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Tournament Play

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Game play at the highest level. This is beyond the arcade, way beyond Xbox Live, way, way beyond just sitting on the couch with your buddies. This is the best players in the state/country/world getting together to slug it out, the winner is usually awarded prize money, from mere hundreds up to several millions. note 

Long before the advent of computer games, tournament play was the highest level of traditional board-games, such as Chess, Go and so on. Regardless of the game played, expect to see only the best tactics and strategies. Knowledge of the Metagame is crucial. Hardcore gamers are welcomed. Scrubs are not.

Game tournaments are now a Serious Business, where a really good player might be able to make his living off his winnings. Some players even sign contracts with their teams, like professional athletes. Because of this, they occasionally get some flak from other fans who accuse them of being "Stop Having Fun" Guys, specifically Tournament players of games like Super Smash Bros., where all items are turned off, and several stages are banned. On the other hand, who wants to lose the finals (and a huge payday) just because a bomb spawned on your face?

The "Stop Having Fun" Guys trope derives from players pushing tournament rules outside of tournaments.

Games best known for their tournament scenes include (but definitely aren't limited to): Counter-Strike, Warcraft III, Quake, Street Fighter, StarCraft, and Super Smash Bros..

Dreams of competing in national tournaments and destroying the 12-year old Asian god-level champion tends to breed tourney-knowledgeable enthusiasts whose verbal knowledge of the games they play tend to be greater than their actual level of skill (which is pretty much the case for many announcers and analysts for non-gaming competitive outlets as well).

See also our Useful Notes: Professional Gaming page.


  • Cyberathlete Professional League
  • World Series of Video Games
  • World Cyber Games
  • World e-Sports Games
  • Electronic Sports World Cup
  • Electronic Sports League
  • Major League Gaming
  • Intel Extreme Masters
  • The DCI (originally Duelists' Convocation, now just the acronym) is the organizing body for Magic: The Gathering tournaments.
    • A primer on Magic tournaments.
    • Some people can make a living playing Magic: The Gathering. Pro Tours award hundreds of thousands of dollars, four times a year.
  • The Mecca of Professional StarCraft is South Korea. There are two main individual tournaments, each held twice a year: the OnGameNet StarLeague and the MBC StarLeague. Additionally, 12 teams of players compete in the Proleague, where each match consists of a series of 1v1 games between players on opposing teams. 11 of the teams have corporate sponsors from major companies such as Samsung, MBC and STX. The twelfth team is the team of the Korean Air Force for pros who go because of mandatory conscription. A third individual tournament, the GOM TV Classic had begun to take off but was quickly stifled by Executive Meddling.
    • Blizzard has its own international tournament structure in place for the sequel and some of the major Korean events have switched over to or added the second game as its teething problems were worked out. Many of the famous SC1 players including the 'father of competitive gaming' SlayerSBoxer have taken up the second game as well.
  • Fighting Game Community examples: A-Cho Cup, Super Battle Opera and Evolution.
    • Evolution in particular has featured games you wouldn't believe were there, such as Clayfighter 63 1/3. It's also the source of the majority of tournament-related memes, such as "Let's go, Justin!" and parts of "It's mahvel, baby!"
    • Evolution has gone on from a simple tournament to both a major fighting game convention as well as a ranking/governing body for other tournaments. Certain smaller tournaments are now part of the Evolution Championship "Season" with players getting ranked and seeded based on results on those tournaments.
    • Capcom has also launched their official Capcom Pro Tour that, like Evo, uses smaller regional tournaments as part of its calendar, giving out point and ranking and seeing players accordingly in preparation for Capcom Cup in December. Interestingly enough, Evolution also counts as a Capcom Pro Tour event with it being placed in a special category of its own with the winners earning more points than they would in any other event as well as automatically qualifying them for Capcom Cup.
  • Warhammer 40,000 tournaments are regularly held, including regional "Conflict" events and national Grand Tournaments. They're also absolutely terrifying to behold at the high end.
  • Bemani Top Ranker.
  • Top Quake player Dennis "Thresh" Fong used his tournament winnings and celebrity to launch several websites.
    • In a similar vein, Johnathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel has become a pitchman for Creative Labs based on his tournament success. He now also partners with ASRock to create gaming motherboards.
    • Id Software themselves also have the QuakeCons, where, obviously, Quake and Enemy Territory tournaments are hold.
  • The Yu-Gi-Oh! card game is built on this, with entire forums devoted to discussing the Metagame and things like that.
  • In the Groove had an official tournament while the series was running. Initially, they decided that the main prize would go to the winner of the division that didn't hold on to the support bar, while the support bar division (and most hardcore players used the support bar, since it makes it easier to get higher scores) got basically nothing. No points for guessing how well that went over.
  • Pump It Up tries to have a World Pump Festival every year, challenging players to either come up with the best freestyle routines or step the most accurately to a specific set of songs. Unlike the previously mentioned example, most of the accuracy players have had to play without using the support bar until 2011, when the rules finally changed.
  • Fictional example: The Wizard had a NES tournament in the film's climax. It later experienced Defictionalization, albeit in a much simpler form, through the 1990 Nintendo World Championship and its successors, the 1991 Nintendo Campus Challenge and the Nintendo PowerFest '94.
  • The Pokémon Company International has run the Pokémon World Championships since 2004, containing tournaments for both the TCG and, after 2008, the video games. Even long before that, back in the days of the first generation, there had been a number of official tournaments for the games. Much as you'd expect, players from Smogon regularly dominate the elder divisions of the video game tournaments, having a particularly impressive showing in 2011. Smogon presence had waned ever since double battling became the standard from Pokémon Black and White and onward though, as the Smogon rules and VGC (Video Game Championships) rules have continued to diverge with each passing generation, causing skills and strategies good for one kind of play to be unsuitable for another. The result is two Pokémon tournament scenes, the official one as described here and an unofficial one with Smogon-influenced rules.
  • The FIFA Interactive World Cup. A FIFA-sanctioned FIFA Soccer game tournament.
  • Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games are getting involved. In October 2012, Riot Games ran the second League of Legends World Championship, with a grand prize of $1 million.
  • Dota 2 Valve Software's Dota 2 boast the BIGGEST prizepool in e-sports history started all the way back in 2011 with The International annual series. For a game that was getting its first showing, it was MASSIVE. This gets a little less astronomical when you realize that only Five Man Bands are eligible for competition, but it should also be pointed out that the game is free-to-play, and Dota 2 wasn't out of beta yet.
    • "The International 2012" was played at Benaroya Hall, Seattle. The preliminary done online and 16 best Dota 2 teams in the world were invited to Valve headquarters. All you can watch free in-game! The winner was Invictus Gaming from China.
    • Dota 2 "The International 2013" had $2,8 million prize pool, almost half of it funded via players' in-game purchases of the "Interactive Compendium". Also played at Benaroya Hall, "The International 2013" also considered the most intense tournament ever, culminating with an EPIC grand final series of Na'Vi vs Alliance that Alliance won 3-2 after a gruelling baserace in the fifth game.
  • The MechWarrior series has traditionally had online tournaments, often in the form of a "Planetary League" which adds in persistent rewards (capturing factories, monopoly money to buy mechs, etc) into the otherwise instanced games, though the League is designed to be an endless Forever War, albeit with a Reset Button if a team or alliance manages to wipe out the enemy. Individual tournaments are frequently hosted, though monetary rewards are rare.
  • Iron Kingdoms (Warmachine and Hordes) is built from the ground up to be competitively balanced. Whilst there are minor fluctuations, especially as the Meta is continually evolving, you have what is almost unarguably the tightest, most cast iron set of rules in the tabletop world. Major tournaments are held internationally on almost a monthly basis, with lists, pairings and results studiously examined for their impact on the world wide meta.
  • There are regular competitions for Splatoon, with Nintendo themselves regularly sponsoring and broadcasting tournaments from the second game onward. There also annual qualifiers open to any group of four people who can work together. The development staff is very serious about Competitive Balance as well, though you can usually tell that they've begun work on the next installment when the semimonthly balance patches start slowing to a crawl.

