Esports is nothing short of a global phenomenon in 2023. This once-niche sector has enjoyed sustained growth over the course of the 2020s, capitalizing on new opportunities created by the pressures placed on conventional media to earn itself a seat at the big table. Now esports is worth around $2 billion globally, and this figure is projected to double by the end of the decade. In fact, companies that compare odds and provide offers on a wide array of sports, cite esports as its fastest-growing metric over the past three years. We’re even seeing major esports enjoy cautious adoption as part of global athletic competitions like the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, and the IOC, which serves as a strong indicator that esports is likely here to stay.
The history of competitive gaming is nuanced, with the modern form of it we know as esports largely taking root in the internet cafes of East Asia in the late 90s and early 00s. This has resulted in some very specific genres ruling the roost of esports fandom, such as the direct ancestor of the real-time strategies StarCraft and Warcraft, the MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas), such as Dota 2 and League of Legends. Clearly, in our time and age, it’s not all about war games for PC only. Successful games can be anything and everything ranging from cute to bizarre.
Likewise, the so-called battle royale game enjoys a prominent position in the current esports scene, alongside more traditional FPS’, and a hybrid format known as the Hero Shooter. Taken together, these four categories represent the core concerns of the modern esports industry, and if one looks at the peak viewership figures for games played in 2023, one finds that the top four represent the leading edge of each respective genre. Let’s take a look at these titles, and explore why exactly the genres they serve as ambassadors for have won so many advocates in the professional competitive sector of the games industry.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive – Tactical FPS
For many years, CS:GO has served as the final word in elite FPS gameplay. The Counter-Strike series has a long history dating back to its earliest versions which came to light as a mod of Half-Life around the turn of the millennium. CS:GO, which has built on these solid foundations, offers a bare-bones FPS experience, and one that has served as the direct inspiration for realistic or ‘tactical’ shooters everywhere, from Call of Duty to Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six.
Its twitchy gameplay and well-balanced maps offer an impressively high skill ceiling and one that has enabled leading players such as Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyljev to distinguish themselves on the world stage. What makes CS:GO particularly noteworthy is that it has come to represent the pinnacle and leading of the tactical FPS genre, with no rivals even being seen to come close to matching its dominance.
Many considered the surge in popularity that Rainbow Six: Siege enjoyed in the latter years of the 2010s to represent a viable threat to CS:GO’s position. But with its robust in-game economy, global esports circuit, and legacy brand recognition, CS:GO remains not only the best tactical FPS in 2023 – but the only true representative of the genre – and maybe being one of the best games out there.
VALORANT – Hero Shooter
Tracing the origins of the Hero Shooter is tricky, particularly because it can be hard to define. Ostensibly, a hero shooter combines the format of an FPS arena game, with individual character abilities. Whereas in CS:GO, for example, all player characters have access to the same limited toolkit of abilities (strafing, crouching, jumping, etc.), in Hero Shooters, individual player characters can have wildly distinct abilities.
This adds an additional layer to the gameplay, as teams must focus on building a balanced side that offers a spread of defensive and offensive abilities to maximize their effectiveness. Team Fortress 2 is likely the originator of the modern Hero Shooter phenomenon, but Overwatch is credited with being the game series that concretized its core elements. Overwatch effectively sought to combine the experience of ‘champion’ characters, as found in MOBAs, with the gunplay of FPS games, something it accomplished to great effect.
More recently, however, Riot Games’ VALORANT has been ascending the rankings and is now considered the most popular representative of this genre. VALORANT offers a more stripped-back experience when compared to other modern Hero Shooters like Apex Legends and Overwatch 2, and this has won many fans from the Tac-FPS end of the esports spectrum.
PUBG Mobile – Battle Royale
Battle Royales are a modern version of the ‘last man standing’ game mode. Typically, in a battle royale, between 100 and 150 players land on a large bounded map or island and must compete against one another until only a single player or team survives. This makes them a uniquely entertaining and watchable esport, and some of the most popular competitive titles in recent years have belonged to this genre.
Of these, Fortnite and Free Fire have been particularly successful. However, the originator of this game mode – PlayerUnknown BattleGrounds, or PUBG, continues to dominate as the last word in battle royale gameplay. Its mobile variant is now among the highest paying and most widely played esports in the world today.
Mobile Legends: Bang Bang – MOBA
The MOBA is the single largest esports genre. Not only has it the longest-running pedigree, with its roots drawing back to the heyday of Korean esports, but it offers a depth of teamwork and tactical range that make it the most challenging and sophisticated of all esports. Today, League of Legends and Dota 2 are widely considered to be not only the biggest MOBAs but the largest and most successful esports overall.
However today a mobile variant of the genre, called Mobile Legends: Bang Bang is the most watched and widely downloaded title in the wider esports community. Mobile Legends simplifies the winning formula of its contemporaries, making it accessible to casual mobile audiences. Adding to this, Mobile Legends limits the game-length down from 30 minutes to just 10 minutes. As you can imagine, this further increases its appeal among busy gamers across the globe.