As the calendar tips into 2021, plenty of the turmoil 2020 became known for has continued into the new year. In esports, that means leagues that have no idea when they will be able to resume with in-person events and constantly shifting schedules. For esports fans, it’s a tough challenge to stay on top of what, when and where to watch esports.
So Nerd Street Gamers is here to help. Here are the esports events worth watching in January 2021.
League of Legends
Riot’s flagship title is continuing its momentum following a successful 2020 Worlds held in a bubble in Shanghai. Heading into 2021, rosters, formats and branding have all been changed. Both the LCS and LCK received new rebrands heading into this season.
For the LCK, it will be the first year of franchising for the current home of the Summoner’s Cup. They are the last of the major LoL regions to move towards a franchising model. Meanwhile, the LCS is discarding the split-based structure in favor of one long regular season which also includes a new event, the LCS Lock-In, a pre-season tournament.
Of the four major regions, the LCS, LEC, LCK and LPL, all will have some type of competitions beginning in January. China’s LPL is up first with the Spring Split beginning on January 9th. Korea’s LCK follows a few days after, beginning on January 13th. Europe’s LEC will begin its Spring Split on January 22nd.
Due to the change in format, the LCS is a bit different. The LCS Lock-In Tournament will begin on January 15th and continue to January 31st. The actual season will begin on February 5th.
Notoriously one of the more difficult esports to stay on top of, January will actually provide a bit more clarity. The event most fans will be paying attention to is the Dota Pro Circuit Series 1 in four major regions.
Beginning on January 18th, teams in China, SE Asia, North America and South America will all begin both upper and lower division tournaments. These events will continue through late February or early March, depending on the region.
Each of the four Upper Division competitions will feature a total prize of $205,000. Compared to The International’s prize pool – currently in limbo at just over $40,000,000 – those prizes seem paltry. But considering we have no idea when TI 10 will be able to be held, the return of consistent Dota action is all fans can really hope for at this point.
Back-to-back Valve titles and once again it’s an esport with a wild-west approach to scheduling. Now, CS:GO has undergone some true formalization over the past year with the EPL going global and the creation of Flashpoint. But there’s still a lot of changes happening in the CS:GO scene with various companies carving out market share of top tournaments.
To be honest, CS:GO doesn’t really pick back up in a meaningful way until February when we see Blast Premiere and IEM Katowice slated to start up. However, late January does provide one nice benchmark as there will be open Dreamhack tournaments in both Europe and NA starting on January 27th. In China, the FunSpark ULTI 2020 will begin on January 30th featuring a prize pool of $300,000.
Following Riot Games debut organizing success with First Strike, Valorant moves back to community created tournaments by major esports organizations. While some of the names of these events have been great, specifically Knights Before Christmas and To the Skyes, some esports organizations are finding it hard to run major tournaments.
A controversy in Knights Before Christmas surrounding Ninja’s team became the biggest story in esports for a day as a team was unfairly disqualified after accusations of cheating. In general, Riot’s hands-off approach to the launch of Valorant esports has gone smoothly, letting many qualified companies run big events in the growing title.
In January the baton will be passed to Nerd Street Gamers. Nerd Street Gamers has partnered with Complexity for the NSG x Complexity Invitational on January 9th and 10th.
Then, just a few days later, Nerd Street Gamers’ Winter Championship from January 13th-17th will feature one of the biggest prize pools since the First Strike tournaments with $25,000 on the line. Both NSG tournaments are one of the final times to watch top-level Valorant play from NA teams until at least February. Be sure to follow Nerd Street Gamer’s Twitch channel to get notified when each competition goes live.
NSG Twitch embed: https://www.twitch.tv/nerdstgamers
The Overwatch League start was pushed back to the Spring to hopefully get past the Covid barrier on live events. The key word there being hopefully. Right now, Overwatch esports need some help. There is nothing on the current schedule as we wait for an official start date for the OWL. With the barriers placed on third-party organizers running Overwatch events, the scene is going to be quiet for months it seems.
As Valorant continues to gain market share, and poach qualified OWL players, the Overwatch League needs to put something out there for fans to look forward to in the future.
Call of Duty
Similar to the OWL, the CDL has not announced a clear start date. This happened last year as well but last year they were dealing with the creation of a new franchised league prior to the season, this year they are dealing with a pandemic with an impossible-to-predict end date. Activision Blizzard really can’t catch a break, huh?
Given the geolocalized nature of both the CDL and OWL, Activision Blizzard definitely wants to be able to resume in-person events but the 2021 seasons are likely going to have to start online.
Following the New York Subliner’s WarzoneMania tournament in December, there isn’t much on the CoD schedule as well. At least Call of Duty has some real momentum behind it given the addition of LA Thieves and the return of Hecz’s Optic Gaming in the form of Chicago Optic. That’s more than the OWL can say at least.
This summer, Rocket League’s esports structure also received a complete overhaul, complicating what used to be a pretty standard RLCS schedule.
With the addition of series like The Grid and the move from league schedules to individual regional tournaments, there are plenty of new events to be aware of. With Beyond the Summit wrapping up on December 19th, the next big mark on the Rocket League calendar is the final regional of the Winter Split.
The Winter Split features three double-elimination, 24 team tournaments in both Europe and North America. November held the first tournament, early December the 2nd tournaments and the final tournament will begin on January 9th for Europe and January 23rd for North America.
Like always with esports, there are no shortage of events. Across the FGC, sports simulations, college leagues and battle royales there are plenty of more events to watch over the next few weeks. Quite a few esports calendars exist out there but Juked.GG’s event calendar is my go-to when it comes down to what to watch in a given afternoon.