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Every year yields new historic victories in esports competition. Up-and-coming team brands will chase their own Cinderella stories, while veteran owners try to keep their legacies untarnished. Many publications dutifully chronicle individual players and rosters regardless of game, and this year The Esports Observer has ranked the best performing team organizations and/or ownership groups based on their competitive performance across the top games.
As a publication, we write for a B2B audience. These kinds of lists will appeal to a broader esports audience, but we feel there is valuable insight in seeing which team names consistently rank high across the ecosystem.
In traditional sports, many clubs compete across multiple sports (especially in Europe and Asia), and many North American sports leagues share franchise owners, but esports is rather unique. One esports team brand can be worn across a dozen games, and whenever a new competitive title emerges there is a fever pitch to sign players while salaries are still low. Charting how this cycle changes as valuations and operating costs grow will give us some insight into the state of the broader ecosystem, beyond a single game.
It’s true that winning in multiple games becomes easier with more funding, but this year has seen a few new super-teams and large ownership groups emerge, and not achieve the results they were likely hoping for. Hiring the right management, coaching, and analytical staff is always key, and a daunting challenge for even decades-old esports companies. “It’s an art,” as Team Liquid co-CEO Steve Arcenhat described in an episode of the TEO Podcast.
We assigned a weighted score to every esports team organization or ownership group, based on how their teams placed in top leagues and tournaments in the following games:
The events were chosen based on their designation on the esports wiki site Liquipedia, with additional consideration to both viewership and prize money awarded.
Top international events (e.g. the League of Legends World Championships or the Fortnite World Cup) and publisher sanctioned competitions (e.g. The International, Valve Majors and Minors) awarded the highest points.
This is a general breakdown of how many points a 1st place team received for a single event:
Top international championships: 20-30 points
Major/higher tier events: 12-20 points
Minor/lower tier events: 8-12 points
Placing first in a tournament or league table awarded the highest possible points, with the number of points decreasing as teams placed lower on the table/bracket.
The amount of points awarded between games differed—esports with a larger and more established ecosystem awarded more points than those that are still in their first or second year of sanctioned competition.
- In league competitions, team organizations were awarded points both for their final regular-season results, and their respective performance in the playoffs.
- In the few instances where two players from different organizations were paired up together (i.e. Fortnite duos), the points were awarded to both organizations.
- Exhibition and showcase competitions (e.g. All-Star events) were not counted, neither were events where teams competed under national flags.
What Do You Mean by “Team Organization and/or Ownership Group?”
This list includes esports companies that host multiple teams under a single name, and companies which run rosters under entirely different brand names.
Although esports team owners sometimes register new business subsidiaries for individual teams (for the sake of employment and tax laws), we have grouped all rosters to their root parent company. This includes team names that are altered for the sake of partnerships/sponsorships (e.g. Renault Vitality and PSG.LGD), and the geo-located franchises in Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League. Roster movements and/or team buyouts have not affected how we ranked the teams, beyond how the actual players and teams performed.
The reason for this is, again, to chart how successfully individual team owners and company managers can run an esports business—even if only from the perspective of competition results.
Doesn’t This Just Reward Teams That Buy Into Lots of Games?
A team owner that’s able to recruit players in every major esport will have an inherent advantage here, but it’s not guaranteed. While every business operates differently, the teams that made the top 10 likely did so through their approach to talent development, training resources, and player care.
It should be noted that there are several esports team organizations and/or ownership groups that play in several esports (and which score consistently high in competitions) that did not place in the Top 10. For example, some of our close runner ups this year include Natus Vincere, Team Secret, Gen.G Esports, and mousesports.
Where is OG, FunPlus Phoenix, Etc.?
This list does not rank based on a single competition result. As such, we anticipate some pushback for the absence of teams that accomplished extraordinary victories this year. However, we want to emphasize that this list rewards consistency. Even in individual games, there are players and squads that won the top prize of the year, but did not achieve much throughout the rest of their competitive season.
What About Game ‘X’?
For future editions of this list, we intend to open up the pool of game titles and competitions (including academy leagues and more open qualifier tournaments). We will monitor how games in developing markets increase their footprint worldwide, and which team organizations branch out into new regions. We will also take the feedback of our audience into consideration when refining our methodology.
The Top 10
Highlight victory (Astralis Group): 1st place, Starladder Berlin Major (CS:GO)
Highlight victory: (Cloud9): 1st place, DreamHack Pro Circuit: Dallas 2019 (Rocket League)
Our tenth spot, a tie, showcases the difference between a team organization that dominates a specific game, and one that produces fairly consistent results across several.
For most of its history, the company behind Astralis was all about Counter-Strike, but this year it journeyed into League of Legends, having acquired the Origen brand to compete in the League of Legends European Championship (LEC). While Origen’s highlight of the year was reaching the LEC Spring finals, Astralis cemented itself as one of the best performing Counter-Strike teams of all time. The Danes won both annual Valve Major championships, building a winning streak from their Major victory in 2018.
Cloud9 also won a Counter-Strike Major back in 2018, and though its tournament victories across esports were slim this year, they still performed consistently. The Los Angeles-based brand was the runner-up in the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) Summer split regular season and playoffs, acquiring enough championship points to compete in the game’s World Championships. Its PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS (PUBG) team also placed second in the game’s North American league for the first two phases, before dropping out. Cloud9 also emerged as a semi-finalist in the Rocket League Championship Series (RLCS) Season 7 global finals.