Non Video Game applications of this trope include:

  • Sports: Many sports events at various levels from the pee-wees to the professionals, have these, often to end the season. The examples are countless. Usually, these will pair conference or divisional champions — plus others who didn't win a conference championship but placed high in the league and deserve a post-season berth (usually these are called "wild cards" or those who have earned "at large" berths) — against one another to determine the best, with some sort of trophy awarded. Sometimes, the second- or even third-place teams in a conference will end up winning the tournament.
  • Game Shows:
    • Jeopardy!: The Tournament of Champions, which pairs the highest money winners from (usually) the past year or so, plus the winners of the Teen, College and Teachers tournaments.
    • The Joker's Wild: During the first four years of the syndicated run, the highest money winners from the preceding year (plus the top winners from the CBS era for the 1977 tournament as well) competed in a high-stakes tournament. The fourth year saw the winner pocket $250,000 (10 $25,000 annual annuities) plus the privilege of donating another $250,000 in his name to his favorite charity (he chose the March of Dimes). Like most Jack Barry-produced game shows, these tournaments provided some truly suspensful gameplay.
    • Tic-Tac-Dough: In 1983, the show hosted a tournament of the top eight winners up to that time for a share of $100,000 for the winners' favorite charities.
  • Poker has their annual "World Series Of Poker" events where the Main Event (a $10,000 buy-in Texas Hold-Em No Limit) has over 6,000 entrants playing over the course of 9 days for millions of dollars in prize money.
  • Many modern Pinball machines support various forms of Tournament play, whether it is by choosing "Tournament Rules" when starting a game to reduce random elements, or by networking machines from other locations to exchange high scores. Some of the machines starting in The New '10s even have balance patches released every now and then, such as Game of Thrones and Pirates of the Caribbean (Jersey Jack), using information gained from observing tournament players.

Alternative Title(s): Electronic Sports