Best Gaming and Esports GPU - The Ultimate Guide
Reaching the top at any given game means hours upon hours of dedicated practice and study. If you want to become the best player you can be you just can't afford to be held back by your gear and your PC is another critical weapon in your arsenal.
Over the past couple of years we've seen pro gamers shift away from using regular 60 FPS (see: 'What is Framerate') setups in favor of 144 and 240 FPS setups FPS setups. Having a high refresh rate system gives you a myriad of advantages, and with every serious competitive gamer chasing the the perfect setup you can't really afford to be left behind. It's also the reason you saw a lot of pro players still using CRT monitors back when flat screen monitors were already common: those CRT monitors had a higher framerate.
Of course we have some recommendations for you and came up with three of the best GPUs for gaming and esports; two cards for mid-high budgets, and one budget option. We've also compared options for individual games and came up with GPUs for each game for those people who only focus on one game at a time.
As usual, we want to reach at least 144 FPS since that really is the competitive standard these days. Anything below just doesn't cut it.
What makes a GPU good for esports?
If you're a serious competitive gamer you'll want one thing: all the frames. It'd be easy to end the article at that: 'just get the most powerful GPU and PC out there and you're good' but while that's true we also know that different people have different budgets. On top of that some games don't require the latest and greatest GPU to reach respectable framerates, so it's important to consider your options.
We see 144 frames per second as the bottom limit. Well over 90% of our analyzed professionals play on a setup that's capable of pushing and displaying at least 144 FPS, so if you really want to be competitive we recommend that you try to reach at least that. There are a lot of advantages here, and once you've played competitive games at higher refresh rates you will not want to go back so it's certainly worth the extra investment if you're looking for a dedicated card for gaming and esports.
While we're at it: it's also important to have a balanced build. It makes no sense to go for a 3080 and stick it in a PC with an i3 CPU and 8 GB of RAM, for example. You don't want an underpowered system to bottleneck the speeds of your GPU. So in essence: make sure to budget appropriately and consider what your needs are before purchasing something as critical as a GPU.
With that out of the way we can say that it's definitely important to have a good graphics card in your rig. Getting 60 frames per second in any competitive game is fairly easy (definitely if you turn down some settings here and there) these days but getting a stable 144 frames does require some processing power, and getting a reliable output of 240 FPS is something that only the most powerful GPUs can deliver. One thing is certain though: it's worth it.
Our List & Options
As you can see on the right, Nvidia is by far the most represented graphics card manufacturer among the professional gamers that we analyze. We don't know what the future holds, but at this point in time there's no denying that Nvidia is the best option if you're going for high performance cards, which is why you'll only see cards from 'team green' in this list.
We've been taking a look at our analyzed games to come up with cards that should suit every budget and setup so that you're sure to find the card that's right for your particular needs in this list. Important to note is that we've only gone for cards that are currently in production and being sold. If you can score something like an RTX 2080 at a clearance sale somewhere then these cards are still a good option, but we do recommend to go for the newer RTX line if you're shopping for something new.
Note: the average FPS you get ingame will severely depend on your ingame settings, as well as the rest of your rig (CPU, RAM, ...) so take the estimates that you see in this article with a grain of salt.
Most used GPU manufacturer
1. RTX 3070
The best overall option
As a competitive gamer, it is important to consider your budget. If you have an unlimited budget you'd of course just purchase the most expensive GPU (since those are also the most powerful) but if that were the case you probably wouldn't be reading this article.
The RTX 3070 is, if you ask us, the best option for competitive gamers. It is powerful enough to deliver 240+ frames per second in all but the most demanding of our analyzed games, meaning that, if you're someone who is dedicated to competitive gaming (and you, as such, have no problem lowering some ingame settings and what not) this card offers the best bang for your buck.
It's also got plenty of juice to allow you to play the latest and greatest games at (close to) their full beauty, so unless you absolutely want to be on the cutting edge of GPU technology (or if you're a gamer playing at the very highest levels) we would heavily recommend the RTX 3070 as an esports card.
GEFORCE RTX 3070 SPECS:
2. RTX 3080
Best for serious/(semi) pro players / higher resolutions
If you play at the highest levels (or you have an interest in playing at the highest levels) you'll want to grab every tiny advantage that you can get, no matter how small. Pretty much all pro players that we see switching over to new lines of cards opt for the higher tier cards in the lineup because, for professional players, every frame matters, and when you're playing at those levels where a single death can mean the difference between winning or losing a lot of money you owe it to yourself to use the best gear out there.
