Competitive video gaming (or the term "e-sports" which I happen to strongly dislike) has been massively growing in popularity in recent years. This is largely due to an influx of new titles and a shift of focus by the companies to the competitive multiplayer aspect of their games. For example, Riot Games has recently become intimately involved in the competitive scene for League of Legends, which has typically been the most played PC game in the past year or two.

So why else has this rise in popularity gone up so exponentially? One of the reasons I propose is that the games that are becoming popular are significantly easier to play than the competitive games of the past. Please note that this is in no way a negative feature in my eyes, I'm merely stating what I think is a result of improved gaming engines and technology. Therefore, it is easier to bring in new players, more people will understand the game and its concepts, and viewership of tournaments and competitions will increase, solely by the nature of a more educated audience (players of the game). Unfortunately, one of the things you lose with a game that is easier to get started with is that overwhelming dominance that can be achieved by someone who is an absolute master of the game.

However, this list doesn't focus on how easy the game is to get into. Instead, I plan to talk about the games with the highest skillcap. This means that this list will focus more on older games rather than newer titles. Defining what I mean by skillcap can be difficult. It's more complex than listing games that are the hardest to master. We need a term that is more encompassing of skillcap. Therefore I want to propose a definition for skillcap as "the number of levels of ownage". For example, let's look at Call of Duty. Someone that is an expert probably won't get touched by a mid level player. A mid level player probably won't get touched by a noob who has just started playing. Therefore, in CoD there are "three levels of ownage". This is not a particularly high skillcap game as a result. For the rest of the list, I will look at games with many layers of ownage, games where there are MANY steps to go from a novice to a professional.

Also please note I will be mainly focusing on games that have at least achieved some level of popularity.

No list of competitive games would be complete without a mention of the huge subsection of video games that is sports. Football, "The beautiful game", is arguably the most popular sport on a global scale. This is also true for sports video games, as the FIFA franchise has outsold Madden in total sales (although it is very close).

Popularity aside, the simple fact of the matter is that the FIFA games have been played to the greatest extent in global video game tournaments. Acquiring some level of skill at the FIFA games requires a decent amount of effort, but to truly rise to the top one needs to both truly understand both the mechanics of the video game and have an internal grasp on the intricacies of football strategy. Therefore, it is quite fair to say there are multiple levels of ownage within FIFA at a competitive level. The best players in the world will win against a lower level player almost 100% of the time.

I wasn't sure which edition of the FIFA franchise to include in the list, since competition basically moves to the newest edition each year. Therefore, as a way of dating this list, I chose the most recent edition of the FIFA franchise as well.

You knew this list was going to have this game. People with no knowledge of competitive gaming will scoff at this choice, and to be honest at one point I would have as well. But research into SSBM has shown me that SSBM, while easier in some aspects to other fighting games, also contains some mechanics that just don't exist elsewhere.

I think there are two things that are very important to note when differentiating between SSBM and other fighting games. First, SSBM combos are much more situational than other fighting games. What I mean by this is, depending on the other players health, the combo has varying effectiveness. Secondly, each level in SSBM need to be abused and used differently. This isn't just two people facing off facing each other in a hallway type battle. The maps for SSBM have many levels, different effects, and different powerups that require complete knowledge of each possibility.

So yes, SSBM is made for "casual" gamers primarily, but this doesn't change the fact that people have managed to create ridiculous levels of ownage within such a simple game. It's a testament to the skill of humans that such ridiculous levels of skill can be reached for such a simple game.

In many communities, MOBA style games are looked at with a type of derision. "Oh you only have to play with one guy who has only 3 or 4 actual spells." Yes, this is true, but in no way does this make the game easy or non-complex. MOBA games as a whole might require the best team communication in any competitive video game.

Of course, the reason I picked Dota 2 ahead of games like HoN and LoL has to be examined. While all three games follow similar concepts, the actual skill required for perfect execution is much higher in Dota 2. (I would like to also give a shout to the original Dota, which I personally prefer.) Dota is much less forgiving than LoL or HoN, and messing up a spell or miscommunication with your team can result in death much more easily.

