By almost any measure, esports is huge in gaming right now. They are incredibly prevalent, with many of the top, most popular games games like DOTA 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Fortnite played by millions of amateur and professional players for both fun and as part of organized tournaments. There are established leagues that are completely devoted to the sport, and new ones forming every day.
On the competitive side, esports tournaments now routinely have prize pools that award millions of dollars to the top teams. And the players themselves can achieve near-rockstar status. When a brand-new team is formed comprised of veteran players, it’s big news, and expectations for their first few matches are incredibly high. But not everyone who enjoys esports needs to be a veteran player to earn money on matches, as many of the world’s most popular online casinos now offer sports betting on esports matches alongside traditional offerings like online slots.
The esports universe is also rapidly expanding, and that means that there is an opportunity for more games to start to pop up as the next big thing. There is nothing wrong with CS:GO, DOTA, League of Legends, Fortnite, PBUG and the other titles that have been at the top of the esports world for many years, but a little diversity could also go a long way to bringing in new players, fans, tournaments and increased popularity for esports overall. The question is, what kind of title might be the next king of esports?
Variants on the Shooter Genre
Probably one of the safest bets in trying to guess what type of esports game will be the next big thing is to go with another first-person shooter. If a developer can offer something new while keeping the shooter format largely intact, then that game might find its way to the top of the popularity charts. A good example of an attempt to do this would be Bohemia Interactive’s Vigor.
Developer Bohemia is known for military simulations, and some of their technology is even being used to train actual militaries around the world. So, it’s no surprise that Vigor is fairly realistic in appearance, and yet resource constrained enough to run on a Nintendo Switch. The game was popular at launch, although some reviews pointed out that certain aspects of it, especially on the Nintendo Switch, needed a bit of work.
Another possible entry in this category is Valorant from Riot Games. Released as a free-to-play online shooter, it focuses on bringing more inclusivity into competitive esports. The game continues to expand and grow, and may yet crack the top three in popularity.
Card-based Battle Games
Not everyone has the lightning-quick reflexes needed to compete in online shooters, but almost anyone can put on their thinking caps, build a solid deck of cards with representative powers and then take those cards into battle against their opponents, who are all doing the same thing. As such, a card-based battle game could be the next big thing.
The perfect example of this is Hearthstone, which was developed and published by Blizzard Entertainment in 2014. Hearthstone is made to be an online competitive digital collectable card game set in the Warcraft universe. Although it is nearing 10 years old at this point, Hearthstone continues to grow and expand with new features and tournaments.
Even the venerable Pokémon got into the act. Even though it’s not as popular as the RPG videogame series, the Pokémon Trading Card Game has a devoted fan base and several real-world tournaments for players to compete for big prizes.
And new card-based games are coming out all the time, as their popularity continues to grow.
Non-Traditional Esports Entries
Although we probably can’t see people gathering around in huge stadiums to watch two people playing virtual chess, it’s always a possibility. In 2021, the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, for the first time in history, determined the world’s best chess player over a full competitive season of online chess. Over 1.5 million in prize money was awarded to the top players.
Quite the opposite environment from quiet chess competitions, drone racing is becoming an increasingly popular sport in the real world. So of course, games are starting to follow suit with titles like The Drone Racing League Simulator and others launching for the PC through the Steam platform. Playing in a virtual tournament against other players has a lot of advantages over real life drone racing competition. For one, it’s far less expensive to get into. The courses online can also be set in fantastic places like the rim of a volcano or a sci-fi city. And if you wreck your drone online, you can just start over without having to put the pieces back together again.
And finally, we have totally casual games now being used for esports. A perfect example is Brawlhalla, a cartoon-like beat-em-up title that is really growing in popularity. The game is well-supported by developer Blue Mammoth Games and publisher Ubisoft, with new updates appearing all the time. Brawlhalla also recently held its seventh major esports tournament, and the first one with a massive million-dollar prize pool.
No matter how you look at it, the future of Esports is very bright, regardless of which game, or which type of game, ends up at the top of the heap. Find something you like and go out there and have fun with it.