‘The globe as a playing field’: Introducing GeoGuessr esports

Globe with locations shutterstock
Image via: Shutterstock

What is an esport? If it is ‘competition in video games’, like Cambridge Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary and Dictionary.com say, then it leaves a very wide margin for interpretation.

We are all familiar with ‘real’ esports, such as League of Legends or CS:GO, but what about the unusual and downright weird choices for competition, such as Farming Simulator, Microsoft Excel — or GeoGuessr?

If you were to ask Mikael Falgard, Co-founder and Head of the GeoGuessr World Cup, the answer would be something like: “why not GeoGuessr?”

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If you are not familiar with GeoGuessr, it’s a web browser game that uses data from Google Street View to place the player in a random geographical area. The player then has to guess where the location is, and scores points depending on how accurate their guess was. The game has become a favourite of streamers and content creators since its launch in 2013, seeing a particular boom during the COVID-19 pandemic-era growth of livestreaming.

Its continued popularity, and the increased level of skill by players, led the development team to think outside the box and stage the first-ever GeoGuessr World Cup, set to take place in Stockholm, Sweden on October 13th-14th.

Falgard told Esports Insider that the GeoGuessr community has been competing and arranging third-party tournaments for years, and the possibility of creating an official tournament had been considered for a while. However, due to the nature of the game, it is actually much harder to create an esports mode than one might think, he said.

The main challenge is the fact not everyone plays the game in the same way. Falgard highlighted that game modes, settings, mods and teams can be different from region to region, so they needed to make a new mode of competing that can be used by everyone.

“The biggest challenge has been to scope the event down so we don’t try to do too much this first year. We want to deliver a great event and with a lot of unknowns I think it’s important to keep focus and do everything in small steps, and do them really well,” Falgard added. 

“Next year I want to add open qualifiers, maybe a team competition, and many other things, but in order to do so I think we need to prove that we can deliver a successful event this year, and in doing so — we’ll add credibility to GeoGuessr as an esport.”

The best GeoGuessrs from around the world

GeoGuessr World Cup Esports
Image credit: GeoGuessr

Watching a person that is very good at GeoGuessr can be a hypnotising experience. There is something indescribably fascinating about being virtually placed on a random road and knowing it exists, somewhere, in a remote part of the world. Watching this take place, and especially listening to players describe the details of the scene, is what makes GeoGuessr unusual and interesting. This is exactly what Falgard and the team want to bring to the World Cup, with the help of experienced commentators and GeoGuessr experts.

Falgard said that the esports event’s talent team will include a mix of experienced play-by-play commentators, and ‘GeoGuessr wizards’ that will guide the audience and explain the different types of clues, or ‘tells’ in the world. These clues help players quickly identify what region they’re in in the world, such as Eastern Europe or Central Africa.

As for format, Falgard detailed that the event will feature 24 competitors competing in 1v1 duels. The first day (October 13th) of the tournament will utilise a group stage round-robin format with four groups. The winner of each group goes through to the next stage, with second and third having to go through a qualification round.

The final day (October 14th) will feature a single elimination bracket to crown the first GeoGuessr champion at the Space Arena in Stockholm, which Falgard confidently claims will happen “in front of hundreds of passionate fans.”

Maps, game settings, and other crucial information regarding the setup of the tournament will be shared with the players and the public at the same time closer to the event.

Considering that the tournament is called the World Cup, Falgard said that the aim is to have as many nationalities as possible. Since this is the event’s inaugural edition, there will undoubtedly be multiple players from the same country, but the selection process will still look to make sure that the best possible matches are being played. In the future, the GeoGuessr team plans to create regional qualifiers to have as varied of an event as possible.

Apart from the players, a number of GeoGuessr content creators will also take part in the event. Falgard told Esports Insider that the GeoGuessr team is in the process of ironing out details on how to involve as many creators as possible from across the world. Since not everyone can be in Stockholm for the LAN finals, the team aims to enlist content creators to raise the tournament’s profile.

The event has the opportunity to be one of the more intriguing, even if not the biggest, esports spectacles of 2023, while showcasing that GeoGuessr can be a skillful competitive endeavour.

The beauty of the game, Falgard said — and one of its strategic advantages — lies in the fact that it is interesting to almost everyone, be it gamers, their parents, coworkers, or people who have absolutely no interest in gaming whatsoever. Its simple, real-world, geography-based premise is timeless, easily understood and has broad appeal.

GeoGuessr aims to share that thrill with as many people as possible, while also giving them the opportunity to compete and showcase their skills in the game. If the tournament goes well, the team hopes to continue developing GeoGuessr esports. Just how far its esports scene can go is anyone’s guess.

Ivan Šimić
Ivan comes from Croatia, loves weird simulator games, and is terrible at playing anything else. Spent 5 years writing about tech and esports in Croatia, and is now doing it here.