What are the most popular Counter-Strike esports events?

PGL csgo event red
Image credit: PGL

CS:GO is one of the most popular esports games in existence, owing to its long history, appealing format and the fact that it is easy to learn, but extremely hard to master. Throughout the years, certain events have come to stand apart from the rest as the most popular CS:GO events.

In this article, we’ve listed several of the game’s most iconic, popular events and describe what makes them unique for viewers. The popularity of the tournament is not strictly limited to viewers: it is a combination of history, innovation, the format itself and, of course, attendance and viewership (all viewership data is from Esports Charts).

While CS:GO will soon transition to Counter-Strike 2, the events listed below will likely continue to play a leading role in the scene’s esports ecosystem for years to come.

ESI Lisbon 2024

The Majors

CS:GO Majors are tournaments sponsored by the game’s developer, Valve, alongside a third-party tournament organisers, such as ESL, PGL, BLAST, or others. They usually take place twice a year. There have been 19 CS:GO Majors to date, with the last one taking place in May 2023 in Paris, France.

The Majors are viewed as the most popular and prestigious events in CS:GO, and traditionally attract the most viewers both in person and online. Unlike many closed CS:GO leagues like the ESL Pro League and BLAST Premier, the Majors are also open to any interested team through open-qualifier RMR (Regional Major Rankings) tournaments,.

The six most-viewed CS:GO events in history are all Majors. The most watched Major is the PGL Major Stockholm 2021, which attracted around 2.7m peak viewers. 

Majors are also special because of the esports-themed in-game stickers that are available for every tournament, and can be added to weapon skins. The stickers can only be bought during the tournaments. These esports in-game items provide revenue for teams and players, making Majors a valuable revenue stream for CS:GO teams who qualify.

Esports katowice trophy
The Katowice trophy. Image credit: ESL

IEM Katowice

The IEM Katowice tournament is one of the best-known standalone esports tournaments in the world, and has single-handedly helped put the Polish city of Katowice on the world esports map. The tournament’s popularity has even brought IT and technology companies to Katowice, improving the city’s economy.

The first edition of the IEM Katowice as we know it today took place in 2014, making it almost a decade old. The tournament usually takes place early in the year, and its finals are played in the Spodek Arena. IEM stands for Intel Extreme Masters, bearing the name of long-time sponsor Intel.

Katowice is regarded as one of the iconic CS:GO tournaments, and has grown from a smaller-scale event to a city-wide celebration of the game. Each edition includes conferences and other events following the CS:GO tournament. 

The most-watched IEM Katowice event took place in 2019, when it saw 1.2m peak viewers. The 2019 edition was also the last time that IEM Katowice hosted a CS:GO Major. IEM Katowice 2022, despite not being a Major, still managed to garner 1.1m peak viewers.

ESL One Cologne
CS:GO at the ESL One Cologne event in 2019, which Team Liquid won. Image credit: ESL / Helena Kristiansson

IEM Cologne

Similar to IEM Katowice, IEM Cologne is arguably an even more important CS:GO tournament, but for different reasons. ESL, the company behind the IEM series of tournaments, is based in Cologne and the tournament has grown to symbolise the development of both ESL and the CS:GO scene.

Played in the summer, the tournament started out as ESL One Cologne in 2014, the same as the Katowice tournament. The two tournaments are the staples of the CS:GO scene, and are played every year, while other tournaments in the IEM tour tend to change year to year. 

The tournament is often called the “Cathedral of Counter-Strike”, in reference to the Cologne Cathedral. The most popular edition of IEM Cologne was played in 2022, when the event saw 1.2m total peak viewers tune in. IEM Cologne 2021 saw 840,000 peak viewers.

dreamhack winter 2022
The crowd at DreamHack Winter 2022. Image credit: ESL / Gabriel Kulig

DreamHack Winter

The DreamHack series of events can hardly be summed into just one specific event, but if one had to choose, Jönköping, or DreamHack Winter, would probably be the best guess. The Swedish city of Jönköping has been hosting some of the world’s largest LAN parties since 2002, and among them one of the most popular CS:GO events as well. 

Although DreamHack events are not strictly CS:GO-focused, there has been a strong connection between CS:GO and DreamHack for the last 20 years. DreamHack Winter hosted some of the first Counter-Strike tournaments back in 2002, and saw the likes of Fnatic, Natus Vincere, Team LDLC and SK Gaming win titles.

After a hiatus of two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event is set to return in 2023, bringing its usual range of amateur LAN parties and top-tier esports events.

Image credit: BLAST Premier

The BLAST Premier circuit is a mainstay tournament series and one of the two main semi-franchised circuits in CS:GO. Founded by Danish company RFRSH Entertainment, BLAST was created as a twist on the established CS:GO tournament format. In the early editions of BLAST tournaments, under the name BLAST Pro Series, multiple teams played at the same time on the same stage and rotated depending on wins and losses, though the format has since changed.

The BLAST Premier circuit introduced permanent partner teams in its 2020 season, and as a result teams like Astralis, NaVi, Team Liquid and others are part of the circuit every year, joined by a select few open qualifier teams — essentially acting as a semi-franchised system.

The BLAST tournament circuit usually ends in December with the World Finals. The BLAST Premier World Final 2021 saw 730,000 peak viewers. In addition to its BLAST Premier circuit, BLAST also hosted the 2023 Paris Major, making it one of only a handful of tournament organisers to do so.

FaZe Clan winning ESL Pro League Season 17 finals
FaZe Clan winning ESL Pro League Season 17 Finals. Image credit: ESL

ESL Pro League

One of the oldest Counter-Strike leagues in the world, the ESL Pro League has been around since 2015 and is now entering its 18th season. The League is semi-franchised, meaning that 15 partner teams are joined by 17 qualified teams for a season that lasts around a month.

The league concludes with a LAN final tournament, the ESL Pro League Finals, that has been taking place on the Mediterranean island of Malta for the last several editions. The EPL Group Stage also takes place on LAN. The latest season, Season 17, saw a peak viewership of 530,000, though the Pro League’s viewership record goes to the Season 14 Finals which garnered a peak concurrent audience of 760,000.

The Pro League operates via the so-called Louvre Agreement, a contract signed between the 15 partner teams and ESL. The arrangement is similar to that adopted by BLAST Premier, the ESL Pro League’s main competitor in CS:GO.

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.