It's true to say that the overall solo mechanics of MOBA games are not as complex or as difficult as many games, however, the skillcap for team strategy is basically limitless. A professional DOTA team from China will basically wreck anyone in their path, creating the highest level in the levels of ownage.

Although I was trying to limit the list to one game per genre, in a number of genres there are different types of games that I think make it valid for me to have two on the same list. For RTS games, Warcraft III involves elements that are not part of a game that is higher on this list, while leaving out other elements.

One of the defining features of WC3 is the presence of heroes. Without utilizing heroes properly, one can never hope to win a game of WC3. Furthermore, there is the concept of creeping, where a player takes his army with a hero out onto the map to kill neutral enemies in order to gain levels for his heroes.

As a result of these features, the micromanagement skillcap for WC3 is basically endless. The best, top-tier WC3 players are able to win battles without taking much damage at all, moving their units out of the line of fire at the perfect time.

While the macromanagement aspect of WC3 is significantly less complex than that of the other RTS game on this list, that doesn't change the fact that WC3 involves many levels of ownage. This can be seen by the absolute dominance shown by past WC3 professionals like Grubby and Moon.

Ah.... MMORPGs. Probably something you wouldn't expect to see on a list with high skillcaps. And let me tell you, if EVE didn't exist you probably wouldn't. Games like WoW that just require grinding have no relevance on a list like this. However, EVE is different.

EVE is incredibly complex, just to learn enough about the game to be considered useful, one needs to spend weeks learning the rules and mechanics. Maybe playing it at the top level doesn't involve playing extremely fast, but what it DOES involve is extreme levels of quick thinking, calling out orders, and good decision making, especially when one is leading a corporation.

I don't want to get into to much detail describing the game itself, but it takes a huge level of skill to get to the point where one has a lot of power in the EVE online universe. It's a complicated task running a corporation! And this game involves all the skills necessary, and then some.

I suppose this is a bit of a "hipster" pick for this list, as this game isn't as well known on a global scale. Typically, TPS games aren't seen as being games with a high skillcap (I'm looking at you, Gears). However, GunZ shatters those expectations to a ridiculous degree.

To play this game at the highest level with the best technique, "Korean Style (aka K-Style)", one needs to have extremely fast fingers to key in the commands quickly enough. GunZ is something that needs to be seen to believed, as the skillcap really is most apparent in the games movement system. This involves wall running, mid air flips and dodges, and all those other techniques pesky bots seem to be able to do in games while you stand there looking silly.

This game is not the prettiest of games. That doesn't change the fact that it is incredibly fun, and ridiculously hard to become even semi-competent. There are definitely levels of ownage to this game, good luck winning against someone who is so skilled that they can manage infinite wall running.

Counterstrike, especially CS 1.6, while not being as fast as a number of other FPS games, still has an exceptionally high skillcap. The team aspect of CS makes it significantly more complicated than many other FPS, as one person on their own isn't very useful. So not only does CS require perfect aiming and execution, but it requires one to work well in a team environment.

Specific features that really raise the skillcap in CS is understanding the different kickback/recoil of each weapon, managing money for purchasing weapons, and formulating team strategies. Like the highest level FPS games, knowledge and memorization of each map is essential for mastering the game.

A well built team with high level players are many levels of ownage above someone just starting out joining a public server. CS definitely deserves a spot on this list. Some have argued that CS should be #1 on such a list, but there's no way I can justify that when looking at the next 3 titles on the list.

I have to admit somewhat of a level of ignorance with respect to fighting games, since I've never been a huge fan of them myself. However, that doesn't mean I can't respect the huge amount of dedication that goes into mastering these games.

Without boring you with technical terms like "frame data", suffices to say there exists people at the top level of fighting games that can make decisions that require absolutely PERFECT timing. I'm talking 1/10 of a second. There are people to this day that are studying combos in Street Fighter 2, and that came out over a decade ago.

