What is the Difference Between an Esports League VS an Esports Tournament?

In the esports industry, there are several different styles of organizing tournaments. There are so many different tournament formats and more are being created to better suit the new types of genres, an excellent example of this are battle royale games and their widely adopted point-based format.

But even beyond tournament formats, there are esports leagues and esports tournaments. Although both may seem interchangeable, they both have key distinctions that change the experience for tournament participants.

Let’s talk about those differences and which one would better suit your objective.

What is an Esports Tournament

An esports tournament is a competition using a specific video game to determine a victor. Tournaments are composed of many teams or individuals depending on the tournament’s format, rule and the game being used.

These tournaments tend to be completed between a few hours to a few days, with 2 days usually being the longer tournaments. They consist of very linear, straight-forward formats that transition into each other. For example, a tournament may start off as 8 groups of 5 players in a round-robin then pulling the top 2 players based on win/loss ratio into a 16-man double elimination that will play out to determine the victor based on who was not eliminated.

This is a schedule for the LC PUBG Mobile Open 3 at Lambton College (which is a tournament). Notice how the event only spans for a few hours.

What is an Esports League

An esports league is technically a different form of esports tournament, but the terms do not mean the same thing. An esports league happens over the span of weeks, where competition is played in small parts in a routinely fashion.

In esports leagues, generally a player will play another player at random every several days, typically once a week, to accumulate either points or a win/loss ratio. The league can be divided into divisions where players are only able to play against other players of their division or the league can have no divisions and leave the player to potential to play any player in the competition.

The accumulation of points or a win/loss ratio can continue for as long as the tournament organizer desires or until all possible matchups are exhausted. Afterwards, the league will transition into any standard tournament format. Typically, a league would transition into a single-elimination or occasionally double-elimination format, but the event organizer is not limited to those options.

This is a schedule for the Ontario Online PUBG Mobile Series (OOPS)’s Duos league. Notice how the league spans over several weeks and games are played at different times over the weeks.

What are the Differences

As you can see, all esports leagues are esports tournaments, but not all esports tournaments are esports leagues. The main distinction between the two is its duration, with a league generally being run over the span of several weeks while an esports tournament is played at most for a few days. Another difference is that a tournament plays a lot more games during its duration while leagues tend to play a small number of games per week.

Not to mention the difference of terminology. If you were to divide an esports tournament into different groups, they are called “pools” or “groups”. Meanwhile, in an esports league when teams or players are divided into different groups, they are called “divisions”. Similarly, if everyone played each other in an esports tournament, this is referred to as a “round-robin”, but in esports leagues this does not have a name.

Speaking of playing against everyone, an esports league has a randomness factor wherein most leagues each player will not play against every other player, therefore a player who faces less skilled players has a higher chance to move forward in a tournament even if they do not deserve it. Some tournaments account for this and include a factor that gives you points based on the opponent’s win/loss ratio, such as the Overwatch Open Division, although that system has a handful of its own problems.

Lastly, an esports league tends to provide each player with more overall games than an esports tournament. Although this is not always the case, it is very common since in an esports league players will keep playing routinely until the league transitions into another tournament format. At the same time, an esports league allows you to handle and get rid of a lot more teams or players effectively through a league over a tournament.

When Should You Run an Esports League Over an Esports Tournament

If your entire tournament is an in-person competition, the first thing to consider is your venue. Are you planning on bringing players back on a weekly basis to come and play? Consider the associated costs, resources and setup times. This is usually not a good idea unless you own the venue or are doing it in a free and easily accessible venue, such as a university building. In the case where it is not, a tournament will be your best bet.

You could run the league aspect of your tournament online and transition to a tournament format to be completed one day in-person. This is very common amongst esports leagues, but the main thing to consider is your tournament’s size. How many players will move forward from your league and how long would that make the remainder of the tournament on the day of. Likewise, if you have too many players, a league is a great way to filter out people for the day of your event.

For the LC PUBG Mobile Open 3, we provided food to all our participants and focused our tournament around building a community. We could not afford to provide food each week, and achieving that goal through 1-2 hours of gameplay a week would be much more difficult. That is why this event benefits to be a tournament over a league.

If you are running your tournament completely online, you will need to consider the timeframe you would need to complete your entire tournament. It is much more common to have a league into an esports tournament as an online-only tournament because it lets players find a time in their day to play a game or two. Meanwhile, as a tournament may last several hours, people may get off from exhaustion or due to other things in their area, and as a result this will hurt the overall outcome of your tournament.

At the end of the day, it really comes down to how long you want to run your tournament and how opting into a league will benefit your overall competition.


To provide a quick recap, the differences between an esports league and an esports tournament are its duration, the terminology, leagues have a bit more of a randomness factor to them and leagues are better equipped to handle a large number of players.

Regardless of what format you decide to use, ensuring the fairness of competition for all participants and creating an enjoyable experience for everyone will determine the success of your competition regardless of it being a league or tournament.