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Nov 19, 2021
Nov 19, 2021

Esports terminology and glossary

A brief history of esports

What are some common terms used in esports?

The most popular esports titles

Essential esports terms to know

Esports terminology and glossary

Esports is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world and has brought with it a range of new terms. In this glossary, we cover some of the most common terms used in esports, identify the different game genres in esports, and list some of the most popular esports titles.

A brief history of esports

Tracing its origin back to Spacewar! (1962), the first widely-recognised and referenced esports event took place at Stanford University in 1972 with 24 players competing for a subscription to Rolling Stone magazine.

Esports began to enter the mainstream in the 1990s with Street Fighter, Quake, Counter-Strike, and StarCraft becoming the staple for LAN (Local Area Network) competitions across North America, Europe, and Asia.

StarCraft, in particular, experienced massive popularity in South Korea, becoming the first esports title to have a dedicated ecosystem that broadcast the game’s competitions on South Korean TV.

The top three most popular esports titles as of 2021 are League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), and DOTA 2.

Take a deep dive into MOBA and FPS terms

In esports, Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) and First-Person Shooter (FPS) are the two genres in which you’ll find the most popular esports titles. If you would like to discover terms that are unique to the MOBA or FPS genre, find our glossary of terms for both here:

General esports terms

Aggro

Usually refers to implementing an aggressive style of play in order to put pressure on the opponent. It can also refer to the level of aggression displayed by computer-controlled NPCs when attacking player characters.

Avatar 

The character that each player selects and controls in a game.

Backdoor 

A method of sneaking around or behind an opponent without them realising until it is mostly too late (e.g. if the opponents are occupied elsewhere).

Bait 

A player feigning weakness or sacrificing themselves in order to lure an opponent into a situation in which the feigning player (and their team) can then overpower and kill the opponent.

Best-of-X 

The maximum amount of games to be played within a match. Matches are usually played as Best-of-three or Best-of-five games and the team who wins the most games (2/3 or 3/5) are the winners of the match.

Bots 

Computer-controlled players which real-life players can play against in games. They offer good practice for players ahead of competitions.

Bracket 

A tree-shaped diagram that represents the format followed by an esports tournament. Different tournaments follow different bracket formations.

Buff 

A spell, ability or effect that results in a positive increase in a character’s power. Buffs can be obtained temporarily mid-game or are permanently made as part of an upgrade by the game’s developer.

Carry 

A player whose character can deal a large amount of damage to opponents or who plays a key role in the teams’ success.

Circle 

The currently active area of play in a Battle Royale game. The circle is often surrounded by a type of gas or area that can be deadly upon prolonged exposure. The size of the circle gets smaller as the game progresses, bringing all players’ characters closer.

Circuit 

The word used to describe all the events for an esports title that take place within each year.

Clutch 

A player’s ability to perform well under extreme pressure or in an important part of a match, and the ability to win when winning previously seemed impossible.

Composition (Comp) 

The group of in-game characters selected for a match and the formation/strategy employed by the team with those characters.

Console 

The piece of technological equipment used to play esports games that’s not a computer (e.g. a Playstation).

Double Elimination 

When two brackets (upper and lower) are used in a tournament. In the upper bracket, teams play against each other until there is a single winning team at the end. If a team loses a match in the upper bracket they will drop to the lower bracket, where they get a second chance by playing another team. If they win this match, they can progress through the bracket. However, if they lose this game too, they will be eliminated from the tournament.

Early Game 

The early stages of a round/game within a match. In some games, the early game ends at a specific time or after a specific move.

Economy 

The finances of a team and their ability to purchase items or weapons.

Esports 

The playing of video games competitively (through one-off tournaments and leagues) by professional gamers (either as individuals or teams) in front of spectators and for prize money.

Flank 

Coming up on the enemy from behind and/or the sides to gain advantage over them when attacking.

Forfeit 

Giving up or conceding defeat within a specific game or battle, or even an entire match.

