It'd be blindingly obvious if we told you that esports is in a really healthy place right now, with a lot of prize money up for grabs driving new levels of professionalism, competitions drawing in huge crowds, and big matches across multiple games to look out for each week. Whether you follow Call of Duty or Dota 2, there's competitive action both to get involved in and to watch played professionally, and we're here to take a look at what the next 12 months hold for the world of competitive gaming.
Overwatch League Season 2
Back in 2017, we said that the Overwatch League was the most exciting prospect of 2018, and with the first season done and dusted and London Spitfire crowned champions, we're looking ahead to an expanded league featuring 20 teams as opposed to last year's 12. Not only that, but format changes have arrived to try and make things a little easier for teams competing, and we'll even see a select few matches played in city-based arenas rather than the Blizzard Arena in LA.
The reason the Overwatch League is still so exciting in its second season is that we saw a lot of success and potential in the first, even if there were teething issues. For instance, it was the fourth most-watched channel on Twitch in 2018, and fans really took well to the city-based franchises, finding teams to get behind and represent either in-person or online. In-game cosmetics and strong branding for each team just strengthened this sense of identity in the league, which has even more options for supporters in 2019.
Old and the New of League of Legends
After a thrilling World Championship in November last year, where EU team Fnatic surprised everyone by getting to the final, European League of Legends fans now have a revamped franchised league called the League of Legends European Championship (LEC), replacing the Championship Series from last year. This followed in the footsteps of the North American league, and there are both old and new teams in there to follow, like Origen, operated with the help of Astralis owners Rfrsh Entertainment.
European League of Legends is obviously very exciting, but then we also have the other areas of the world to consider. North America still needs to prove themselves internationally, for example, and in South Korea there's a time of turbulence as we wait to see whether fallen giants SK Telecom T1 can rise up once more to prove themselves with a new team. All of these leagues will, of course, be bolstered by the Mid-Season Invitational and World Championships yet again, so let's hope 2019 can build on a crazy 2018 to become even more entertaining.
Can Astralis be toppled?
When talking about CS:GO (or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive) esports, one name rises above all others - Astralis. Their solid Danish roster has remained unchanged for a while, and that's because they've been so consistent at winning titles in 2018, including of course the London Major event hosted by Faceit back in September. They've consistently impressed to the point where an Astralis loss in a grand final is a pretty big shock, even if we have occasionally seen it.
A lot of teams will be gunning for them this year though, including FaZe Clan, which has refreshed its roster by pushing Finn 'Karrigan' Andersen out and bringing Dauren 'AdreN' Kystaubayev in as a player and Janko 'YNk' Paunović as a coach. Heading into the upcoming Katowice Major though Karrigan has joined Envy, and Team Liquid are another team looking to produce big results, not to mention CompLexity who has even brought Jordan 'n0thing' Gilbert out of retirement. It's a big few months for CS:GO teams, and we look forward to seeing if anyone has the firepower to stop Astralis in 2019.
Battle royale finding its feet
Battle royale - you might have heard of it? It's a genre of game that has not only taken the world by storm but also the esports scene. The trouble is that there's no stability now, as there are few regular leagues and only the odd competition for buzz to build around. For Fortnite in particular stability is very much needed, as Epic Games has received criticism for introducing items that change the meta during competitions, and for a stable esports scene in 2019 this will need to be changed. After all, large cash prizes aren't enough to ensure your game remains relevant on the competitive scene.
That said, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is doing big things with its extended leagues - the National PUBG League (NPL) and PUBG European League (PEL) - both of which build into the Global Championship. These are part of a longer five-year plan for PUBG esports, and serve to offer a bit more stability and longevity, supporting players and teams financially too, as well as cracking down on cheating. Even Call of Duty: Black Ops 4's Blackout mode has yet to make a real stamp on esports, but considering its popularity with gamers that might change this year.
A rich esports scene packed with games
We've gone into specifics on a number of games already, but there are tons of other titles that players need to watch out for this year. Call of Duty, for example, is starting the qualification for the CWL Pro League early this year, and for football fans, FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer have competitions like the Global Series, ePremier League, eFootball.Pro League, and more to enjoy throughout the year. Dota 2 also has the most valuable competition on the planet - The International - and we might even see the discussions around esports in the Olympics progress in 2019... although we doubt it.
We can't forget the FGC (Fighting Game Community) either, as they also have standout moments to look forward to at competitions, in particular, Evo in Las Vegas in the summer. Street Fighter V, Injustice 2, and Dragon Ball FighterZ have already stamped their presence on the community, but with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate coming around for events like Genesis 6 and a new Mortal Kombat on the horizon, it's anything but stagnant in the FGC this year.