If you have a large budget (or you play more graphically demanding games such as Warzone or Fortnite) this is of course the card to consider, and it's also going to be the best option for people who like to max out their games when they're playing. The RTX 3080 is one of the most powerful GPUs out there, and the performance that it delivers for the price is extremely attractive which makes it, if you ask us, one of the best GPUs to buy if you're a dedicated gamer.
Its sheer power also makes it an ideal card for those gamers who want to get the best of both worlds and play at higher resolutions while still getting competitive framerates.
GEFORCE RTX 3080 SPECS:
3. RTX 3060 Ti
The best budget option
If you want to play at competitive levels but you don't quite have the money for some of the higher tier cards then you needn't worry because the RTX 3060 Ti is a fantastic budget option. The reason we chose this one over the even cheaper 3060 is because we feel like the performance boost that you get with the 3060 Ti is worth it in most cases. Of course if you're really on a tight budget you can always consider the 3060, but considering the fact that the Ti is a huge jump in performance for a relatively small jump in price we would always recommend this one, even if it means saving up for a little while longer.
The RTX 3060 Ti is powerful enough to deliver 240+ fps performances in most of our analyzed games, though it is a little bit more inconsistent at doing so than something like the RTX 3070. Still, if you can handle perhaps lowering a few ingame settings to get a smoother experience (usually this isn't even necessary, as the 3060 Ti handles 240+ frames per second with relative ease for most of our analyzed games) this is an utterly fantastic budget option.
It's perhaps not the card that we would recommend if you want to also dabble in some of the newest graphical masterpieces since it's not going to be powerful enough for that, but as a budget card for dedicated competitive gamers this is pretty much an unbeatable option.
GEFORCE RTX 3060 Ti SPECS:
Conclusion: Best GPU for Competitive Gaming
While 'the best' GPU for competitive gaming is obviously going to be the most powerful card (remember: frames win games) the best card for gaming and esports for you depends on a number of factors. If you're someone who basically only plays CS:GO, for example, with a bit of 2D indie games on the side for when you want to relax you won't need a beast of a graphics card. Someone who is deep into Warzone and who wants to enjoy the latest singleplayer games at max graphics will obviously want to go for one of the more powerful cards.
For this reason we've taken all of our analyzed games and included our recommended GPUs for those respective games in the next section. That way you can get an idea of what kind of power each game requires and make an informed purchase.
Best GPUs for each game
In this section we're giving you some extra options in case you're mainly focusing on one particular game. As always the actual ingame FPS depends on your exact PC build, and performance can vary between patches and updates, so take the estimates here with a grain of salt.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is one of the easiest games to run so you don't need a very powerful GPU for this game at all. In fact, CS:GO is mostly CPU heavy, so you won't even get the most out of a top tier graphics card.
RTX 3060 Ti
Since it's abundantly easy to get high framerates in CS:GO (click here to check our settings guide) we've gone for two 240 Hz graphics cards here. One is a budget card while the other is a top tier card, but both have an easy time reaching above 240 frames per second so if CS:GO is your main game you're in luck.
Which one you should get will depend on availability and price in your region, but if you're mainly focusing on CS:GO we do recommend the RTX 3060 Ti, as the RTX 3080 can be considered 'overkill' unless you're a (semi) pro player.
Since framerates are very important, even if you far surpass the refresh rate of your monitor, it can be a good idea to go for a more powerful card such as the RTX 3080 if you're really planning on going pro in the game. We would mostly recommend you to stick to the lower tier cards if your main game is CS:GO though.
Overwatch is a game that's incredibly well optimized, and that combined with the power of today's GPUs means that you don't have to go for an expensive option.
RTX 3060 Ti
Since Overwatch is such an easy game to run (thanks to its modest hardware requirements, but also because it's so well optimized) you don't need a very expensive GPU to run it at its maximum framerate. The RTX 3060 Ti stays around the cap of 400 frames per second with ease at 1920x1080. It's even good for 1440p at 240Hz, making this 3060 Ti a great choice for dedicated Overwatch gamers.
If you're an Overwatch player and you don't want to play at higher resolutions then it's a good idea to go for the 3060 as opposed to the 3060 Ti (or something even higher tier) as the 3060 will sit around a cozy and smooth 340 frames per second while never dropping below 300. A fantastic choice for dedicated Overwatch gamers.
