Last year easily might have been the strangest year ever, and not just in esports. But even with people outside the scene praising esports for being able to continue while traditional sports couldn’t, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic can still be felt.
Despite all that, there were still some amazing tournaments and moments in 2020. But now that 2021 is upon us, we can look forward to some more amazing esports tournaments coming this year.
Here are the most anticipated esports events of 2021.
IEM Season XV World Championships in Katowice (CS:GO)
There may be no official Valve Majors in 2021 yet, but the Intel Extreme Masters Season XV World Championships in Katowice features some major competition. IEM Katowice represents a return to normalcy for Counter-Strike after a tumultuous but memorable 2020 with a multi-day LAN event with multiple stages and a fine collection of talented teams.
Eight of the world’s best teams have already earned their spots in the main group stage via their Road to Katowice rankings. This includes the top six European teams in Heroic, Team Vitality, Astralis, Na’Vi, G2 Esports, and FaZe Clan, as well as the top two North American teams in FURIA Esports and Evil Geniuses.
Sixteen more teams make up the play-in field, consisting of more European and North American squads like Complexity, Fnatic, OG, and Team Liquid. The field will be filled out by the top-ranked teams from South America, Asia, and Australia, as well as a collection of other squads based on their ESL World Rankings, like mousesports, Virtus Pro, Gambit, and Cloud9. Eight teams from the play-in field will join the other eight in the main group stage.
The action kicks off on Feb. 16 from Katowice, Poland with $1 million on the line.
Overwatch League Grand Finals
The pinnacle of professional Overwatch is far off in the distance and even the dates of the opening weekend are still unknown at this time. But the 20 teams in the Overwatch League have fielded full rosters and season three is on the horizon.
Due to COVID-19, last year’s playoffs were split into a North American and Asian playoff. The two top teams from each met in an offline double-elimination bracket in Korea. The San Francisco Shock repeated as champions with a 4-2 victory over Seoul Dynasty in the grand finals on the shoulders of their DPS MVP Kwon “Striker” Nam-joo. The Shanghai Dragons, infamous for their 0-40 performance in OWL’s first season, finished first in the 2020 regular season, first in the Asian playoff, and ended up in third in the Grand Finals.
An extensive offseason has seen all three of those teams retool heading into season three with a few roster swaps each. But many teams, including the Dallas Fuel, London Spitfire, Paris Eternal, and others, have completely reset with almost entirely new rosters heading into the new season.
Last season started in February with the Grand Finals occurring in October, so that gives us some sense of when the third season will begin and end. We’ll update this section with more information when that becomes available.
The Call of Duty League Championship
Similar to the Overwatch League, the culmination of the Call of Duty League is a long way in the future. But there’s ample enough reason to be excited about the league’s second season.
There are a plethora of changes even casual fans will notice between the inaugural season and the upcoming one. Players have transitioned from Modern Warfare to the latest Call of Duty installment, Black Ops Cold War. Additionally, the competitive format has switched from five-vs-five back to the traditional four-vs-four.
While there are no expansion teams this year, there have been some changes to a couple of the existing ones. Los Angeles OpTic and its controlling group, the Immortals Gaming Club, sold the OpTic branding back to its original owner, H3CZ, and sold its CDL spot to former CoD star and 100 Theives founder, Nadeshot. With that, Nadeshot rebranded the team to the L.A. Thieves, while H3CZ dropped the Huntsmen name for OpTic Chicago. Most of the OGLA roster stayed in Los Angeles and will now play for the L.A. Thieves.
A few big names moved around during this past rostermania as well. Dashy followed the OpTic branding east to Chicago, linking up with Scump, FormaL, and Envoy. The New York Subliners hit a home run this offseason by landing Clayster, who was dropped by the champion Dallas Empire due to the change from five-vs-five to four-vs-four. Several teams revealed entirely new rosters during the offseason too, such as the Paris Legion and Minnesota RØKKR.
The 2021 CDL season will start with the Kickoff Classic, a “special one-year-anniversary of the Call of Duty League,” on Jan. 23 and 24. Official matches begin on the Opening Weekend, which is scheduled for Feb. 11 to 14.
2021 League of Legends World Championship
The opening weekend for the marquee professional leagues for League of Legends is fast approaching, so for many teams with high expectations, that means the road to Worlds is officially underway.
At last year’s Worlds in Shanghai, North America felt the sting of embarrassment when none of the three LCS teams made it out of the group stage and into the playoffs. The LCS has taken “new year, new me” to new heights with a new logo and branding splash, in addition to numerous huge roster changes this past offseason. After six seasons as TSM’s mid laner, Bjergsen now fills the coach’s chair for the team, who also saw the legendary Doublelift retire. Despite winning the 2020 LCS Spring Split, Cloud9 just missed the cut to make Worlds and responded with a massive acquisition in former G2 star Perkz, as well as former Fnatic coach Mithy.
Over in the LEC, the reigning champions G2 responded in kind with their own superstar signing by grabbing Fnatic’s Rekkles. Also in Europe, Astralis will make its official debut after rebranding the spot previously occupied by Origen and signing an entirely new roster.
For the second season in a row, Worlds will take place in China, this time in the city of Shenzhen. Assumedly, it will begin at the end of September and finish at the end of October, like last year’s event.
Rainbow Six Invitational
The Rainbow Six Invitational is the international yearly culmination of Rainbow Six Siege esports. The best Siege teams from all around the globe meet in a double-elimination style group stage that leads into a double-elimination playoff bracket.
The prestige of the event has grown each year since its inception in 2017—and so has its prize pool from $500,000 to $2 million to $3 million. This year will see a few changes to the annual event since it will take place somewhere in Europe as opposed to the traditional host in Montreal. The event will also field 20 teams as opposed to the usual 16. Though the event will still take place offline, there will be no live crowd due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Qualification for the Six Invitational was based off Global Point Standings. Teams received points based on their performances in certain Regional Leagues and at the Six Majors. BDS Esport, a French team, has a top seed because they finished first in both stages of the regional European League and won the EU division of one of the majors. Cloud9 and Giants Gaming both finished first and second at each of the Asia majors and also have a top seed at the Invitational. Other top teams include TSM and DarkZero Esports from NA, Team Liquid and Ninjas in Pyjamas from Brazil, and Virtus Pro and Team Empire from Europe. Last year’s Invitational winners from NA, Spacestation Gaming, have the eighth-best global ranking at this time.
The Invitational will take place from Feb. 19 to 21, according to the Ubisoft website.