eSports have been steadily growing and maturing since the early days of basement LAN tournaments in the late ’90s, but 2016 may have been the most impactful year in eSports history.
Prize pools have grown, viewership has exploded, tournaments are being broadcast on TV, players are breaking records, money is pouring in and new games are igniting the competitive gaming landscape.With more eyeballs than ever glued to the world of eSports, the scene has delivered quite a few unforgettable moments over the past year.
Here are the 10 most important, mind-blowing and game-changing eSports moments from 2016.
10. Philadelphia 76ers Acquire Dignitas
Traditional sports have been mingling with the world of eSports all throughout 2016, with big names in traditional sports investing in and acquiring eSports teams left and right. The first North American traditional sports team to acquire an eSports team was the Philadelphia 76ers, which purchased a majority stake in both Team Dignitas and Apex in September.
— Team Dignitas (@TeamDignitas) December 6, 2016
The franchises, which have been merged under the banner Dignitas, have the backbone of an NBA team now, which means a lot of help with management, sponsors, sales, branding, marketing, merchandising, publicity, and money. As eSports continue to grow, teams receiving that kind of assistance will only propel players, teams, and the entire scene forward toward more success.
9. Overwatch Pro Wins a Match with a Bastion Pick
During the OGN APEX Overwatch tournament in early October, Lee “NoName” Won Jae from LW Blue pulled a move straight out of quick play. LW had precisely 15 seconds left to capture the point from Kongdoo Panthera or it would be all over. Right before the match ended NoName made a hilarious and unexpected switch.
Bastion is known for being low-tier in professional play but on that day NoName showed fans he can be viable if used correctly. With only seconds left on the clock NoName went Bastion in turret mode and rode a platform in the Volskaya Industries map. LW ended up taking the map, winning the round and astonishing casters and fans alike.
8. ELeague Brings eSports to Mainstream TV
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen eSports on cable TV: ESPN, MTV, DirecTV, and even The CW have all broadcast professional gaming in some form. But none of them offered purpose-built programming specifically for fans of the pro gaming scene.
Enter TBS’s new venture, ELeague. The tournament series has already delivered two seasons of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and one season of Overwatch action. ELeague’s TV broadcasts have earned solid ratings, with another season coming in 2017 and the network hosting the first CS:GOMajor of the year.
In short, ELeague has brought eSports to mainstream television in an unprecedented way.
7. The 2016 Dota 2 International’s Prize Pool Broke $20 Million
The 2016 Dota 2 International in August not only broke the record for highest eSports prize pool for a single tournament — it crushed that record. The crowd-funded prize pool reached $20,770,460 before closing, beating 2015’s record-breaking $18,429,613 prize pool for The International 5.
TI6 winners Wings Gaming walked away with $9.1 million, making them overnight millionaires as well as breaking the record for earnings from a single tournament. As a crowd-funded prize pool, the record-setting amount shows that fan numbers have grown and they’re willing to support these professionals on their paths to glory.
6. CS:GO’s S1mple Gets a Mid-Air, No-Scope Clutch
At the ESL One Cologne Major in July, Oleksandr “S1mple” Kostyliev performed one of the greatest Counter-Strike: Global Offensive plays ever seen. In a 1v2 showdown against Fnatic’s Dennis Edman and Freddy “Krimz” Johansson, S1mple had an AWP sniper rifle and a cool head to defend bombsite B on Cache.
Everything worked out perfectly.
S1mple dropped down and no-scoped Edman while mid-air, then peeked out and no-scoped Krimz to win the round. Two no-scopes is almost unheard of at the professional level and grabbing the first one while falling is a feat in itself. The spot where S1mple got the kill has been memorialized with a graffiti tag on the map for everyone to remember.
5. Dota 2’s Faith_Bian Boes on a One-Man Rampage
At the Dota 2 International, Wings Gaming dominated the competition on their way to first place, dismantling team after team throughout the week.
In the winners semifinals against MVP Phoenix, Wings Gaming’s Zhang “Faith_Bian” Ruida demonstrated his strength as one of the greatest individual Dota 2 players in the world. He wrecked MVP almost single-handedly as Faceless Void.
Here is Faith_Bian’s rampage in three parts:
He starts by hitting a Chronosphere to stop his first victim, killing MP as he goes for Roshan.
Next, he chases down DuBu despite being at half health and with other enemies nearby. After racking up his second kill, Faith_Bian does the unthinkable and moves in on Forev for a third kill, managing to get away with just a sliver of health.
A clearly annoyed QO ran after Faith_Bian, but was sandwiched by Wings Gaming. QO resurrected and the team took him down again, with Faith_Bian earning an assist.
4. Americans Take the Top Two Spots at the Capcom Cup
For the first time in Capcom Cup history there were not one, but two US players in the grand finals. The crowd was electric during the December tournament as fans watched Ricki Ortiz take out Haitani “Haitani” Tatsuya in the semi finals, meaning it would be an all-American grand final match.
Capcom Cup has historically been ruled by East Asian players, but 2016 finalists Du “NuckleDu” Dang and Ricki Ortiz represented their home country in style. Not only did Dang take home the Cup, he took home the largest prize in Capcom Cup history.
3. Hungrybox Wins the Evo 2016 Super Smash Bros. Melee Finals
Evo is the most prestigious fighting game tournament in the world. The Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament at this year’s event had a very strong showing, with long-time Melee titans Juan “Hungrybox” DeBiedma and Adam “Armada” Lindgren squaring off in the finals.
Hungrybox came from the losers bracket, needing to win two sets in a row against Armada to take first place — which he did, using his signature Jigglypuff pick. The finals lasted for an astounding 10 games, making the ending that much more tense and satisfying as Hungrybox, won his first-ever Evo championship.
2. Faker Dominates the League of Legends Worlds Finals
The League of Legends Worlds Championship is the biggest Leaguetournament of the year. The largest-ever Worlds prize pool — a crowd-funded $5,070,000 — was on the line in November as SK Telecom T1 and Samsung Galaxy faced off. It turned out to be quite the match-up.
SK Telecom showed the world once again that they’re the best, as Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok took them to glory with his record-breaking 209 eliminations over the course of the tournament. Some of the individual games lasted over an hour, which certainly helped Faker rack up the kills as SKT made their way to their $2,028,000 first place finish.
1. The Release of Overwatch
Overwatch is Blizzard’s highly addictive gift to us in 2016. Since its launch in May, the game has amassed over 20 million players and has had over 20 tournaments held, with prize pools ranging from $10,000 to $300,000. It’s the most rapidly successful esport of all time.
Blizzard’s own Overwatch World Cup established South Korea as a powerhouse, with the team going undefeated through the event’s playoffs. OGN’s Overwatch Apex and ELeague’s Overwatch Open have also brought professional competitive Overwatch to mainstream television in South Korea and the U.S. (with some impressive ratings), and more international tournaments are on the way.
Regular balance updates, hero and map additions and game-improving tweaks have been keeping the young scene healthy and interesting as the game finds its footing in the competitive space. Plus, the announcement of the Overwatch League means big things for professional Overwatch.
Not only is Overwatch the biggest new eSport of the year, it’s the top eSport to keep an eye on as it grows over the next couple years.