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Looking back at global eSports in 2016

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2016 was, without any doubt, the greatest year for eSports yet, both internationally and locally. Teams, players, organizations and, of course, the spectators were treated to a massive number of world-class tournaments, as eSports continued to grow.

As an avid eSports spectator, I looked back at 2016 and realized just how much fun I had watching my favorite local and international teams compete, talk to other like-minded individuals about all the events happening in South Africa and across the globe. Below, you can find what is in my opinion, the highlights from the South African eSports scene as well as the highpoint and low point in the internationally.

Local eSports – A year filled with highlights

The local eSports scene has grown with leaps and bounds this year, as teams from South Africa went overseas to compete on the international level and new tournaments and organizations formed, resulting in more ways for SA players and spectators to enjoy eSports. The top highlights from local teams and players on the international stage are:

  • ViNCO Gaming qualified for the EMEA finals of the Halo World Championship and headed of to Germany in February, but was knocked out by some strong competition.
  • The Southern Barbarians did an amazing job in the ESL Battlefield Nations Challenge, making it out of the group stages and managed to make it all the way to the semi-finals before being knocked out of the tournament by Tunisia 2-1 in overtime.
  • Energy eSports made their way to the Copenhagen Games in Denmark to compete against top international competition in CS: GO. Unfortunately, the team could not make it out of the group stages.
  • South African CS: GO teams got the opportunity to qualify for the Electronic Sports World Cup, with Bravado Gaming coming out on top. At the ESWC, Bravado didn’t manage to get out of the group stages, but they were extremely close to qualifying for the top 16.  
  • South Africa was invited to the Overwatch World Cup in August and after the team was selected by way of community votes the team gave it their all but didn’t do too well. You can read our coverage of their performance here.
  • Four teams and a couple of individual players travelled to Dubai to compete in the World Electronic Sport Games (WESG) qualifiers, with some spectacular results. Bravado Gaming’s CS: GO (2nd place finish) and Dota 2 (3rd place) squads both qualified for the WESG Global LAN Finals to be held next year. Francois "Th3Jok3r" Neethling claimed first place in the Hearthstone tournament, while Edwin "Drager" Williams managed to finish second. Both the aforementioned players therefore claim their spots at the WESG Global LAN finals.

Even though the teams and players from South Africa won one international tournaments with the best showing at the WESG qualifiers, 2016 has been an amazing year of opportunities for players to build their experience and compete on the international stage, with further examples including the MSSA’s League of Legends team being sent to compete at the 8th eSports World Championship and tournaments opening up to SA CS: GO teams, for example the E-Frag World Championships.

In South Africa, multiple amazing tournaments and organization pushed the envelope of local eSports forward, with examples of the MGMS tournaments from MWEB GameZone, Telkom’s Digital Gaming League (DGL) hosting the biggest tournament with the biggest ever prize pool in South Africa at R1 million for the DGL Masters.

Further, ACGL was formed and hosted the biggest console tournament in South African eSports history, namely the MAG Cup ZA and Kwesé Sports kicked off with a R100,000 FIFA17 tournament. Evetech and nAvTV launched the amazing Evetech Champions League and Orena, who has been involved in hosting multiple tournaments throughout the year, created a R30,000 Overwatch League, a R30,000 CS: GO Cup and much more for South African teams to compete in.Further, nAvTV hosted a R200,000 multi-eSports event at the Mall of the South, which you can read all about here.

Not only did we see a plethora of local tournaments, but also some mainstream media coverage, for example, SuperSport announced in March that they planed to broadcast eSports on DSTV and in my aired live coverage of the CS: GO ELEAUGE tournament and the Overwatch ELEAGUE tournament in October. But that's not all, we also saw an epic SA eSports moment make the BBC news, when internationally renowned shout-caster ‘Benson’ Bowe "lost" it during the ACGL MAG Cup.

Watch our rAge Expo 2016 after-movie, created by the talented madeyoulook team, to see some glimpses of everything that went down, including some of the eSports events mentioned above.

It was, without a doubt in my mind, the greatest year for South African eSports yet, both for spectators, teams and individual players; but what about the international scene?

International eSports - The highest and lowest moments

One can probably go on and on about the hundreds, if not thousands of big international tournaments throughout the year. That's just how great of a year it was for eSports on the international stage.

There was one tournament that stood head and shoulders above the rest. I am of course talking about The International 2016 for Dota 2, which not only delivered the best spectator experience I have ever had, but also made eSports history, becoming to tournament with the biggest prize pool ever. It was without a doubt the high point of this year, with a total prize pool of $20,770,460 and the quality of games as well as the tournament organization to match.

The Call of Duty World Championships was another amazing event with a $2 million prize pool. After a ton of exciting action, Team EnVyUs came out on top in September.

Blizzard Entertainment's Blizzcon 2016 did not disappoint with some cool announcements and multiple eSports tournaments coming to their thrilling conclusions at the event, namely the Overwatch World Cup, the Hearthstone World Championship, the World of Warcraft Arena World Championship, the Heroes of the Storm Fall Championship and the StarCraft II World Champion Series Global LAN Finals.

League of Legends (LoL) teams, players and spectators where in for a treat this year, with the League Championship Series entertaining fans and producing some amazing matches. Further, the LoL World Championship (with a prize pool just north of $5 million) came to an exiting conclusion in late October as SK Telecom T1 took their third title.

CS: GO is, in my opinion, the most exciting eSport to watch. It is absolutely thrilling and the international tournaments this year delivered non-stop excitement. Four CS: GO tournaments had prize pools over $1 million namely the MLG Major Championship: Columbus, ELEAGUE Season 1, ESL One: Cologne 2016 and ELEAGUE Season 2.

Watch the amazing closing ceremony of The International 2016 below before we get to the low point.

The low point of 2016 for me was the cosmetic item gambling debacle. The issue, in which anyone (no matter their age) can bet on matches using cosmetic items from CS: GO and Dota 2 resulted in a lawsuit, Valve shutting down gambling operations of third-party websites and a plethora of other issues all surrounding the illegal online gambling debacle.

Even with some low points, 2016 was arguably the greatest year for eSports yet, both locally and internationally. Professional teams, players and spectators had so many opportunities to enjoy eSports as it continued to grow and break through into the mainstream even further.  If next year is anything like this year, we are in for one exhilarating ride to say the least.

Of course, it is impossible to list and talk about every single thing that happened in eSports both locally and internationally. The points listed in this article is just my opinion of what the biggest highlights where and by no means a complete list.

What where your eSports highs and lows for 2016? Let us know in the comment section below.

Main Image Credits: Bravado Gaming, ACGL Facebook, Energy eSports

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