The institution of the inaugural Fortnite World Cup. Formal recognition as a medal event at the SEA Games. The crowning of the first ever two-time back-to-back champions of Dota 2's The International. It's astounding, really - how many "firsts" for esports the year 2019 has borne witness to.
Well, that just goes to show how much room the industry still has to grow and evolve - not just as a hobby, but as a recognised professional discipline too. Streaming games have become as much a part of entertainment as television and radio were for our parents and grandparents. In fact, some people have even compared the glamour of being a modern esports celebrity to that of a renowned Hollywood actor or Olympic athlete.
So, as we edge into the new decade, let's take a moment to review some of the major developments we've seen thus far, following which we'll discuss what we can expect in the years to come.
If there's an event that deserves to be 2019's key esports highlight, this is the one. The first ever Fortnite World Cup, while not on the level of The International (yet), still boasted an enormous prize pool of $30 million. Players from all over the world took their shot at glory and fame, but as always, there's only room for one at the top. That honor goes to Kyle "Bugha" Giersdorf from Pennsylvania, USA. After beating out 99 other hopefuls in the finals, he walked away with no less US$3 million in prize money and bragging rights as the first-ever Fortnite World Champion.
Of course, the success of the World Cup wasn't the only thing that developer Epic Games had to be proud of. Data collection agency SuperData recently published their 2019 Year-in-Review report - here's our piece on it. As it turns out, Fortnite was the highest-grossing game for the second year in a row, earning an estimated US$1.8 billion in 2019 alone!
Speaking of back-to-back achievements, professional esports team OG made many jaws drop in the Dota 2 competitive scene last year too. Not only were they the first team to win two instances of The International (TI8 and TI9), but they were also the first to do so twice in a row.
Anyway, The International still takes the cake where esports prize pools are concerned, and probably ate it too - the final crowdfunding sum for 2019 was an estimated US$37 million, which in our opinion makes TI8's US$34 million prize pool look tame by comparison.
Like Dota 2, LoL boasts one of esports' most steadfast and loyal followings, and the yearly World Championship, or just "Worlds" for short is considered to be on par with The International in all respects save for the prize pool. Granted, we're already used to marking the tournament down on our calendars, but 2019's edition did bring something rather unique to the table. Or rather, to the champions' podium.
Several weeks before Worlds, LoL's developer Riot Games announced a special collaboration with French deluxe fashion house Louis Vuitton - the latter would be designing several items for the game, such as character skins and cosmetics. More importantly, they would also be in charge of creating a one-of-a-kind trophy case for Worlds. It was a curious partnership nobody expected, but the end result was something straight off a fashion runway.
The privilege of taking that trophy case home went to the Chinese team FunPlus Phoenix, who beat out Spanish team G2 Esports in an extremely heated best-of-5 finals match. And since we're on the topic of Worlds, let's not forget that the tournament's opening ceremony also marked the debut of Riot's new music ensemble, True Damage. Now, it might not exactly be related to esports, but you've got to hand it to Riot - "GIANTS" is pretty good stuff.
Zooming in on the regional sphere, the 2019 SEA Games hosted by the Philippines between end-November to early-December last year was another major leap for the industry. Owing to the efforts of many parties, especially gaming and lifestyle giant Razer, esports was finally given recognition as a medal event.
Games like Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, Arena of Valor, Dota 2, Starcraft II and Tekken 7 were part of the lineup, and viewership for the events surged on the back of these popular titles.
With its foot already in the door, the next step for esports, at least according to Razer, is to aim for even greater recognition. Accordingly, they're now pushing for the discipline to be recognised as a medal event at the Olympics. Question is, will we see that added in to the 2020 lineup? Not likely. There probably isn't time to make such drastic changes to the logistics and ongoing prep work. But what about 2024? It's entirely possible.
Here's something a little closer to home for us. In mid-December, the little red dot hosted it's first-ever large scale esports tournament at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. Thousands of fans gathered for the ONE Esports Dota 2 World Pro Invitational Singapore, which featured top-tier teams such as Vici Gaming, Evil Geniuses and many more.
The three-day gauntlet of matches eventually culminated in a tense showdown between Vici Gaming and Evil Geniuses, but the former easily took a 3-0 win against crowd favourite EG.
However, that isn't the only Dota 2 tournament Singapore has to look forward to. During the media preview, ONE Esports CEO Carlos Alimurung also announced that they would be holding a Dota 2 Major right here in 2020. As of now, the dates are set for 20-28 June this year, so do note it down on your calendar if you'd like to snag a ticket or two.
Anyway, that settles most of the main esports happenings in 2019, but what does it all mean as we go into the new year? Let's glance over what might come up on the agenda.