What would an ideal esports tier list look like?
Just like sports fans arguing if Rugby or American football is tougher, everybody in esports has a different opinion on which title is the best. This has led to fans making their own tier lists where they rank major esports — however one thing these usually have in common is bias. Whether subconscious or not, it is difficult to be objective when ranking anything, unless there are defined parameters.
So what would make an ideal tier list? Esports Insider looked at the statistics and put together some key criteria that might be considered in an ideal, more objectively-defined tier list. The four categories we based our tier lists on are current (2023) viewership, all-time viewership, prize pools, and longevity. Based on these four rankings we made one final tier list to determine what these statistics say are the most well-rounded esport scenes.
In these tier lists the following games will be ranked: League of Legends, Counter-Strike, Dota, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, Rainbow Six Siege, VALORANT, Arena of Valor, PUBG Mobile, Fortnite, Apex Legends, Free Fire, Rocket League, Call of Duty, EA Sports FC, Overwatch, Halo and Starcraft.
In the first category we ranked each esports title in terms of contemporary viewership. This determines how well the game did over the past year by looking at the peak viewership of its most popular event in 2023.
It is no surprise that League of Legends dominates this list as the World Championship broke the esports viewership record with an outstanding peak viewership of over 6m, which is 2m more than Mobile Legend: Bang Bang sitting in second place, and quadruple CS:GO’s peak which sits in third.
It is even more impressive when you take into account that all viewership data for this list is taken from Esports Charts, which does not track Chinese platforms due to the difficulty of obtaining accurate Chinese data. However, it is important to note that this category will be disproportionately weighted against scenes with larger Chinese viewerbases, such as League of Legends, Arena of Valor and others. There is no clear effective method to get around this issue at the moment.
Counter-Strike’s lack of appearance in the S-tier may be due to the fact that Valve has yet to run a Major tournament on CS2. Valve made the decision to only have one Major in 2023 so that the pro scene could adapt to its new game before the next Major, which will now take place in March 2024.
At the top of this list also sits Mobile Legends: Bang Bang which has seen a huge increase in growth over the last four years. In 2019 the peak viewership for the game sat just above 600,000, whereas this year the M4 World Championship had a peak viewership of over 4 million.
On the lower end of this tier list is Rainbow Six Siege. Ubisoft’s game sits in D after it struggled with viewership this year, as its second Major of 2023 became the least popular in the game’s history. It is even more surprising considering it ranks much higher in one of the other metrics listed below.
The second category is peak viewership, where we have combined the top ten events in this title’s history based on their peak viewership. This provides a more accurate depiction of which esports titles have consistently performed well across numerous key events over the years.
The peak viewership list is somewhat similar to the previous category, however, the stark difference is Free Fire has jumped up from B to A. This follows a trend of games that have had their viewership peaks in recent years outperforming games with viewership peaks before the 2020s.
A key example of this is Fortnite which had a peak of 2.3m in 2019, but only ranks in the C tier on this list whereas VALORANT, with a peak of 1.5m in 2022, is ranked in B.
Older games such as CS and League of Legends retain their ranks at the very top whilst another old game in Starcraft finds itself in F with less than a million peak viewership when you add the game’s 10 most popular events together.
The third category is sorted by prize pool. These statistics are sourced from Esports Charts which combines every prize pool from that title to get one overall figure. This results in esport titles that have had consistently large prize pools for many years finding their way to the top of the list.
At the very top sits Counter-Strike 2 and Dota 2 which have had large prize pools in their premier events for many years. These prize pools lineup with their viewership numbers which are also very high, unlike Fortnite which has struggled comparatively in terms of viewership, but on this list they join the two esport giants in S tier.
As mentioned earlier Rainbow Six Siege excels in this category compared to the title’s viewership numbers, as it sees itself in the B tier alongside Rocket League and another younger esport, VALORANT.
This category sees mobile games much further down the tier list than viewership. One reason for this might be that mobile esports has accessed a very different market than PC gaming. Without the need for an expensive computer there is a widened access for mobile esports as anyone with a smartphone can participate.
The other side of this coin is that the average revenue per customer for a mobile esports event is going to be much lower, and prize pools are in line with that. This alongside the fact that they do not have the longevity required to have amassed a big enough collection of large prize pools puts them much lower down, for example Mobile Legends: Bang Bang sits in D tier and Free Fire in C.
The one exception to this rule is Arena of Valor; despite not recording the peak viewership numbers of its mobile game counterparts, it outshines them in the prize pool department sitting comfortably in the A tier.
Interestingly, a game that has struggled in every other category, but done well here is Starcraft which sits in B tier.
The last category is longevity, which takes a look at how long the esports scene of each title has been active. For this section Esports Insider has taken the date of the first recorded notable esports tournament from each game and ranked them accordingly. It is worth noting that we have taken the earliest edition of the video game franchise; for example the list includes the first Counter-Strike tournament as opposed to the first CS2 tournament.
Notably, some of the games that find themselves in the S tier here have struggled in every other category. For example, Starcraft 2 dates its history in esports back to 2003, yet presently finds itself in F tier for current viewership. In contrast, however, Counter-Strike is one of the oldest games on the list, being released in 2000, but has been able to remain relevant to this day — amassing a huge prize pool over its history and continuing to host wildly popular tournaments.
PUBG Mobile finds itself at the bottom of the D tier alongside Arena of Valor, but despite this they have both ranked in A tier for prize pool. So despite their short history they have seen incredible investment in their tournaments. The opposite of this is Halo which has enjoyed a long history in esports, but never quite amassed a large prize pool to match.
Despite some of these games having such a young lifespan, many of them have excelled in the other categories provided such as VALORANT, Fortnite, and many of the Mobile games listed.
Esports Insider has calculated the average position of every esports title across the four tier lists to determine where they stand relative to each other. After the average position of each title across all tier lists was taken into account, here are the final standings.
Rather predictably, Counter-Strike and League of Legends come out on top with Dota close behind. The mobile games fill out the middle alongside newcomers Fortnite and VALORANT, whilst on the other end Halo’s one appearance in the S tier propels it out of the F tier. The two games sitting in the bottom tier are Overwatch and Rainbow Six Siege, despite the latter having one B tier appearance.