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Published: December 1, 2021

Written by: Stoyan Todorov


The idea of competitive play in video gaming is no longer outlandish. In fact, esports leagues are pretty standard for any esports game, and whether it’s the Dota Pro Circuit or the franchised league mode used by Riot Games and Overwatch for the regional and the Overwatch League respectively, gamers expect to see an esports league that brings together the best and brightest.

Today, we take a look at all esports leagues there are and why they are important. We will use broad strokes definitions as the world of esports is quite big, and listing every possible competition here will be a Herculean task. Instead, we will help you better understand the esports ecosystem and leagues. Let’s start by defining what an esports league is.

What Is an Esports League?

An esports league is a competitive format that is hosted by a game’s developer or publishers, or a third party for that matter, that brings sponsors, features a prize pool, and incentivizes competitive play on all levels. Essentially, an esports league is a sports tournament for video games. There are many organizations that specialize in running such leagues.

The league may last just a month, or it may stretch throughout an entire year, but this really depends on the game titles featured. The Dota Pro Circuit is a professional tournament, but to many fans, it’s a league that runs throughout the entire year. So are the Blast Premier Series or DreamHack meet-ups.

Yet, more traditional examples of esports leagues are the Overwatch League and League of Legends regional tournament organizations that run in seasons and have leaderboards. Each team in these leagues competes against each other and accumulates points. The prize pool is usually awarded at the end of the season for these events.

The Blast Premier, DreamHack, and DPC, though, feature prize money at the end of each event, which usually lasts one or two weeks. While esports events are different, there is no need for you to be confused. The long and short of it is this: some esports leagues will be in a more traditional format, but others will be concentrated in just a few days or weeks of play.

Esports Leagues Tournament Host

Who hosts esports leagues? That’s a great question. Back in the day, there were but a few who did. One of the earliest hosts is the Electronic Esports League (ESL) which has fully rebranded to ESL. It’s just old timers as we remember the days when we called the league by its full name. ESL hosts a number of events for dozens of games in a league format.

This means that you have a competitive setup that is played monthly. There are looser competitive formats, too. The ESL Pro Tour, for example, is a “roadshow” type event that invites players for a week or two of competitive play. ESL is not the only host of such live events, even if the Intel Extreme Masters is quite the tournament to behold.

DreamHack, WePlay, StarLadder, BeyondTheSummity, and many others have established themselves as some of the most prominent league and tournament hosts over the years. Valve, for example, host their own Dota Pro Circuit, although they do so in collaboration with third-party organizations, many of which we have listed here.

Activision Blizzard, though, takes control over the Call of Duty and Overwatch League, which are fully-fledged league formats.

Disambiguation: Are Tournaments and Leagues the Same Thing?

It’s fair to say that a brief competition is a tournament, whereas esports events that take place over months are more aptly described as leagues. In fairness, we believe both terms are used interchangeably, but it may be helpful to use them separately for the sake of clarity.

Of course, the fact that League of Legends and Rocket League have “league” bang in their name doesn’t help one bit, and esports usually comes naturally to fans, so we wouldn’t worry about it.

Esports Leagues Near Me

This is a great question. Esports is an omnipresent phenomenon. Where there are gamers, there are competitions and the desire to excel. Players often end up organizing competitions and tournaments, and even leagues to incentivize people into participating. You can find a good number of league events close to you by just entering the search terms in Google.

Depending on where you live, you will get mixed results. North America and Europe are densely populated with upcoming events. Even the pandemic in 2020 seemed to only slow league formats just a little. Gamers continued forming communities and challenging each other. And now, esports is penetrating higher education, not just as part of the curriculum but also as fully-scaled competitions.

If there are no esports leagues around you, this may be a good time to look into the opportunity of starting one. Depending on where you live, there may be a high demand for gaming events, demand that has not been met and that you can satisfy.

High School Esports League: Gaming in Education

As it turns out, there are plenty of opportunities to play esports, including in your high school. High school leagues are becoming very popular, especially in places such as North America and Europe. They may be isolated occurrences, such as one school feeling really passionate about a video game, whether this is Rocket League, StarCraft II, Counter-Strike, Valorant, Overwatch, or some other competition.