I also have to defend why I put this game (and basically the genre) at number 3 rather than 2 or 1. One of the main reasons is that I feel that the skillset in fighting games is slightly more transferable to other fighting games than is the case between, say, Counterstrike and the number 2 entry.

Apologies to the fighting games fans that want to see other titles like Guilty Gear and Virtua Fighter. They definitely are at a similar level to the old Street Fighter games. Either way, if someone is well practiced in a fighting games, a noobie like myself won't land a hit on that person. I speak from experience. The necessity of perfect timing for combos and linking creates a large number of levels of ownage, which potentially are much more obvious than the games prior to this on the list.

Just as an apology to some of the FPS elitists that may be reading this list, there are a number of classic FPS games I wanted to include, but there are enough similarities between many of them, and I wanted to encompass a number of genres in this list. Therefore, sorry Tribes fans and Unreal fans. Halo and CoD fans... I'm not sorry.

Quake is a whole different sort of game than CS. While CS one has a team to fall back on, Quake you're on your own. Also, Quake is fast and requires absolutely flawless aiming and split second decision making. I wish I could include Quakeworld on this list, but I'll let Q3A represent the Quake series as a whole. Think of this entry as CPMA (Challenge ProMode Arena, a Quake III mod).

Seriously, watch some quakeworld videos on youtube. At the highest level, the top tier players know each map down to the pixel. They can figure out exactly where their opponents will be at all times. If you have never played Quake and you go up against someone who knows the game, you won't touch your opponent. The game is so fast paced you'll be dead without knowing what hit you. This makes it clear that there are significant levels of ownage in Quake (especially QuakeWorld, the competitive mod for the original Quake). Just watch this video, take note how ridiculously fast paced it is: http://youtu.be/rxpIyAFv6Lo

There was never any question that this game was going to be number 1 on this list. Starcraft:BW (which I will refer to as BW from here on out) is a game of immense complexity and depth. It requires multitasking at a ridiculous degree, fast hands, and precise movements.

There is an entire industry in South Korea built solely around Starcraft, with professional teams and leagues sponsored by telecommunication companies and airlines. And on these teams are the experts of Starcraft, practising over 12 hours a day 7 days a week. And with all this practise, these progamers have achieved levels of expertise not thought possible in video games.

There are MANY levels of ownage in Starcraft. The top tier players of Starcraft, Flash, Nada, Jaedong, etc., these players have a layer of ownage over the mid level players on their teams. These mid-tier players will have another layer over the practise partners on the team. This is three levels of ownage, just within the professional level in South Korea. When combined with the professionals from other countries ("foreigners", which is any Starcraft player who isn't South Korean), there is at least 10 levels of ownage.

With a game as complex as Starcraft, there are constantly evolving strategies, and basically an infinite room for growth and improvement. The fastest professional Starcraft players can play at 500 APM (actions per minute). That is unbelievably fast. Just search for APM videos on youtube. When one is managing an economy, building an army, controlling each member of the army, and managing production of this army, to reach one's full potential takes an excruciating amount of work. And this is why there can't be any game but BW at the top of this list.

I should mention StarCraft 2, since the Korean scene has completely switched over to SC2 (for the most part). While still a complex game, the dumbed down mechanics of Starcraft 2 make the levels of ownage much lower than in BW. This is basically objective fact, it's hard to argue that SC2 has a higher skill cap than BW. I didn't want to include multiple games from a series, else you would probably see SC2 on this list as well.

It's important to note that this list is very subjective and debatable. It also left out some important games in order to have a variety of different types of games. The main problem with my definition of skillcap is that it is definitely biased towards games that have had greater exposure. Often, these games weren't intended to have such a skillcap, but through players playing games en masse, techniques were discovered to create increasing numbers of levels of ownage.

Therefore, this list is very prone to change as new games come out and more and more techniques are discovered. Think of this list as a tribute to games past, that rocked the competitive video gaming world and helped bring the industry to where it is today.

Oh and one last thing. The skillcaps on these games are nothing compared to Go.

List by MindyK (05/29/2013)

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