For the first time, esports is getting a proper award at ESPN’s ESPYs award show. While the worldwide leader in sports is no stranger to esports coverage, this expanded presence for esports at their award show promises to be a huge milestone for esports.
The format the ESPY’s are using for this award is unique. Instead of the normal group of five candidates with one chosen as the winner, 16 esports moments will go head-to-head in a bracket-style competition.
Fans will vote on each one as the bracket moves along in anticipation of the award show on July 10th. The 16 candidates range from moments of gender breakthrough in the NBA 2K League to dynasties cementing their reign to perennial losers finally righting the ship.
Here is more information about each of the 16 nominees for the ESPY’s Best Esports Moment Award:
SonicFox winning Evo after switching sides
At EVO, one of the largest fighting game competitions in the world, SonicFox employed a unique strategy. After losing the first game of the Grand Finals he opted to switch sides. This is an old rule in fighting games dating back to “port priority.” Basically, the loser of a game can opt to switch sides in order to get the first player slot. At one point that switch came with fractionally better latency, but those days are long gone.
In this case, SonicFox used the outdated rule to slow his opponent's momentum and come back from there. He ended up winning the DragonBall Fighter Z competition and further cemented himself as the best fighting game player on the planet.
Team Liquid upsets defending world champ Invictus Gaming at MSI
For years the difference between Asian teams and western teams in League of Legends was vast. Each year teams from North America and Europe would show up to Worlds, only to be smacked by the best from South Korea and China. Not anymore. In the last year, the tides have turned and western organizations are winning international matches consistently.
Invictus Gaming is the defending World Champion (more on them later) and at the Mid-Summer’s Invitational, they were one of the favorites. North American organization Team Liquid stepped in for the massive upset, another huge step in the closing of the international gap between League of Legends teams.
Cloud9 wins CS:GO Boston Major
Similar to Team Liquid, Cloud9 is on this list as a representation of how far North America has come. While the gap between NA and the rest of the world in CS:GO isn’t as pronounced as League of Legends, a North American team had never won a CS:GO major.
That changed in January of 2018. Cloud9 finally climbed the hill and beat the world’s best teams in Boston to lift a major trophy. The North American crowd was obviously quite hyped making this one of the best esports moments of 2018.
Astralis winning Katowice
Yes, the Cloud9 win was historic, but Astralis is the real team worth highlighting in CS:GO. The team was one of the most dominant dynasties in esports history, much less CS:GO.
They won tournament after tournament and there was no doubt who the best team in the world was during their run. Now as we enter the summer of 2020, Astralis has fallen off the top spot in the CS:GO rankings but for a long time they were the undisputed kings and IEM Katowice was the peak of their run.
Invictus League of Legends World Championship
League of Legends Worlds 2018 was a crazy tournament. Left and right teams were being upset as western organizations pulled off upset over upset. When the first two rounds of the bracket after groups ended, three of the four teams were from the west.
G2 and Cloud 9 were in unfamiliar territory while Fnatic was back in the semis for the first time since Season One before the game really took off in Asia.
The only team standing in the way of the first western champion was Invictus Gaming, a dark horse team from China going into the tournament. The semi-finals had the western fairytale stop. Invictus incinerated G2 and Fnatic, sweeping both teams in route to the organization’s first World Championship.
Spitfire win inaugural Overwatch League championship
The Overwatch League was an esports experiment. They broke off from the established organizations and had teams compete under new logos and names. London Spitfire is the representatives for the Cloud9 organization and they rock the signature baby blue color on their jerseys.
The first season of the OWL had its share of ups and downs, but the grand finals were a true spectacle. Blizzard sold out the Barclays arena in New York for the event and even had DJ Khaled perform an ill-advised concert before the match.
Cringy concerts notwithstanding, the OWL’s first year marked an important moment in esports and it culminated with the Spitfire’s win over the Philadelphia Fusion at Barclays.
Team OG wins the International and $11 million from qualifiers
Before Fortnite became a thing, The International stood alone as the highest prize pool in esports, and it wasn’t close. TI 2018 featured over 25 million in prizes with the power to turn Dota 2 players into millionaires.
OG was special because they weren’t invited to the event, they had to qualify. By winning an open they received one spot in the massive tournament, but no one really expected them to win the thing.
OG came to play and the team left $11 million richer once the month-long competition finally wrapped up.
Shanghai Dragons end 42-game losing streak
Most of the nominees on this list are winners, but the Shanghai Dragons are anything but. The Overwatch Leagues least successful team managed to go through the entirety of Season One without winning a single match.
Sports historians began comparing their run of ineptitude to traditional sports teams and the losing streak passed all the worst milestones in the traditional sports world as well. That’s why, once the Dragons finally won a game midway through the second season, the esports world gave them a standing ovation.