Heads-up Display (HUD) 

The on-screen display that shows essential information about the player’s character and the game (e.g. character’s health, time left, weapons list, game progression, character abilities, or a mini map of the surrounding area).

Hit Points (HP) 

The ‘health’ of a character. Every player’s character begins with 100 HP and every time they are hit their points go down. Once all their points have been depleted the character dies.

IEM Intel Extreme Masters 

A series of international esports tournaments held across the world. It is the longest-running global pro gaming tour in the world. It features tournaments for games such as CS:GO and Starcraft II.

In-game leader 

The player who is responsible for deciding team tactics in the game and who issues instructions to other team members to follow.

Killstreak 

Making successive kills in the game without dying. Killstreaks are often rewarded with extra powers or in-game currency.

Ladders 

The online ranking of players’ performance in a video game. If a player is ‘climbing the ladder’ it means they are moving higher up the rankings.

LAN 

Abbreviation for Local Area Network. Many esports tournaments are held via LAN and not online. In LAN tournaments all players are located in the same place (an arena) and their computers are all hooked up to the same network.

Late Game 

The later stages of a game within a match. In some games, the late game begins at a specific time or after a specific move.

Line of Sight (LOS)

What a player is able to see on the map. If something is ‘out of LOS’ it means that it is obstructed and can’t be seen.

Level up 

Moving up to a higher level of the game and being rewarded with extra powers, abilities, strength and/or weapons. Players need to complete tasks within the game and acquire XP or gold to help them level up.

Map 

The settings for esports games, where the action takes place. Can be thought of like a pitch in traditional sports. Many games have multiple maps on which the game can be played out. Maps differ in style and layout and require different strategies to win.

Map Pool 

The group of maps that a specific tournament will use. Can also refer to the maps a team has practiced on.

Meta 

Short for Metagame – the most effective styles of play, strategies, character choices, or team compositions for playing and winning a game at the highest level.

Mid Game 

The middle stages of a round/game within a match. In some games, the mid game begins and ends at a specific time or after a specific move.

Nerf 

When a character or item (e.g. a weapon) is purposely weakened by the game developers in a game update. It is the opposite of a buff.

NPC 

Abbreviation of non-player character - characters that are controlled by the computer and not by players playing the game. They can interact with and often assist players’ characters throughout the game.

Offline Event 

An esports event which takes place in an arena or theatre, with all players present and connected to the game via a LAN network.

Online Event 

An esports event which takes place remotely, with players connecting to the game via the internet from different locations around the world.

Overpowered (OP) 

A character, weapon or ability in a game that is considered by many to be too powerful and in need of nerfing (being weakened by the game developer).

Pick and Ban 

The period before the match where both teams decide which characters/heroes/champions/maps they would like to play and which they want to ban from the game so the opposing team cannot pick them.

Perk 

The unique characteristics (abilities and powers) of a character within a game.

Playoffs 

Type of competition played after the end of a league’s regular season or after the group stages of a standalone tournament to determine the league/tournament champion.

Prize Pool 

The total amount of money that is distributed across all winners in a tournament. The majority of the prize pool amount will go to the winning team but teams that come second, third or lower may also receive a prize.

Player vs. Player (PvP) 

A game in which players compete against other players. Opposite of Player vs. Computer.

Random Number Generator (RNG) 

A programming algorithm built into some games that generates random numbers for variables within the game, for example certain events happening (like finding a rare item) or for determining how abilities or weapons affect opponents’ characters.

Regular Season

The main scheduled league competition for an esport in a specific region (e.g. North America). During the regular season, all teams in the league will play a group tournament. At the end of the regular season, the top teams will then enter the playoffs to find the outright winner. In most esports, there are two regular seasons per year – Spring and Summer.

Respawn 

A character reappearing in the game after having been killed.

Roster 

The line-up of players that a team will be fielding for a season or for a particular event.

Rush 

When a player/team attacks the other player/team quickly and causes as much damage as possible before the opposing player/team can react and defend themselves.