Highlight Victory: 1st place, StarLadder Ukraine Minor (Dota 2)
NiP was founded as a Counter-Strike clan all the way back in 2000, and its CS:GO team dominated the scene between 2012-2014. While 2019 was not a new renaissance for the squad, it made playoffs for several tournaments including the Katowice Major and ESL One Cologne. In Dota 2, NiP dropped early from TI9, but did place in the top six in the Disneyland Paris Major and ESL One Katowice events. The NiP name also found some success in the Latin American R6 scene.
Highlight Victories: 1st place, RLCS Season 7 Finals (Rocket League)
Team Vitality is a great example of an all-around performer in esports. Its League of Legends team made two respectable playoffs runs in the LEC this year, but in CS:GO, the team excelled with victories in the Esports Championship Series (ECS) Season Seven and EPICENTER 2019, plus finalist finishes at ESL One Cologne and Dreamhack Masters Malmö. Rocket League saw the brand at its best, with Renault Vitality lifting an RLCS trophy, and just missing out on lifting a second.
Highlight Victory: 1st place, ESL One New York (CS:GO)
Evil Geniuses have been a staple of the Dota 2 scene since 2011, winning the game’s top tournament, The International (TI) in 2015. This year the squad didn’t take home any trophies of note, but did make the top six of TI9, the finals of ESL One Birmingham, and top 4 finishes in the Chongqing, Disneyland Paris, and Chengdu Majors. Under new ownership, the organization reentered CS:GO in September, accomplishing top-six finishes in nearly all subsequent competitions. Its R6 team was also a finalist in the Pro League Season Nine.
Highlight Victories: 1st place, WCS Spring and Fall (StarCraft II)
Finnish team organization ENCE became a household name in esports this year with its true underdog performance at the CS:GO Katowice Major, losing out only to Astralis in the finals. This was followed up with further runner-up finishes at DreamHack Masters Dallas, and Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) Chicago. Meanwhile, ENCE’s PUBG division won the first of three phases that make up the game’s competitive season, in the European league. But it’s in StarCraft II that ENCE earned most of its points, with Joona “Serral” Sotala taking multiple trophies and finalist finishes throughout 2019.
Highlight Victories: 1st place, Mid-Season Invitational (League of Legends)
In League of Legends, G2 Esports nearly became the first team in history to win the game’s ‘grand slam,’ having won both its regional seasons and the Mid-season Invitational. The European hopefuls fell short only at the final hurdle, but still, runner-up in the World Championships is not something easily dismissed. Elsewhere, G2 Esports was a runner up in the ESL Pro League Season Nine (CS:GO) and won the Six Invitational 2019 (R6).
Highlight Victory: Overwatch League 2019 Champions
NRG Esports made headlines this year with its business and personnel changes, while also taking home several notable trophies. Its affiliated Overwatch League Team, the San Francisco Shock, were season champions and the first team to complete a “golden stage” (i.e. not dropping a single map during stage two).
In Rocket League the organization remained dominant with back-to-back North America RLCS victories, as well as a World Championship win in December. Before NRG’s CS:GO roster was acquired by Evil Geniuses, it achieved semi-final finishes in both ECS and ESL Pro League seasons as well as the Berlin Major. Last but not least, NRG also signed on Shane “EpikWhale” Cotton shortly before he placed third in the Fortnite World Cup solos competition.
Highlight Victory: 1st Place, DreamHack Masters Malmö (CS:GO)
Fnatic kept up its strong position in European League of Legends this year, taking part in both LEC arena events, including a memorable, close summer final against G2 Esports. The Swedish brand also returned to the World Championships, dropping out in the quarter-finals.
Although 2019 was not a standout year for its Dota 2 squad, the organization picked up a notable Counter-Strike trophy in Malmö and several second-place finishes. Its mostly Australian R6 team also won the Asia Pacific division twice in the year, finishing a semi-finalist in the overall season nine competition.
Highlight Victory: 1st place, GLL Grand Slam (PUBG)
Born as a Call of Duty team, Faze Clan typically fields rosters in every military-esque shooter that emerges. The result is that, despite not earning too many championships wins, its overall strong performance nearly pushed it to the top of our list.
In Counter-Strike, FaZe’s main victories were in the BLAST Pro Series. Because this tournament series featured partner-teams in 2019, we awarded less points than invitational and qualifier tournaments. Nevertheless, FaZe won two of these, and were semi-finalists in several other CS:GO competitions including IEM Beijing and DreamHack Masters Dallas.
The brand currently hosts one of the best performing PUBG teams, which won two seasonal phases in Europe, the GLL Grand Slam global event, and was a runner up at the PUBG Global Championship. The organization’s R6 team was repeatedly successful in Latin America, and Fortnite FaZe Clan players performed strongly in duos competitions for both the Fortnite World Cup and Secret Skirmish.
Highlight Victory: 1st place, ESL One Cologne (CS:GO)
Team Liquid competes in more esports titles than almost any other organization, and its roster of over 60+ players collectively performed at a very high standard. They briefly toppled Astralis as the best Counter-Strike team, and by winning an IEM, DreamHack Masters, ESL Pro League, and ESL One event—all back to back—they also took the second-ever Intel Grand Slam (though this bonus prize did not affect our rankings).
Although its League of Legends team fell out of the World Championships group stage, it still won both North American seasons and playoffs and were runners up in the Mid-Season Invitational. Before the organization parted ways with its Dota 2 roster in September, those players managed to place second in the Disneyland Paris Major, EPICENTER Major, and The International 2019.
These accomplishments alone would place them at number one, but Team Liquid players also won the Clash Royale League world finals, placed in the top ten in multiple key Fortnite events, and finished in the top five throughout the PUBG European League (PEL) season and in two international competitions.