Although many esports are team-based games, such as CS:GO, League of Legends, and Apex Legends, others involve only a single competitor on each team.
These solo esports can be interesting to watch, since unlike team-based games, the roster of your favorite team never really changes. Fans can follow a single competitor like Star Craft ll legend Scarlett all the way through her career, regardless of what organization she ends up playing with.
Here are some of the top active solo esports in 2020.
Super Smash Bros
Super Smash Bros is a smaller esports community, but what it lacks in scale it more than makes up for with raw, unadulterated passion. This small but dedicated group of fighting game enthusiasts rely on community-run events and is not supported by the developer of the game, Nintendo. Most esports are supported and, at least partly, run by the publisher of the esport title, but this is not the case with Super Smash Bros.
The latest Smash Bros title is Super Smash Brothers Ultimate, which was released in 2018. Since the game’s release there have been over a dozen S-tier tournaments for Ultimate, including GENESIS 6, Super Smash Con 2019, and Evo Japan 2020. Notable players in the Ultimate scene include Joker main Leonardo “MkLeo” López Pérez and Princess Daisy main Ezra “Samsora” Morris. MkLeo is the most successful player in the scene, having won Evo 2019 and Genesis 6, among other tournaments.
Another interesting aspect of the Smash scene is that it’s made up of more than one game. Many professional players compete in Super Smash Brothers Ultimate, while other professionals continue to compete in Super Smash Brothers Melee, a game that is nearly two decades old. The game is so old, in fact, that many tournaments are conducted on CRT TVs rather than more modern technology, because CRTs feature no input lag for the original Gamecube.
The earliest professional play in Melee started in 2004, when MLG sponsored a Pro Circuit for the game. Although MLG’s Melee Pro Circuit disbanded in 2007, competition has remained healthy over the past 13 years. Most recently, in 2020, a mod called Project Slippi brought new life to the competitive melee scene by offering both replays and online play, allowing players to compete against each other even through the pandemic. Notable players in the Melee scene include Juan “Hungrybox” DeBiedma, Adam “Armada” Lindgren, and Joseph “Mango” Marquez.
Another fighting game that provides intense solo competition is Street Fighter. The first Street Fighter tournaments were hosted in small arcades after the release of Street Fighter 2 in 1991. Since then, the game has continued to grow in popularity. In 2004, the modern Street Fighter scene took root after a video of the Evo 2004 semifinals went viral. In the clip Justin “Marvellous” Wong was able to parry the barrage of blows from Daigo “The Beast” Umehara to pull off a spectacular comeback victory.
In 2013, Capcom launched its own pro league for Street Fighter 4 called The Capcom Pro Tour which led up to an end of season tournament called the Capcom Cup. This Pro Tour continues today for Street Fighter V, which was released in 2016. There are also a number of other events for Street Fighter outside the pro tour, including the Evo tournaments, as well as the ELEAGUE’s own pro tour for the game.
Much like Smash Bros, Street Fighter is an incredible spectator sport with a rich history of competitive play. Viewers don’t need to know much about the specific techniques of the game to be wowed by the incredible execution of professional players. There are very few esports that produce the level of hype that can come out of a top-tier Street Fighter match, and that makes it one of the best solo esports to watch or play in the world.
The actual FIFA soccer league is a world-class franchise sport, which hosts some of the largest sporting events in the world. What you may not know is that the FIFA video game is one of the biggest esports in the world in its own right. Perhaps it’s silly that one of the biggest esports in the world is a soccer team simulation, but here we are.
FIFA has hosted the FIFA eWorld Cup, formerly known as the FIFA Interactive World Cup, since 2004. Every year, it hosts massive online qualifiers, which peaked at over 2.5 million players attempting to qualify in 2015, according to the Guinness World Records organization. Throughout the years, various champions have risen and fallen. Most recently, Saudi player Mosaad Al-Dossary won first place at the 2018 FIFA eWorld Cup and was the runner-up at the 2019 event.