Skillshot 

Casting an ability with precise aim and timing to hit an enemy. Because of the skill involved in hitting a skillshot, a player who has a high skillshot rate is seen as a very good player.

Skins 

In-game cosmetic items that can be purchased by the player and used to change the appearance of a character or their weapons. They are purely aesthetic and do not affect a character/weapon’s performance in the game. Some skins are very rare and can be very valuable, and some players/esports followers use them as currency for gambling on games.

Spam 

When a player repeatedly uses the same action or item against an opponent.

Spawn 

The entrance of a player (or weapon/item) into the game arena/map at the beginning of a game.

Split 

A specific part of the overall season. A full season (year) is usually divided into two ‘splits’ – Spring and Summer (each of which contains a regular season and playoffs, plus an outright champion).

Stack/Stacking 

When a group of players work together to attack the opposing team or to defend a base.

Streamer

A streamer is someone that plays games and shares their screen online so others can view them playing. Popular streaming platforms include Twitch, Facebook, and YouTube.

Support 

A role/position of a player in an esport team that plays characters, or a in a style, that helps teammates.

Tank 

A tough and resilient character who can take a lot of damage. The character is used to lead attacks and to also shield other team members from attacking forces.

Twitch 

A popular live streaming platform that gamers use to watch and broadcast esports competitions.

Ultimate 

A character’s most powerful ability. When used at the right time, it could help win the game for a team.

Vision 

How much a character (and the player controlling it) can see.

XP (Experience Points)

Mostly used in RPG, MOBA, and MMORPG-style games, XP are points that are scored upon completing certain actions throughout the game (e.g. killing creeps/minions). Hitting certain XP levels allows a player’s character to level up (gain new abilities, powers, or weapons).

Zoning 

A tactical move that forces the opposing players into a particular area where they cannot escape or that is advantageous to you to get the kill.

Game types

Battle Royale (BR)

A type of online multiplayer game in which a large number of players compete. The objective is to eliminate all other opponents to become the last player (or team) standing.

Fighting Games 

Video games involving close combat over a number of rounds. Character’s physically fight each other until their opponent has been defeated or time runs out. Popular titles in this genre include Tekken and Mortal Kombat.

First-Person Shooter (FPS) 

Combat video games that are played from the viewpoint of the character the players are controlling (first-person perspective). Examples include Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, VALORANT, and Rainbow Six: Siege.

Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMO)

An online game with hundreds or even thousands of players, who can compete against each other and interact with each other.

Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) 

An online role-playing style video game with hundred or even thousands of players who can compete against and interact with each other. Each player controls a character who has to undertake a quest within the game world. The games are based in a world which continues to evolve and be developed. Popular MMORPG titles include World of Warcraft and EverQuest.

Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) 

An online strategy-based video game in which two teams of players compete against each other on a battlefield (map). The objective for each team is to destroy the other’s main structure/base before theirs is destroyed. Each player controls a character with its own unique abilities. Popular MOBA titles include League of Legends and Dota 2.

Online Collectible Card Games (OCCG) 

Much like traditional Collectible Card Games, players collect and trade cards online. They then do battle with each other using their cards with the aim of reducing their opponent’s health points to zero before their own is depleted.

Real-Time Strategy (RTS)

An online video game genre in which players control entire armies of characters, rather than just one character. The games are also viewed from a bird’s-eye perspective, rather than from a first-person perspective. All players make strategic moves at the same time, rather than taking turns to make moves.

Role-Playing Game (RPG) 

A game in which players choose a character and undertake a quest within the game world. RPG’s can be played in real-life (much like a board game) or can be played online. Examples include Dungeons and Dragons and World of Warcraft.

Game Names

Call of Duty 

A first-person shooter (FPS) game first published by Activision in 2003, but with many sequels released since. The game is set in a warzone with players controlling a character that works with other players or computer-controlled characters to complete missions.