If they win this award it will be more of a slap in the face than an accomplishment and it’s honestly funny they were even nominated for it, but history is history I suppose.
Serral winning StarCraft at BlizzCon
BlizzCon was once the grandest stage for all Blizzard titles. While Blizzard games like Overwatch and Hearthstone have now branched into unique world championships, StarCraft II’s most prestigious tournament still resides in LA.
In 2018 the winner was Serral, the Finnish player capped off an incredible year that saw him dominate most matches before finishing with the title at the end of the year. It was the result most predicted and Serral didn’t disappoint.
Chiquita Evans becoming the first woman in the 2K League
One of the best things about esports is the level playing field between genders. While most leagues are still male-dominated, the majority have at least a couple of women competing at the highest level. In the NBA 2K League, that gender barrier was broken by Chiquita Evans.
Selected 56th overall by the Golden State Warriors in the Season Two draft, Evans has quickly become a fan favorite in the league. Her winning personality and skill on the court have made her a phenomenal ambassador for equal gender representation in the league.
oLarry’s return to the NBA 2K League after the Jacksonville shooting
When a deranged Madden player shot up a Jacksonville Madden competition, the esports world bowed its head. Two young Madden players lost their lives that day and video from the competition will scar all who watch it.
Many more people were injured including Bucks Gaming’s oLarry. He was shot three times. His thumb was detached from his hand requiring multiple surgeries to fix. He didn’t know if he would ever compete professionally again and he still doesn’t have perfect motion in his hand.
But when the Season Two draft rolled around, oLarry had his name called by Timberwolves Gaming. Now he’s back on the court and competing in the NBA 2K league again while continuing physical therapy on his injured hand.
Leffen finally winning EVO in what could be Melee’s last year at the event
Super Smash Bros esports have had a rocky road. The scene existed and flourished in spite of Nintendo going out if its way to place roadblocks. Still, the scene persevered and third-party tournaments like EVO were crucial for it to succeed.
Thanks to years of lackluster Super Smash Bros titles, the Gamecube’s Melee still reigned supreme as the game of choice for most tournaments. But Nintendo finally made a great successor in Super Smash Bros Ultimate and the Melee era seems to finally be winding down after 18 years.
Leffen is one of the most well-known Melee players. He gained the nickname the “God-killer” for his success against the five “gods” of Smash. While Mango, Armada, HungryBox, Mew2King, and PPMD dominated Melee competitions, Leffen was the wild card who was capable of taking series off of the five.
While other players won at times, it was Leffen who emerged as the best among the challengers. But he had never won EVO, the most prestigious fighting game tournament belonged to the gods, which made Leffen’s win at EVO 2019 so special and a fitting send-off for arguably the greatest fighting game esport of all time.
Ninja Fortnite win with Marshmello at E3 ProAM
This win was the coming out party for competitive Fortnite. For the first time, Epic Games held a Fortnite tournament and they paired top streamers with notable celebrities.
The event had plenty of hiccups as Epic experimented with broadcasting the unique battle royale format but in the end, the duo everyone expected ended up winning. At this time, Ninja was considered the best Fortnite player in the world. He’s not anymore, or even very close, but during this event last summer it was the era of Ninja.
This event remains his only significant win in competitive Fortnite and the pro-am was a crazy kick-off to the tumultuous year of Fortnite esports.
Chritobin Madden Challenge walk off
Madden esports is a mixed bag. The Madden club Championship now has support from all 32 NFL teams but viewership for the league has been rocky, much like other sports simulation games.
Still, the storylines are as good as any esport. The 2018 Madden Club championship saw Chritobin, an unknown qualifier connect for the walk-off touchdown in overtime.
G2 wins R6 world championship
Rainbow Six esports are gaining a lot of momentum. Much like Rocket League, the R6 esports scene has been slowly growing since a 2015 release and the unique nature of the game makes it stand out in the crowded FPS genre.
The season took them to major cities around the world and culminated with a G2 win at the World Championship. That was without a doubt the biggest moment of R6 esports so far as the game looks to break into the top flight of esports.
Morgausse winning Fortnite’s Summer Skirmish from out of nowhere
After the E3 Pro-Am, the next major Fortnite esports event was the Summer Skirmish. No longer weighted towards celebrities and streamers, it was time for the best players in the world to shine.
This was the period where many of the top players in the game today had their coming out party. One of those players was Morgausse, who became the first player to take home a massive prize for the Summer Skirmish.
Since that point, many more players have become rich from Fortnite but Morgausse was the first young Fortnite player to shine on the biggest stage.
Credit: Mitch Reames