The question of whether gaming is a “real” sport has officially ceased to be relevant: multi-million dollar championships, teams in branded jerseys flying around the world, overly excited professional announcers, corporate sponsors, dedicated streaming sites, even scandals – esports are here, and they are here to stay.
Echoing more physical sports but showcasing a wider diversity, the current roster of esports range from the teamwork-focused MOBAs to more lone wolf friendly strategy titles. Those Dota 2 or League Of Legend players absolutely have to work efficiently with their team members to counter the opposite side's player picks, while some of the best Starcraft 2 players in the world are all about the 1 vs 1 plays.
Here we're taking a look at the best players and teams from 2015 across a wide spectrum of competitive games, as well as a handful of esports players who didn't quite make the top but are poised to reach the highest tiers this year.
This MOBA monster consistently has some of the highest earnings and most views for championship gaming, not giving up ground to newer online battle arena titles. When it comes to the best of the best in Dota 2, look no further than either the Evil Geniuses or Team Secret.
Team: Evil Geniuses
UNiVeRsE and his crew mates took home the top spot win at Valve's annual tournament The International, earning a staggering $6,616,014 for that win. Chinese players tend to dominate in competitive Dota 2, but the cream of the crop this past year has undoubtedly been this U.S. player, who pulled out Earthshaker for that final match at The International.
Team: Team Secret
Team Secret's standing has fluctuated quite a bit over 2015, coming in a disappointing seventh at The International - compared to Evil Geniuses 1st place win - but the team consistently remained high in the rankings towards the end of the year. The player to watch here is captain Puppey, who is an absolute monster at Dota 2 and comfortable in any role with a wide range of characters.
Not quite managing to dethrone Dota 2 on the competitive front, League Of Legends still offers stiff competition in the MOBA realm with a fanatically dedicated fan base and some serious rivalry between teams.
Team: SK Sports T1
Korean players tend to take home the most wins here, with the massively incorrectly named Faker sitting at the top this year. He's an insane mid-lane player who just absolutely crushes through and is unstoppable. When you see him coming, just get out of the way. SK Telecom T1 took home the LoL World Championship in 2015, making this Faker's second World Championship win, having also competed on the winning team back in 2013.
Team: LGD Gaming
At the tender age of 20, the absolutely adorable Imp (is he China's answer to Michael Cera?) switched from Samsung White to LGD Gaming. While unfortunately the team got trounced at the 2015 World Championships, Imp has still been making a serious name for himself on League Of Legends as the AD Carry to watch.
While there's not nearly as much money overall at stake as with Valve's other main entity Dota 2, there's still some players at the top taking home some serious cash with the addicting CS:GO, and there's no question the players are just as dedicated.
Fnatic is consistently one of the highest ranked teams in CS:GO, and sitting at the top are Swedish players Olofmeister and flusha. The latter is an all-around solid Rifler who does what needs to be done to keeps his team in the game, and alongside Fnatic he has taken home three Majors wins, including ESL One: Cologne 2015 and ESL One: Katowice 2015. He's so good that searching for videos of his competitive matches comes up with dozens of pages of people trying to prove or disprove whether any hacks are involved.
Another extremely well-rounded Rifler who props up his whole team, NBK is a solid Counter Strike player to watch if you want to know how to improve your own game. Although EnVyUs ultimately lost out Fnatic during the final round of the ESL One: Cologne 2015 event, the team nabbed a very impressive amount of #1 wins throughout 2015 with NBK keeping things running smoothly.
Who doesn't want to play god from time to time? Smite lets you pick that concept up and run with it anytime you like – but not all gods are created equal, as the 2015 World Championship proved. Don't forget to also check out our rundown of the best Smite cosplays at the more recent 2016 Championship!
Formerly on COGnitive Prime and switching to Cloud9 part way through the year, Andinster focuses on Jungling rather than on lane control, and those skills helped Cognitive Prime take home a 1st place win at the world championship at the start of the year.
Another strong Jungler, this Danish player joined Titan at the very end of 2014 and went straight to the world championship shortly after, taking home second place. Titan unfortunately just disbanded, but we're hoping to see more of Repikas still this year.
Blizzard's powerhouse RTS title StarCraft II is a way of life in Korea – it's essentially how the U.S. views football - so its shouldn't come as much surprise that the top players tend to hail from that country.
Team: CJ Entus
The capitalization-challenged herO (not to be confused with the very similarly titled HerO from Team Liquid) is a staggeringly good Protoss player who has won or placed very highly in his fair share of championships over the years. In this past year, he took home 1st place in the KeSPA Cup as well as the 2015 StarLeague Season 3, and shows little sign of slowing down.
Team: KT Rolster
One of the youngest players to ever go pro and appear on a televised match of Starcraft II, Zerg player Life has consistently been among the top players, with very strong showings this past year, including taking home second place at the WCS Global Finals and 1st in the 2015 League Season One event.
It was an interesting year for the comparatively new game Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare, as most of the winners of the main championship ended up leaving the reigning team and going on to other organizations.
Team: FaZe Clan
A solid Call Of Duty player on any title, Attach won the Call Of Duty Championship 2015 tournament with Denial eSports, but switched over to FaZe Clan later in the year. He subsequently took home first place wins at UMG Dallas 2015, the Gfinity Summer Championship, and the MLG Pro League Season 3 Playoffs.
Another member of Denial eSports who took home the 1st place win at the Call Of Duty Championship 2015, JKAP now sits on the EnVyUs roster. While he hasn't managed to hit any more 1st place major tournament wins since then, he has remained competitive and is one to watch out for in the future.
Despite the backing of Blizzard, the Heroes Of The Storm intrusion into the MOBA scene hasn't managed to unseat League Of Legends or Dota 2 on the tournament front, but its not for a lack of trying, and it's not hard to imagine this one crawling its way to the top at some point in the not too distant future.
DunkTrain and the Cloud9 team secured their place at the top last year by winning the Heroes Of The Storm World Championship at BlizzCon 2015, which was only the cap on a series of 1st place wins with various North American tournaments and the Road To Blizzcon events.
Team: Team Dignitas
Things were looking dicey there for awhile with Team Dignitas disbanding in July but then coming back together with a new roster in October, still including solid support player Bakery. The team took second place at the World Championships – an amazing feat even if it wasn't 1st place - losing out to Cloud9. Bakery is also notable for landing 1st places at earlier Invitationals and 3rd place at the minor league tournament Heroes Battle Arena in December.
For what is essentially a simplified version of Magic: The Gathering, Blizzard's Hearthstone has become a massive phenomena, bridging the gap between casual online gaming and a serious CCG with in-depth mechanics. The top competitive players have come up with some really amazing combos and counters, and these two players are the ones you should be paying attention to this year.
Team: Natus Vincere
Swedish player Ostkaka had strong showings in the European tournaments early last year, finally culminating in his epic win at the Hearthstone World Championship during BlizzCon 2015. He beat out the competition and then took home the #1 prize playing mage, warrior, and then rogue in the final rounds.
Team: Team Archon
Although he may not have made it to the 2015 World Championships like he did the year before, Firebat still had a very successful year, taking home entirely 1st and 2nd place wins at tournaments like the StarLadder Season Kick Off, Gamegune 2015, and World Cyber Arena 2015. If you want to know how to play Hearthstone competitively, pay attention to this guy's deck construction and play style.
While these were the esports player we stayed glued to throughout the year, there are dozens more with a high level of skill who are well worth following.
Let us know who you thought were the best players in 2015, and who you think is going to skyrocket to the top of the pack throughout this new year!