ESL (company)

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ESL Horizontal Logo 2019.svg
FormerlyDeutsche Clanliga
Electronic Sports League
GamePC and console video games
Owner(s)Modern Times Group (82%)

ESL, formerly known as Electronic Sports League, is an esports organizer and production company that produces video game competitions worldwide. ESL was the world's largest esports company in 2015,[1] and the oldest that is still operational.[2] Based in Cologne, Germany, ESL has eleven offices and multiple international TV studios globally. ESL is the largest esports company to broadcast on Twitch.[3][4]


ESL's logo prior to February 2019

The Electronic Sports League launched in the year 2000 as the successor of the Deutsche Clanliga, which was founded in 1997.[5] The company began with an online gaming league and a gaming magazine. It also rented out servers for game competitions.[1]

In 2015, ESL's Intel Extreme Masters Katowice was at the time, the most watched esports event in history.[6] The event had more than 100,000 in attendance and Twitch viewership was over one million.[7]

In July 2015, Modern Times Group (MTG) bought a 74 percent stake in ESL from its parent company, Turtle Entertainment, for $86 million.[8][9][10][11] That same month, ESL announced its participation in "esports in Cinema," which would broadcast live esports events to over 1,500 movie theaters across the globe. Esports in Cinema included Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive coverage from ESL One Cologne 2015 and ESL One New York,[12] as well as a documentary, "All Work All Play," which follows the rise of esports and highlights pro gamers as they work toward the Intel Extreme Masters World Championship.[13]

After a player publicly admitted Adderall use following ESL One Katowice 2015, ESL worked with the National Anti-Doping Agency and the World Anti-Doping Agency to institute an anti-drug policy.[14][15][16] It was the first international esports company to enforce anti-doping regulations.[17] Random tests for the drugs prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency were implemented for its events.[18][19] Punishments for the use of performance-enhancing drugs range from reduced prize money and tournament points to disqualification and a maximum two-year ban from ESL events.[20]

ESL worked with publisher Valve in August 2015 for ESL One Cologne 2015 at the Lanxess Arena where 16 teams competed in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.[9][21][22] ESL implemented randomized drug testing at the event.[23] All tests came back negative.[24] The tournament had over 27 million viewers,[14][25] making it the largest and most-watched CS:GO tournament at that time.[26]

In October 2015, ESL held a Dota 2 championship at Madison Square Garden Theater.[1] That same month, ESL partnered with ArenaNet to produce ESL Guild Wars 2 Pro League, which is one of seven official ESL Pro Leagues.[27]

ESL held its 10th arena event in November 2015 at the SAP Center in San Jose, California.[1] The event had over 10 million viewers through Twitch[28] and was the largest Counter-Strike event in America at that time.[29] ESL partnered with Activision for the 2016 Call of Duty World League for the World League's Pro Division.[30]

In November 2015, ESL announced its acquisition of the E-Sports Entertainment Association (ESEA), promoters of the ESEA League, after previous collaborations: ESL uses the ESEA anti-cheat system for the ESL CS:GO Pro League.[31] The ESEA platform is used for ESL events as well as offline finals.[32] As of July 2016, ESL is a member of the Esports Integrity Coalition (ESIC), a non-profit members' association to maintain integrity in professional esports.[33] In 2017, ESL partnered with Mercedes-Benz for Hamburg DOTA 2 Major.[34]

In March 2021, ESL announced a partnership with 1xBet.[35]


ESL hosts competitions around the globe, partnering with publishers such as Blizzard Entertainment,[5][36][37] Riot Games, Valve, Microsoft, Wargaming and multiple others to facilitate thousands of gaming competitions annually.[38] ESL competitors are supported on both national and international levels. Some of their more notable competitions include the following:

ESL Play[edit]

ESL Play is the world's leading platform for esports. It provides tournaments and ladders across all games and skill levels. ESL Open, the first cup on the league ladder, is open to everyone, including beginners. ESL Major competitions have entry requirements and winning on this level is required to earn a spot in ESL Pro competition. However, ESL Major also contains Go4 Cups, which are free tournaments that are open to everyone. Tournaments at this level require prior qualification.

ESL National Championships[edit]

ESL National Championships are region-specific ESL Pro competitions held in various countries. ESL Meisterschaft, the German championship, began in 2002 and is the oldest esports league in existence.[39] The ESL UK Premiership, another regional esports program, has been ESL's largest regional tournament since 2010. National Championships are established in order to spread local esports competition around the world.[40]

ESL National Championships are held for Battlefield 4, Counter-Strike, Dota 2, Halo, Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, Mortal Kombat, Smite, StarCraft II, World of Tanks, and Rainbow Six.

ESL Pro Tour[edit]

The ESL Pro Tour is a year-round circuit that uses a ranking system for qualification to a major championship event.

As of 2020, ESL hosts three titles for the ESL Pro Tour: Counter-Strike, StarCraft II and WarCraft III.[41] The two major championship events for those titles are IEM Katowice 2021 (for the three titles) and ESL One Cologne 2020 (for Counter-Strike only).

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ESL One Cologne was held online in August 2020.[42]

ESL One[edit]

ESL One logo

ESL One refers to premier offline tournaments across a variety of games,[43] like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive[44][45] and Dota 2, and are usually considered among the most prestigious events for each game.[46] ESL One events are often selected to be part of the Valve-sponsored CS:GO Major series. The ESL Counter-Strike Majors have been: EMS One Katowice 2014, ESL One Cologne 2014, ESL One Katowice 2015, ESL One Cologne 2015, ESL One Cologne 2016, IEM Katowice 2019, and ESL One Rio 2020. As of December 2019, ESL has hosted six of the fourteen Valve Major tournaments.

Intel Extreme Masters[edit]

IEM logo

The Intel Extreme Masters is the world's longest-running global esports tournament series.[47]

ESL Technology[edit]

ESL created the ESL Wire Anti Cheat software to combat online cheating in the increasingly competitive field.[48] In 2015, ESL enhanced its tournament software by integrating Wargaming's "Battle API" into its tournaments. The API makes player and game data available through the API application.[49] That same year, ESL released ESL Matchmaking which uses ESL's API to match competitors based on skill.[50][51] Microsoft worked with ESL to create an Xbox app to use the ESL tournament system through Xbox Live on Xbox One in 2016.[52]


AnyKey is a diversity initiative created by ESL and Intel to include underrepresented members of the gaming community in competitions including women, LGBTQ people and people of color.[53][54] AnyKey is made up of two teams for research and implementation.[55][56] AnyKey has researched and implemented a code of conduct, which aims to address an inclusion policy for esports events and online broadcasts and the harassment issues underrepresented populations face. It has also created and hosted women's tournaments. The two teams continue to research and implement inclusion in the gaming community.[57]


In 2017, ESL partnered with Hulu to produce four esports series (Player v. Player, Bootcamp, Defining Moments and ESL Replay).[58]


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