Or, they may exist as part of a much bigger entity, such as the NACE or High School Esports League in the United States. Presently, HSEL has over 3,400 participating schools with 140,000+ students who are competing in esports on a school level. The league runs a number of titles, including Call of Duty, League of Legends, Dota 2, and other competitive formats.

In other words, high school leagues are pretty common, and they are developing at a quick clip. Riot Games and Activision Blizzard esports are the main options when it comes to college esports. In fact, both companies invest heavily in hosting live events for colleges and high schools.

Blizzard used to run the Heroes of the Storms colleague league, and Riot Games is heavily geared towards high school and college students. NACE, a varsity esports league for North American colleges, features League of Legends and Valorant as two of its main competitive games today.

Mobile Games and Esports in League Play

Apart from PC and console titles, there are other games that are worth mentioning. Mobile games are drawing quite a bit of attention on their own, and they are just as competitive. The list of titles that are both mobile and considered esports is growing. In fact, some of the top competitions you can witness today are played on games such as:

  • Arena of Valor
  • Mobile Legends Bang Bang
  • Wild Rift
  • Free Fire
  • Honor of Kings

There is good money going into mobile games, and they are quickly forming to be worthwhile titles for esports leagues. In fact, many already have established competitions. The Arena of Valor World Cup 2022 has an $8 million prize pool, which is massive and just enough to help the game stand out as a viable esports option.

How Do You Join an Esports League

There are many ways to join an esports league, as a matter of fact. Players are able to enter through qualifiers on their own or as part of teams. Most leagues will hold open qualifiers. The Dota Pro Circuit, which leads to The International, holds qualifier events for the Minor events. While only the spot goes to a team that is outside the big names, this is still a flexible structure that allows and guarantees that only the most talented players can join.

So, if you are part of a team that has outstanding talent in the multiplayer online battle arena game, you can rest assured that you will be recognized and have your shot at joining the stardom of esports talent. Of course, an event may be an invitational tournament, but the same rule pretty much applies. If you are a great player, you will sooner or later catch the eye of your peers.

The Future for Esports Leagues

Esports leagues are likely to continue developing at a rapid pace, making them an important part of the competitive ecosystem. In recent years, there has been an inundation of new tournaments and hosting organizations willing to bring numerous events to the fore in a league format.

From Six Siege to Super Smash Bros., there have been tons of events. Warcraft III has been restored to its former glory, more or less, with a strong grassroots community maintaining excellent events running. The good news is that the world of esport is shifting towards a fully-scaled league format.

Valorant, Riot Games’ latest shooter game, is also choosing a model that is closer to the one used in Overwatch, Call of Duty, and League of Legends. This way, fans can have a constant stream of esports to watch, and gaming feels far more rewarding.

We predict that the future of esports leagues is bright as it would allow for more people to join and play in varying capacities. Players are welcome to give leagues a crack, and if they cannot be bothered becoming professional gamers, that is okay as well. The alternative is to kick back and cheer for your favorite team or organization.

Esports Leagues FAQs

How many esports leagues are there?

There are hundreds of esports leagues. They are created locally, internationally, and on a high school and college level in all parts of the world.

What games have esports leagues?

Nearly all esports games have an esports league. This includes games such as Street Fighter, Call of Duty, Overwatch, League of Legends, Dota 2, Arena of Valor, Valorant, Hearthstone, Magic: The Gathering, Rocket League, and many others.

Can anyone participate in an esports league?

Each league has its own admission criteria. Generally, any player who is skilled enough at a given game will be admitted into a league. Some will have a much higher entry-level, though, such as the OWL and CDL, where you have to be a part of a team in order to join.

Are college and high school esports leagues popular?

Yes, esports leagues on the collegiate and high school levels are extremely popular. They provide players with everything they need in order to compete against their peers. These leagues may lead to scholarships, tuition discounts, and more that players and students usually appreciate as part of their education.

What’s the biggest esports league?

ESL. There are different ways to define the “biggest esports league,” but we choose ESL because of its commitment over the years to numerous games. While ESL has had a poor track record for consistency, it has given a fair shot to many games to achieve recognition and rise to the level of esports.

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