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On the Horizon: Esport Titles to Track in 2021

A new year and new era in gaming is just a few weeks away — and already we’re buried in the drama of it all. Between the… questionable… state of Cyberpunk 2077’s release and the continued shortages of next-generation consoles, the tail end of gaming’s 2020 has followed the year’s general trend towards troubles.

But this too will pass. And what it will pass towards is a new chapter of competitive play. Though the first half of 2021 is expected to share many of the issues that esports has been wrestling with, the promise of a vaccine and — most relevant here — new and updated titles is a breath of much needed fresh air into the industry.

Here are the top three titles to watch out for in 2021.

Overwatch 2

As was confirmed by developer Jeff Kaplan in the Kanezaka Developer Update, we are soon finally due for news about Overwatch 2. February 2021 brings an online-only version of BlizzCon, delayed since its original yearly scheduled slot in November.

The next phase of the Overwatch franchise is largely focused on its expanded single-player experience, as was previously advertised. But that is far from saying it will be inconsequential to pro play. The franchise update is expected to include new maps, new competitive game modes, and new heroes — any one of which alone will be big news for the Overwatch League, and collectively amounts to a wholesale reset of expectations.

Even powerhouse organizations like the San Francisco Shock, gearing up for their third title in a row, will have a lot to contend with. The upcoming new Push mode, with a developer’s intended influence on flanking strategies, will require a newly diversified team skill set to tackle. New hero Sojourn, too, changes up the pool of tools available to competitive players, though the extent in which she does so is as yet unknown.

The timing of the February announcement may coincide with the later-than-usual return of the Overwatch League itself. Though the season usually kicks off in January or February, the 2021 start was pushed back to Spring 2021, as announced last November. While no confirmations, or even coy hints, have been made regarding the tie-in between the sequel and the League’s start, it’s not unreasonable to expect the OWL to showcase what is to come to the game.

Wild Rift

Mobile gaming is the hidden titan of the industry, and mobile competitive play has proven a dominant factor in eastern markets, with games like Call of Duty Mobile and PUBG Mobile attracting playerbases that’d make their traditional PC and console counterparts sick with envy.

Now, Riot Games is looking to replicate that success with Wild Rift, which is for all intents and purposes the mobile version of League of Legends. Though transposing control mechanics from keyboard and mouse to touchscreens does somewhat impact the experience of the game, the overall release really is just their #1 PC game given a shiny new coat of paint (and some additional balance considerations to match).

This is far from the first MOBA in the mobile market, but it is definitely the one with the most name recognition, especially in the west. Unlike Vainglory, and others of the genre, Wild Rift has the advantage of one of gaming’s biggest titans backing it to bring it to the forefront of western relevance — and subsequently has a very good chance at toppling competitive mobile gaming’s current kings in the process.

And may yet pose a threat to the current king: fellow mobile title Arena of Valor, known as Honor of Kings in China. AoV’s western release was lukewarm in comparison to its overall global footprint, with “just” 250,000 across the hemisphere to its name, giving Wild Rift plenty of room to work with.

Call of Duty 2021

The king of consoles has yet to relinquish its crown. Call of Duty’s 2020 was an unsurpassed success, netting Activision-Blizzard a staggering $3 billion in sales with fan engagement and premium content sales setting new records for an already prestigious title. Partially, it was driven by the introduction of Warzone, a free-to-play battle royale extension of the franchise. Partially, it’s because you can’t really find a comparable or as similarly polished an experience among Call of Duty’s nominal peers, and certainly not with as developed an esports scene as the Call of Duty League.

That advantage extends into the next year and next game, heavily rumored to be a sequel to 2019’s Modern Warfare. Time yet again to bust out those M4A1s.

But the biggest developments for the esports side of things may have nothing to do with the game itself — which isn’t expected for more than half a year in the first place — but a serious case of deja vu among its top tier competitors.

Said AoE Creative’s Josh Reilly, “I’m personally predicting 2021 for the Call of Duty League will bring in an unprecedented wave of excitement with the addition of Los Angeles Thieves and the return of Hector Rodriguez’s OpTic brand to represent Chicago. Following the successful of the Call of Duty League Championship final garnering the title of the ‘highest viewed CoD match ever’, I’d expect to see that number shattered this year due to many factors including: the switch to PC, revert back to 4v4 competitive play, a Black Ops series title and the undoubtable stream of content the teams, players and league will produce.

“In summary, I’m expecting CDL 2021 to be bigger in every way: bigger viewership, bigger engagements, bigger games, bigger rivalries and bigger community support.”


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