What do Counter-Strike, Dota 2, League of Legends, StarCraft II, and Ultra Street Fighter IV have in common? They’re the biggest games in esports today. These are games played by professionals (and amateurs) for high-stakes prize pools. How high are the stakes? Dota 2’s biggest tournament of the year, The International, had a prize pool over $18 million. Last year, Capcom announced it will be pouring $500,000 into its Capcom Pro Tour for Ultra Street Fighter IV.
Not everyone can be a professional gamer. It takes a special set of skills and an incredible amount of training to make the kind of money being offered in esports. That isn’t to say you can’t compete in these games, but here’s a look at alternative competitive games you could play for sport or fun.
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Okay, mentioning Hearthstone might be cheating a little. It quickly became a big-time competitive game, but it’s so fun and so accessible to nearly anyone. Blizzard found a way to distill the complexity of a collectible trading card game into one of the most user-friendly competitive card games ever. Hearthstone can be played on just about any device, including PC, iPad and Android tablets, and iPhone and Android smartphones.
In Hearthstone, players take charge of the heroes from the World of Warcraft MMO and are pitted against either the computer or online against other players. Fair warning, online competition can be fierce when starting out. But the beauty of Hearthstone is learning what works for you and building your deck (or decks) appropriately. You can buy new cards through in-game currency earned by winning or completing tasks or with real-life money. Parents, watch out for in-game spending if your kids don’t understand the concept of in-app purchases.
If you get good enough and you’d be willing to try the game out as an esport, you could always sign up for tournaments with the ESL or eSports League.
Super Smash Bros. Wii U
Super Smash Bros. is another game that has a gigantic competitive presence. Super Smash Bros. Wii U and Super Smash Bros. Melee for Nintendo 64 had more entrants combined than Ultra Street Fighter IV did at Evolution 2015, the world’s biggest fighting game tournament. The Smash scene has its own identity compared to other competitive fighting-game scenes. To be clear, the Smash Bros. games might be geared toward younger gamers and fans of Nintendo characters past and present. While not as mature as some of the top games in the genre, it is still a fighting game.
The reason Super Smash Bros. Wii U makes this list is because the game is more accessible to newer players. Plus it’s the newer, shinier version of the game. There are plenty of characters to choose from, with more added since its launch and possibly more to come. The game appeals to all ages. The best part is multiple players can compete against each other on the couch or online. In fact, there’s a good chance you have a local tournament scene that you could play in competitively or in “friendlies,” laid-back casual matches.
By the way, if you’re interested in high-level Smash play, check out the top eight finalists at Evo 2015. It’s pretty incredible what these pros can do.
Rocket League is available on PC and PlayStation 4 and can be best described as one part driving and one part soccer. The pseudo sports game is one of the most fun in recent memory. Think soccer meets demolition derby. Players speed around playing fields in sports arenas trying to score goals in one-on-one and two-, three-, or even four-on-four matches.
It’s easy to lose track of time while playing Rocket League thanks to its simplicity and sheer fun. Players can learn more advanced techniques for scoring goals, which makes the game even more exciting. There’s nothing like watching a replay of a goal scored from the opposite end of the field on a jumping bicycle kick. Yeah, the cars do that. There’s plenty of unlockable content such as new cars, wheels, and paint jobs.
Rocket League can be played with up to four players locally and online, featuring cross-platform play between PC and PS4. If you believe you’ve raced past your current level of competition, you could always step up your game and go pro at ESL, where they’re holding weekly tournaments.
Minecraft is one of the most-played games ever. It’s available on everything: PCs, consoles, and mobile devices. It appeals to almost anyone and it’s a hit with kids. Minecraft is a 3D game in which players can build just about anything they want in a virtual open world.
But how is a game focusing on players building things out of virtual blocks competitive? Minecraft users can play locally or online in various modes, including player-versus-player (PVP). Recently, Super League started up a tournament series taking place in movie theaters. Players buy a ticket and play on their laptops. Super League merges everyone into one game and displays an aerial view of the action on the movie screen.
A quick search online also turns up a variety of Minecraft tournaments. However, you’ll want to be careful about what you’re getting into as Minecraft isn’t supported by major esports leagues.
This one might come as a surprise because players might not realize Pokémon holds official video-game competitions. The Pokémon Video Game World Championships take place annually alongside the Pokémon Trading Card Game World Championship. The most recent version of the game being used for the tournaments are Pokémon X and Pokémon Y.
Players can qualify for the world championship tournament through a series of regional and national tournaments. It’s quite challenging for players to qualify, but the Pokémon website has an excellent breakdown on getting into competitive play. For kids, it can be a little overwhelming. However, if you’re looking for a more relaxed competitive scene, it’s common for local gaming tournaments or conventions to hold Pokémon video-game competition. And it could potentially be more cost effective than participating in the trading card game since the only barrier of entry to play and improve is a copy of the game with the 3DS handheld.
If ever there were a game that screamed “Make me an esport!” this is the one. Splatoon took the world by storm, rather by accident. It’s fair to say the gaming public wasn’t expecting much. Instead, the tactical third-person ink shooting game has reached levels of hype comparable to Rocket League at the moment, and for good reason.
Splatoon isn’t going to take on Call of Duty or Counter-Strike for the next big Esports shooter, but Nintendo had esports in mind in its development. “Splatoon allows for adaptive playstyles, the game has elements of a sport, and with all the thought we’ve put into the things we’ve mentioned so far, I think it will appeal to e-Sports players,” Splatoon producer Hisashi Nogami told US Gamer.
The game was featured in the recently resurrected Nintendo World Championships and reportedly team matchmaking is on the way in a forthcoming update. That provides a pretty good opportunity for Splatoon to end up on some esports leagues’ rotation. But pro gamers still prefer some form of voice chat, and it’s probably better for not having it if kids are playing online. That’s one less thing for parents to worry about with kids playing online, making for a much more family- and kid-friendly environment.
As esports continue to grow, so will the alternatives. For those who would rather eschew the most hardcore of the competitive games, all of the above should fill the competitive niche. They’re also family-friendly, which is a bonus if parents find games like Call of Duty or Street Fighter too violent or too mature. If you or your kids are curious about competition, do some research. Make sure you know what you’re getting into, but above all else, have fun. Competing doesn’t always have to be about wins and losses.