Missing traditional sports? These esports could be worth a watch

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The traditional sports world has ground to a halt as a result of the coronavirus, but competitions are still happening in esports. Though several esports leagues had to put their in-person events on hold, many were able to make the transition into online play. Rivalries are still being contested, players are still making amazing plays, and teams are still vying for a shot at end-of-year championships.

There’s something for everyone in the world of esports — though they’re all played on a computer or console, esports are as interesting and varied as any traditional sport. From the high-flying goal-scoring of Rocket League to the frantic teamfights of Overwatch to the clutch plays of League of Legends, the world’s most popular esports have action and competition to spare — and if you’ve never watched one before and are interested in checking them out, we’ve got you covered. While we’re rooting hard for the eventual return of live crowds and in-person events, in the meantime, here’s a list of esports you might enjoy watching if you’re a fan of some of the more popular traditional sports.

If you’re missing American football, you should try League of Legends

The king of traditional sports in North America meets the king of esports around the globe. Like the NFL, League of Legends brings in the viewership, with over 100 million viewers tuning in for the 2019 League of Legends world championship final between China’s FunPlus Phoenix and Europe’s G2 Esports.

The similarities between the two don’t end there, though, as both games boil down to a singular goal of overtaking an opponent’s territory. In League of Legends, two teams of five wage war in a battle to destroy the other team’s base, tactfully dismantling the enemy’s defenses and infantry to claim ownership of the map. While stars are plentiful in the professional League of Legends world, as with American football, smart coaching, team chemistry and style matchups are often the winners when pitted against a team built around a single superstar player.

If you’re more of a Kansas City Chiefs fan who loves high-scoring games and defense that sometimes feels like a sword slicing through swiss-cheese, then China’s domestic league, the League of Legends Pro League, is the league for you. In a game that is often chess-like, the Chinese teams of the LPL take a plodding strategy game and turn it into a boxing match.

Match you need to watch: 2016 League of Legends World Championship Semifinals (SK Telecom T1 vs. ROX Tigers)

The game’s magnum opus up to this point, the 2016 worlds semifinal still stands up as the consensus greatest series to ever be played in League of Legends. The match between arch-rivals ROX and SKT took place at Madison Square Garden in New York City, selling out the famed arena.

The player you need to know: Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok

The Tom Brady of the League of Legends world, the 23-year-old pro has won eight domestic titles in his home country of South Korea along with three world championships in 2013, 2015 and 2016. Unlike Brady, however, he isn’t leaving the team and becoming a pirate down in Florida. Faker recently re-signed with his club T1 and became a part-owner of the organization run by telecommunication giants Comcast and SK Telecom.

If you’re missing basketball, you should try Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Are you missing the NBA and its back-and-forth action where a heroic performance by a superstar can change the course of a franchise forever? Well, you’re in luck. Counter-Strike is here to entertain you in these chaotic times. A first-person shooter game, two teams of five battle in a series of 30 rounds, with the first team achieving 16 victories declared the winner. On the surface, like basketball, the game is straightforward. The team on offense tries to detonate a bomb, while the team on defense tries to stop them. Beyond that, though, if you really want to dig in and learn everything you want to know about the game, Counter-Strike is as deep of an esport as there is today.

As with basketball and the NBA, Counter-Strike is truly a global game, with top teams coming from around the world, including countries like Brazil and Australia. In terms of dynasties, just like the Golden State Warriors before this year, CS:GO has their own championship squad that still hasn’t been taken off its perch. Astralis from Denmark are the undisputed rulers of the Counter-Strike world, having won three straight world championships.

Match you need to watch: ELEAGUE Major: Boston 2018 final (Cloud9 vs. FaZe Clan)

The world championships for Counter-Strike, majors occur generally twice a year and can be hosted anywhere around the world. In 2018, the major was held in Boston, where North America’s Cloud9 attempted to become the first team from the region to claim the title of world champion. On the other side, they were pitted against Europe’s superteam, FaZe, built from top to bottom with talent and the most decorated players in the history of Counter-Strike. When the two sides clashed, more than 1 million viewers on Twitch tuned in to see if the plucky North Americans could topple the European giant in front of a rowdy hometown crowd in Boston.

The player you need to know: Oleksandr “S1mple” Kostyliev

His favorite basketball player is James Harden, and you can see why if you watch the Ukrainian video game prodigy play Counter-Strike. Regardless if he’s on a team with four world-class players or seated next to beginners who’ve never touched a video game before, S1mple plays like he always expects to win, and if his teammates aren’t up to snuff, he’ll do everything in his power to get them over the line. Although S1mple has won almost everything possible in Counter-Strike, a major victory and a world championship, like James Harden, still eludes him. A two-time second-place finisher at a major, the next world championship in Brazil this coming November could be the date where that finally happens.

