Esports has been growing rapidly for a while but 2018 was a truly special year for competitive gaming. Whether it was because of advances into mainstream society, enormous cash flow or huge events attracting thousands of fans, esports has grown a lot in the last twelve months. According to Statista, esports has attracted around 45 million more viewers in 2018, taking the total global figure to around 380 million. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why this has happened.

It would be impossible to talk about the events of 2018 without discussing perhaps the largest competitive gaming event of all time – or at least the costliest. In August, the final tournament of the Dota Pro Circuit took place in Vancouver, Canada. The International 2018 saw 16 teams take part in a six-day double-elimination tournament to decide the winner. The prize pool for The International 2018 was a whopping $25 million in total.

The grand finals saw an all-acronym clash between PSG LGD and OG. Previously known as LGD Gaming, the Chinese side rebranded in April 2018 following an association deal with the French football club, Paris Saint-Germain. They had achieved considerable success in previous editions of the tournament, managing two top-four finishes in the last four editions of The International.

They were the clear favorites for the clash against the unfancied OG, a European side which had failed to reach the final eight in any previous International. They were the major underdogs but OG stepped up, triumphing 3-2 in the Grand Final to take home over $11 million in prize money. It was the single biggest win for a team in Esports history but it wasn’t the only historic competitive gaming moment in 2018.

The biggest tournaments in competitive gaming continued to wow. We had the first non-Korean winner of the Starcraft 2 World Championships while Counter Strike’s major tournaments, FACEIT Major: London and ELEAGUE Major: Boston were won by Astralis and C9 respectively. It was certainly a memorable year for Cloud9, they achieved major victories in almost every game they had a team involved in including Rocket LeagueLeague of LegendsRainbow Six: Siege, and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.

2018 also saw the inaugural season of The Overwatch League, Blizzard’s competitive tournament for the popular first-person shooter. There was a considerable amount of scepticism about the league prior to launch with fans and experts alike seemingly unconvinced by its feasibility and city-based team structure. Activision Blizzard invested huge sums of money in the league and fortunately for them, their gamble paid off in season 1.

OWL was a big hit with fans, with viewing numbers regularly reaching six-figures across all platforms. Similarly, when the Season 1 Grand Finals came around, OWL had to be moved across America to the 11,000-seater Barclays Centre in New York City in order to accommodate the in-person demand. The London Spitfire eventually triumphed, beating Philadelphia Fusion 2-0 in the Grand Finals to take home the $1,000,000 grand prize.

If the Overwatch League was popular with fans, it was even more so with sponsors. Some huge companies got in on the action with Blizzard signing deals with Omen by Hp, T-M, bile and Intel to their list of official partners. The league also signed a multi-million dollar deal with Twitch and the finals were even broadcast on ESPN.

Sponsorship is certainly on the up in esports and 2018 was another landmark year for leagues, teams and players alike. Universal Music agreed on a deal with Luminosity Gaming, Online Bookmaker Betway extended its partnership with the team Ninjas in Pyjamas, and McDonald’s even cancelled its sponsorship deal with the German Football Federation in favour of a contract with ESL. Indeed, Statista estimates that esports sponsorship could treble between 2016 and 2020, reaching an estimated figure of around $1.2 billion. This sort of investment is vital in the continued growth of competitive gaming and 2018 has been one of the best years on record for sponsorship deals.

It has been a truly memorable year for Esports. From new major tournaments to the largest prize pool in competitive gaming history, things have gone well of late. If these trends continue and the increased sponsorship money is invested in the right areas then there is no reason why 2019 won’t be another historic year for esports.