Esports was one of the many industries that was hit by the COVID-19 tidal wave. It threw the industry out of its usual and typical routines impeding the progress and growth of all associated parties be it teams, individual players or even league associations. Almost all of the important annual tournaments and events were cancelled due to restrictions in place by the authorities. The whole esports industry suffered the without these live events, and many of these struggles due to the pandemic will continue in 2021.
However, 2020 wasn’t without any new developments. The release of Riot Games’ Valorant earlier last year created a lot of excitement while breaking Twitch’s largest viewership record. A similar development was also seen in the Sim Racing scene. With sim racing titles being almost indistinguishable to the real thing, the genre exploded, with its close to real life experience. The F1 was arguably the biggest beneficiary, with thousands of people tuning in for virtual races with many broadcasters and even some of the real-life F1 drivers getting involved in exhibitions.
Football fans have also found themselves turning to pro FIFA matches leading to the esport to grow substantially. 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), Umut Gültekin (17), Anders Vejrgang (14) and veteran player Richard ‘Gaucho10’ Horme (27)
Looking ahead this year, while most would remain the same as the last, the esports world by the end of the year might look quite different in many aspects. Following are the titles that in our opinion, will rise up in 2021 to challenge the pre-existing affairs, or possibly return to their former glory.
A list of upcoming esports titles in 2021 would not exist without Valorant in it. Riot Games’ new first-person-shooter smashed Twitch viewership records even before its launch, and hit the ground running with a first day player count of nearly 3 million. It even managed to pull pro players from popular titles such as CS:GO and Overwatch due to its play-style has already seen commitment from most of the major esports teams.
This year, Valorant will have an official global ecosystem supported by Riot Games which will open the door for greater investment from teams and brands alike. What’s more, Valorant has begun its first-ever offline international tournament this year in relation to its Champions Tour announced last November. The lack of live events for more than a year will no doubt create such a fervor that Valorant’s first world championship could be one of the biggest events of the year.
One thing that also makes Valorant particularly exciting is the continued impact it can have for women’s esports. Cloud9 White was such a team that competed in the Valorant Champions Tour North America Stage 1 Challengers 1 – Open Qualifier. Even though they lost the match, this is a good step forward for women in esports, and the team will continue its pro level play in the future events.
There hasn’t been a year in which Supercell’s mobile games haven’t stood out in the world of esports, and this year will not be an exception. Clash Royale and Brawl Stars are two of the world’s leading mobile esports, and Clash Royale, in particular, is one of the few mobile games that has been able to retain the interest of top U.S based esports organisations like TSM and Team Liquid.
Even during the pandemic, Supercell saw a lot of growth in business with brawl stars generating close to $1 billion through player spending. Also, their total number of installs across all five of Supercell’s games – Clash of Clans, Clash Royale, Brawl Stars, Hay Day and Boom Beach – has hit five billion.
This year, Supercell games have already received updates to their structure with more coming in the future, and Clash Royale will receive a major rise of its prize money. Supercell definitely wants to make each of its esports titles grow into amazing separate games as well as find a format that works best for each of their game.
Supercell’s esports have significant room for growth with regards to brand partnerships. Their games haven’t seen any substantial activity from non-endemic brands, and also lacks third-party events with little engagement in that area as well. With more prize money committed from Supercell, perhaps the company will finally look to recoup that cost through an increase in brand engagement.
Dota 2 is game renowned for its colossal prize pool at its annual tournament known the ‘The International’, hosted by Valve. Dota 2 holds the records for largest prize pools in esports history with the with the 2019 season having a prize pool of close to $34 million. While that prize pool was once again slated to break records in 2020, the pandemic ultimately led to Valve canceling the event. This cancellation in turn revealed just how much the game’s entire ecosystem revolved around every ‘The International’ annually.
With the big tournament and its behemoth of a prize pool expected to return in 2021, Dota 2 will likely return to its former glory rather quickly. With the prize pool being crowdfunded as always, it is set to shatter all previous records of the previous years. There has also been a lot of change to Valve’s usual hands-off approach to the game. Due to the cancellation of TI last year, Valve has committed prize money and support to smaller, regional tournaments it had never engaged with before, helping to bolster the global ecosystem going forward.
Moreover, some associations have stepped in to help, forming the EPIC League and other online regional competitions. If TI does indeed return this year, Dota 2 can retain some of the improvements made to its global infrastructure, and the game will come out of the pandemic stronger than ever.