If you enjoy watching simulated soccer controlled by the very best simulated soccer players in the world, look no further than the FIFA eWorld Cup for your yearly fix of FIFA video game goodness. If simulated sports is your thing, but soccer is not, there is also Madden Football and NBA 2k, both of which also boast esports communities.
StarCraft is a real-time strategy game series set in a science-fiction future. The game depicts a war between three factions, all of whom bring with them unique playstyles, units, and abilities. The gameplay consists of managing an economy to build an army and at the same time controlling that army to defeat your opponent. The highly technical, fast-paced game has captured the imagination of millions of players and viewers around the world. The competitive version takes place in a one-vs-one tournament format. Although many players are signed with teams, there is no teamplay involved in StarCraft esports.
StarCraft is one of the games that catapulted the esports scene into the mainstream world, at least in Korea. In 2003, Samsung, SK Telecom, and other major South Korean companies sponsored a variety of StarCraft teams after the game exploded in popularity upon release. Soon, StarCraft competitions received televised status in South Korea on multiple channels, which further rocketed the game’s popularity skyward.
In 2010, StarCraft 2 was released. The new game replaced the aging StarCraft Broodwar, which was released in 1998. Although the StarCraft scene may not be as huge as it once was, the game still represents one of the most satisfying and interesting solo esports to watch. The newer games immediately gained popularity, becoming the largest esport in the world in 2012. StarCraft saw a decline in interest between 2014 and 2016. The decline was in part due to the surge of newer games like League of Legends, and also in part due to a match-fixing scandal that saw the ban of star player Lee “Life” Seung-Hyun.
Although StarCraft is no longer the top dog in esports, professionals continue to compete in both StarCraft 2 and the remaster of StarCraft: Broodwar in international events hosted around the globe. In 2020, Blizzard partnered with ESL and Dreamhack to create the ESL StarCraft Pro Tour. They also announced that the global finals for StarCraft would be hosted at the Intel Extreme Masters, rather than at BlizzCon like they have been in the past. The pro tour has seen a revival in interest in the game and many of the best players like Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn are still competing today.
Another great solo esport from Blizzard Entertainment is Hearthstone. Hearthstone is a one-vs-one dueling virtual card game which resembles the format of Magic: The Gathering. Two players face off with decks they built themselves, and the first player to exhaust the enemy health pool using their cards wins the game.
Like the dueling card games it is based on, Hearthstone lends itself well to competitive tournament formats. The professional scene for the game started in 2013, with a Hearthstone tournament at BlizzCon. Since that first tournament, hundreds more have taken place hosted by various esports tournament organizers. Top players today compete in Grandmaster and Master series tournaments which are hosted in a variety of different regions. The prize pool of many of those tournaments exceeds $500,000 USD, so there is definitely a lot of active interest in the sport.
Hearthstone is a great spectator sport. As a spectator you have special knowledge that the players themselves don’t, since you can see both players’ decks. There are also a number of complex and diverse strategies on display, so no two games feel alike. If you are a fan of deck-based dueling card games, Hearthstone is a visually interesting and well designed game to both play and watch.
IRacing is a racing simulation game designed to offer a relatively authentic experience for players who want to race on professional racing tracks around the world. The game features multi-class racing on dozens of different real world tracks. The creators of the game also host six World Championship Series races every year, including NASCAR and rallycross events. The events are sanctioned by official sporting partners like NASCAR, IndyCar, USAC, and more.
This iRacing esport is a little bit different than the other esports on this list. Most of the esports on this list involve playing games with either a traditional controller or mouse and keyboard. IRacing on the other hand takes place using full race sim setups, including floor pedals and a steering wheel. The cars in the game also feature very realistic simulations of real car handling. As a result, many professional drivers use iRacing to practice for real races and many of them even compete in the esport itself. During 2020, when many NASCAR races were cancelled, iRacing was even broadcast on ESPN in lieu of in-person NASCAR events.
If you are a fan of traditional driving sports, iRacing is right up your alley. The esport broadcasts even effectively simulate camera angles that resemble the production of a real race and often feature competitors that racing fans might recognize. If you don’t look too closely at the broadcast, you might not even realize it was a video game.