) is a leader in the industry, and its ProLeague was an institution, surviving from the heyday of Broodwar and successfully transitioning to Starcraft II when its popularity proved too much to ignore.
Unfortunately, for one reason or another, interest in Starcraft II began to fade, as MOBA popularity on the eSports scene exploded, and there's no larger indicator of the troubled state of Starcraft than the ProLeague's closure.
4. The Professional eSports Association Is Established
I don't think anyone anticipated any controversy when establishing the Professional eSports Association (PEA), but it may prove to be the breaking point between eSports players and the teams and organizations that govern them.
The controversy over player's rights has resulted in one prominent eSports player, Sean Gares, being fired from Team Solo Mids a mere 9 days after being signed to the team. We're now also seeing a very public contract dispute that, quite frankly is getting ridiculous. We now have an open letter to the PEA and the teams, a firing because of it, a response to criticism of that firing, two responses to that response, a letter from the PEA representative responding to the original letter, a response to that letter, and a response from the PEA representative to that response, all posted in some public forum.
And all of this unfolded in the last two days.
Sort. It. Out. I can't think of a single way an eSports players Union wouldn't help un-muddle this situation, but that's just me.
3. Solar Cheeses Out A Victory
While Starcraft II 's future as an eSport may be up in the air, its propensity to dazzle and excite has never wavered. In Season 2 of 2016's StarLeague, eSports player Solor was up against Dark yet again (they fought before in season 1), but this time it was the grand finals.
Cheesing in Starcraft is not uncommon, even for big tournaments. If you're up a game early in a best-of-five series, it's almost expected to try to cheese out a win by going for a early all-in, win-or-lose push. But Solar did it when the series was tied 3-3 in a best-of-seven. This was a high-stakes gamble, the likes of which competes with the biggest and bravest.
He went for a slightly delayed Zergling Rush, funneling all his economy into a building as many lings as he possibly could. Dark wasn't adequately prepared for it, because who in their right mind would try to cheese out the last game in the grand finals? It worked to perfection, and Solar cemented himself as one of the boldest SC2 players in the game, winning the series 4-3.
Just watch the game above. The video is 20 minutes long, but the game itself only goes from the 1:30 mark to the 5:30 mark, and its definitely worth a watch.
2. Wings Gaming Wins Largest eSports Grand Prize Ever
$9,000,000. Normally, I would write that with the word "million," but I think the zeroes really do tell a different story. Dota 2 has become famous for its gaudy prize pools, with the International 2016 being no exception, offering more $20.7 million spread across 16 places.
When Wings Gaming won, though, they took home more than $9 million. That life-changing amount of money is the largest Grand Prize ever in eSports history, and I imagine it will say that way for a long time … or at least until 2017's International Tournament.
1. Ad Finem Puts Dota 2 On Notice
Who is Ad Finem? After The Boston Major, anyone who pays attention to eSports no longer has to ask that question.
We all know that OG eventually won the Boston Major, completing one of the most dominant tournament performances of all time, but, while OG won the prize, Ad Finem won the night. And, if that line sounds distinctly Rocky Balboa-esque to you, that wasn't by accident.
Ad Finem was a major underdog of the tournament. So much so that they weren't even considered underdogs. A relatively unknown team from Greece, of all places, Ad Finem had never won more than $7,000 at any tournament. Somehow, though, they ended up in the grand finals with OG, against which they were severely outmatched. Through two straight games in a best-of-five series, OG was proving it, too.
When game three rolled around, that's when Ad Finem showed us who they really were. After stumbling in the early goings, people were already predicting a 3-0 victory, but the precise, game-changing plays and guts in spades by Ad Finem pulled them back into an 80-minute slug-fest, culminating in perhaps the most exciting finale ever: a surprise, back door teleport that would have assuredly lost them the game had it not paid off.
Ad Finem makes their GG push for the end, but OG holds them back, leaving only Earthshaker alive. Earthshaker, played by MaybeNextTime goes invisible, blinks toward OG's ancient. Then, Luna, played by Madara, buysback and teleports to Earthshaker and finishes it off. This whole exchange starts around the 1:30:00 mark on that video, but it's what made this game an instant classic, and ultimately what put Ad Finem on the map. Every other team will know who they are. As the announcers remarked after the game was over "they deserve to be here."