If you’re missing soccer, you should try Rocket League

The clearest one-to-one recommendation on this list, Rocket League is literally soccer … but with flying cars. Wild concept, right? While soccer fans already know of FIFA and other soccer simulation games, Rocket League is one of the fastest-growing esports today, with its games on Twitch averaging more than 100,000 viewers per match. To go along with a loyal fan base and a growing audience, the three-on-three fusion between soccer and Mad Max is one of the easier games to pick up as well, with it having a low floor to enjoy but a high ceiling on display whenever watching the pros play the game.

Match you need to watch: RLCS Season 5 Grand Finals (NRG Esports vs. Dignitas)

Any time a goal becomes so iconic it gets dubbed “The Goal,” it’s a final you need to see. This is a classic world championship final between North America’s NRG and Europe’s Dignitas that has one of the wildest endings in esports history.

The player you need to know: Courant “Kaydop” Alexandre

The winningest player in Rocket League’s history, Kaydop has amassed more than $300,000 in prize money over his short career playing the game. The 21-year-old French phenom has already won the world championship on three different teams, showcasing wherever he goes, trophies and acclaim are soon to follow.

If you’re missing hockey, you should try Overwatch

First off, Overwatch’s lead game designer, Jeff Kaplan, is a huge hockey fan, so that’s a good start. Aside from that, though, the two games do share some similarities, both known for having frantic action and some of the best overtimes in all of sports. Overwatch’s top esports competition, Overwatch League, also has all of its franchises representing a city, so it’ll be easy for a Flyers fan to pick up the orange and black-clad Philadelphia Fusion, with both teams owned by Comcast Spectacor. For international fans, there are a slew of teams around the world that make this a truly global league, such as the Paris Eternal from France or the Chengdu Hunters from China.

One of the most frequently used characters in Overwatch, Lucio, has special attire that is a full hockey uniform, stick included. While there aren’t any goals or penalty boxes, I can promise there will be lots of fighting if you watch the Overwatch League.

Match you need to watch: Overwatch League 2018 Grand Final (Philadelphia Fusion vs. London Spitfire)

If there is one match to really demonstrate the scope of the Overwatch League, this match is it. The inaugural world championship for Overwatch League, the top two teams in the league fought it out in front of a sold-out audience at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Joon-yeong “Profit” Park came in clutch throughout the entire finals — particularly with this devastating play while using the archer Hanzo.

The player you need to know: Jay “Sinatraa” Won

At 20 years old, the American playing for the San Francisco Shock has already accomplished it all. He won a league championship, was named league MVP the very same season and even was a key member in the Overwatch World Cup, where his USA squad won it all and he was named MVP. Oh, and he has his own clothing line and was a guest on Jimmy Fallon, too. Not a bad list before turning 21.

If you’re missing baseball, you should try Dota 2

The national pastime, baseball, has been a staple of traditional sports for over a decade. Likewise, Dota has been an institution of esports from almost the very beginning, with tournaments happening all the way back in the mid-2000s. Since their humble beginnings, both baseball and Dota, in its sequel iteration, have become mammoths in their respective fields. While neither are leading the pack when it comes to viewership, both can boast about one thing that distances themselves from the rest of the pack — cold, hard cash. Gerrit Cole of the New York Yankees recently signed the biggest contract in baseball history with a 9-year, $324 million deal. Although no Dota 2 players are making that kind of salary, the top players are still raking in money that will set them up for the rest of their lives. The most-recent Dota 2 world championship, The International, had a prize pool of $34 million for its two-week tournament. The winners, defending champions OG from Europe, won the grand prize of $15.6 million to go along with the $11 million they won the year prior.

Match you need to watch: The International 3 Grand Final (Natus Vincere vs. Alliance)

Back in 2013, before teams were playing for $34 million, the Dota 2 world championship took place in Seattle with two European rivals, Na’vi and Alliance, vying for the crown. What occurred was a back-and-forth match in which the series came down to a fateful fifth and final map, where the ending, even if you’re new to video games and have no clue what is going on, is still a moment to behold.

The player you need to know: Syed Sumail “SumaiL” Hassan

From Pakistan, Sumail became a professional gamer at the age of 15 with North American esports organization Evil Geniuses. That very same year, he won his first major championship mere days before he turned 16. What happened when he turned 16? He won the Dota 2 world championship in his first try, becoming the youngest millionaire in esports history. From there, he has continued to be one of the better players in the world, most recently joining back-to-back defending world champion OG to try to add another world title to his collection in 2020.

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