Counter-Strike Global Offensive (CS:GO) 

A multiplayer first-person Shooter game released by Valve in 2012. Two teams - Terrorists and Counter-Terrorists - play against each other across different objective-based game modes. Matches have 30 rounds and at the end of each round, players are rewarded for good performance with in-game money to spend on weapons in future rounds.

Defense of the Ancients (Dota 2) 

A MOBA game published by Valve in 2013. There are two teams of five players, and each team’s objective is to destroy the other’s Ancient (located in their base). Each player chooses and controls a ‘hero’, and throughout the game they work to level up by collecting XP and gold.

Hearthstone 

An online collectible card game, created by Blizzard Entertainment. There are two players in the game and each player has a hero with a unique power. The goal is to reduce the health of the other player’s hero to zero by taking it in turns to play a card (either a minion, spell, weapon, or hero card) from their deck.

King of Glory 

A MOBA mobile game released by Tencent in 2015. Two teams play against each other with the ultimate objective of destroying the other team’s base (Core Building) before the other team destroys theirs. During the game, players work to level up their characters by killing NPC characters and taking out enemy structures.

League of Legends (LoL) 

A MOBA game, published by Riot Games in 2009. There are two teams of five players and they battle each other over different maps, with the ultimate objective of destroying the other team’s Nexus before they defeat theirs. Each player chooses a champion to play as and during the game champions collect gold and XP in order to level up.

Overwatch 

An online multi-player, first-person shooter game published by Blizzard Entertainment in 2016. There are two teams of six players who work to complete map-specific, combat-based objectives across a number of game modes (maps). Each player chooses from a selection of heroes (each of which has its own unique abilities) to play as.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG)

An online multiplayer battle royale game published by PUBG Corporation. In the game, up to 100 players compete (either individually or in groups of up to four) in a last-man-standing battle across one of four maps. Players begin with no tools or weapons and have to search the map for items that will help them survive and ultimately win.

Rainbow Six Siege (R6) 

An online FPS game, first published by Ubisoft in 2015. Players choose a character from either the attacking or defending side and work towards outsmarting the opposing team and completing their in-game objective, which can include defusing a bomb or rescuing hostages.

Rocket League (RL) 

A soccer-themed video game, first published by Psyonix in 2015. The big difference to most soccer-themed games is that players control rocket-powered cars instead of animated human footballers. Teams of eight players use the cars to hit the ball into the opposing team’s goal. The team with the highest score at the end of the match wins.

Starcraft 2 

An RTS game published by Blizzard Entertainment. Players can choose from three forces: Terran, Zerg, and Protoss. The player’s objective of the game is to eliminate the enemy’s structures and units using their chosen fighting force.

Starcraft Broodwar 

An RTS game published by Blizzard Entertainment and Saffire. It is an expansion of the original Starcraft game and set before the Starcraft sequel, Starcraft 2. The player has to pick a force (either Terran, Zerg, and Protoss) and then has to work to construct a base, increase their military resources, and ultimately eliminate their opponent’s base.

VALORANT (VAL) 

A team-based FPS game published by Riot Games in 2020. Teams are assigned as either the attacking or defending side, with each player taking control over an agent, each of which has unique abilities. The attacking team’s objective is to plant and detonate the Spike (bomb), while the defending team’s objective is to stop this happening.

Warcraft 3 

A fantasy-themed RTS game published by Blizzard Entertainment in 2002. It can be played in single-player or multiplayer mode. The player chooses a faction (Human, Orcs, or Night Elves of the Undead) to control, and the objective is to train that faction and collect resources in order to undertake missions and ultimately defeat the enemy.

World of Tanks 

A MMO game published by Wargaming. A player chooses an armoured tank to control (movement and firing) on the map. Their objective is to eliminate all other opposing vehicles or capture the opposing team's base.

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About the author

Kristian Medina
Kristian is a writer & videographer for Pinnacle Esports having studied English Language & Media at De Montfort University. He's the go-to guy when it comes to League of Legends.
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