A Taxonomy of Esports Games

This is a guest post contributed by Logan McLaughlin, FanAI Research Lead

As esports continue to mature into the mainstream, we find ourselves having many conversations with our various clients on the topic of the ecosystem of games within the esports space. Often, this conversation starts with a discussion around types of games, and the defining characteristics of each genre of game.

Knowing how games are defined and situated within the landscape helps us then discuss how games within the same genre relate to each other. Once this education component is complete, we can then move on to the nuts and bolts of what it means to activate within esports.

Background on the taxonomy

The process in creating the taxonomy below was fairly straightforward. In collaboration with my colleagues at FanAI, we began by defining a working definition for esports. We have come to believe in a fairly all encompassing definition, one that is not constrained by perceived popularity of any given game.

Esports – Multi-participant competition in a video game that occurs in front of an audience, both digital via streaming and/or in-person at an event, with monetary stakes and prizes.

Next, we took a bottom up approach by starting with titles or genres and then worked backwards through sub genre and genre to get to top level categories that make sense. At the end of this process we had top level categories which in some cases contained several genres and other top level categories, most notably fighting games that we endeavored to divide into more specific subcategories.

I preface this explanation of our taxonomy with the context that the below model is primarily for education and discussion purposes. We haven’t so much set out to reinvent the wheel or claim to have invented new genres of games, we primarily set out to create an education tool to help bring our clients up to speed a bit faster than otherwise possible.

Additionally, the taxonomy below is situated within esports rather than within the entirety of gaming, thus the scope is limited to esports titles and those titles are organized within an esports context. To add additional clarity, we chose two or three representative game titles from each genre and placed them on the taxonomy. As such, the games listed below are not exhaustive within their respective genres.

Below we have included a list of definitions for all of the different game types and genres. These are the definitions and frameworks we used when thinking about these different games and constructing our taxonomy. Like all endeavors of codification these models are based on our own understandings of the space and the games therein, we are hoping this piece can serve as an educational asset to those unfamiliar with the space and as a conversation starter within the esports world as to how we define and codify types of games in a way that can be different than genre specific definitions.

Definitions of Terms

Strategy Games

RTS: Real Time Strategy
Games involving strategic play on a map with an isometric viewpoint that do not pause between actions, in most cases this involves controlling a collection of heroes, units, and production buildings while battling against one or more opponents.

MOBA: Multiplayer Online Battle Arena
Games similar in style to RTS games but pitting two teams of single unit heroes against one another. The object of most MOBAs is to destroy the opposing team’s base on the opposite corner of the map from your own.

Card And Deck Building Games
Games in which players assemble decks of cards and battle against one another, the distinction being that deck building games involve building a deck from a set number of cards during the battle phase whereas most battle card games allow players to come to the table with prebuilt decks.

Auto Battlers
Games in which players assemble armies of units from a pool and place them on a board. Unit position on the board as well as synergies between units then determine how battle plays out without any control or input form players.

Shooter Games

Class Based Shooters
Games in which teams are composed of characters possessing unique abilities, such as high health pools or healing abilities, that impart a tactical advantage.

BR: Battle Royale
Games in which individuals or groups of players fight a large quantity of opposing players in an open world, while relying on whatever weapons they can find.

Squad Based Shooters
Team based shooters wherein there is no distinction between individual player characters outside of weapons chosen at loadout.

Sports Games

Traditional Sports Simulators
Games meant to simulate a traditional sport such as football or soccer.

Racing Games
Games that simulate racing cars, ships, planes, etc.

Other Sports Simulators
Games with a decidedly sports aesthetic but that do not simulate a strictly traditional or existent sport.

Fighting Games

Iconic Fighting Games
Fighting games whose longevity and cultural significance make them iconic within the genre.

Anime Fighting Games
Fighting games that usually fall into a 2-d graphical style inspired by anime, these games also usually feature over the top combo and finisher animations.

Niche Fighting Games
Fighting games with smaller audiences or unique mechanics that differentiate them from main series titles.

Platform Fighting Games
Fighting games wherein the goal is to knock opposing players off a platform.

Role Playing Games

RPG: Role Playing Game
Games wherein a player takes control of a character within a fictional world and plays out an in depth scenario, these types of games often hyrbidize with other genres making them hard to define, but character progression through means of point allocation is a common element

Battle RPG
Roleplaying games defined by creating a party or team of various characters and training them for battle against other player’s teams.

MMORPG: Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games
Class based roleplaying games wherein many players interact with, quest, and go on adventures in the same world, often times relying on each other to reach goals such as clearing dungeons or defeating boss monsters.

MMORPG PVP: Player Versus Player
Content competition within a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game wherein players compete directly against one another in combat or objective based contest.

MMORPG PVE: Player Versus Environment
Content within an MMO, such as dungeon or boss content, wherein teams of players each compete individually against challenges presented within the game itself.

Action RPG:
Top down isometric RPGs usually focused on dungeon crawling, action combat involving simple inputs, and intense system depth when it comes to ability and item combinations. Competition is usually defined by milestone or survival.

Simulation RPG:
Roleplaying games meant to simulate real world experiences such as farming, driving a train, or flying a plane.

Other “Niche” Game Genres

The practice of playing games as fast as possible. This space is incredibly diverse, and genre agnostic competition usually takes the form of leaderboards for world record times and races between players

Rhythm games:
Games usually involving mastery of skill often related to music or dance and rely on precise sequences of inputs either through buttons on a controller or some other specialized device such as a dance pad or instrument.

Puzzle Games:
Games wherein the primary goal is to use logic and critical thinking to solve puzzles

About the Author

Logan McLaughlin is an anthropologist and research consultant based in Austin, Texas. He has been conducting ethnographic research with FanAI since 2017. Bringing an academic background in applied research and synthesizing FanAI’s big data approach with the thick data and context ethnography provides creates a unique perspective on impactful and usable insights. Logan does some of his best work “in the field” interviewing fans at live events and getting at the meaning making behaviors in gaming cultures. Logan holds an MS in Applied Anthropology from the University of North Texas.