Fortnite has a pretty big gap between the performance of the game at high settings vs. lower settings, and to top it off the performance can greatly vary between patches, so it can be quite difficult to find the perfect card for this game.
The RTX 3070 is one of our favorite cards, and it shows its merit in games such as Fortnite. The game isn't the easiest to run, but if you don't mind lowering a couple of settings here and there (Fortnite at absolute max is a daunting task for any GPU) the RTX 3070 is a beast of a GPU. The framerate practically never drops below 240 frames per second at 1920x1080 which means that it's our choice for a dedicated Fortnite GPU.
If you're on a budget or you just don't want to splash the cash on a graphics card then it's a good call to consider the RTX 3060. It is a great 144Hz card for Fortnite as it never drops below 160 frames per second, making it our choice as a 144Hz option for Fortnite gamers.
PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is notoriously difficult to run so if you want to play this game at competitive framerates you'll need a beefy system. Even the most powerful cards don't manage to run this game at a steady 240 frames per second, so if you're building a rig specifically for this game you might save a couple of dollars by opting for a 144 Hz monitor, though you obviously never know what optimization patches could do in the future. What's odd here is that pretty all 30 series card perform the exact same in PUBG, meaning that the 'bottleneck' might be in the game itself.
Seeing as PUBG is a very difficult game to run we do recommend players to go for the best GPU if they're serious about the game. Currently, though, the performance of all 30 series cards is practically the same in the game. The main reason we're recommending the RTX 3080 is because historically the higher tier cards have fared better in this game, meaning that you might be an optimization patch away from playing the game at higher framerates. For that reason we don't want to recommend a weaker GPU to competitive PUBG players.
It's often said that Apex: Legends runs on the same engine as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and while that's true the game does utilize a severely modified version of said engine, meaning that it's sadly not as easy to run as CS:GO.
We once again see the RTX 3070 make an appearance. For Apex: Legends we consider this to be the perfect 240Hz card as it never drops below the 200 mark at 1920x1080 resolutions, meaning that it's the best value/performance proposition for this game. It's also a good shout if you play at 1440p and higher refresh rates: even at that resolution the RTX 3070 won't drop below 144 frames per second. Impressive.
If you want to play at higher resolutions then the RTX 3080 is the card to beat. It'll reliably keep you over 240 frames per second at 1080p and even at 4K it will stay above 144 frames per second.
Rainbow Six: Siege
Rainbow Six Siege is a very nicely optimized game; it's pretty heavy to run with all of the eye candy set to max, but if you drop some graphical settings down (click here for our settings guide) you'll see some remarkable leaps in framerate. Just the way we like it.
The RTX 3060 is our pick for best competitive GPU for Rainbow Six: Siege. If you don't mind dropping a couple of settings here and there (and you stay at 1080p) then this card stays way above 240 frames per second. Its performance starts to suffer a bit at higher resolutions, so if you want to play at 1440p or higher you'll want to look a couple of tiers higher.
If you're looking to play at 1440p then the 3070 should be a card to keep an eye on. At that resolution it sticks around the 300 frames per second mark, which makes is great even for 1440p 240Hz displays. It's also (as we mentioned countless times already) a fantastic card for people who like to play a multitude of games from different genres and different graphical intensities.
Riot games promised to make Valorant an easy game to run, and they made good on that promise. The fact that it runs extremely well even on budget hardware means that you can get away with using some of the cheaper cards in the lineup, even if you're playing at 360Hz.
Choosing a card for Valorant therefore means that you should consider what other games you like to play, as the 30 series cards will run this game at all resolutions with absolute ease.
RTX 3060 Ti
If you want to just play Valorant and focus on that game, the 3060 Ti is a great option. It runs way above 240 frames per second, and it even runs the game at 360 frames per second with ease. If you're planning on playing Valorant at 4K you should look a tier higher, but otherwise this is one of your best options.
You really don't actually need a card this powerful to play Valorant at 1080p, but if you're looking for an 'allrounder' card then the RTX 3070 is, as we said, very hard to look past. It's also the card to go for if you're playing at 4K.
Call of Duty: Warzone
Call of Duty: Warzone not only has an enormous install size, it's also a difficult game to run. Therefore we recommend to go for the more powerful cards if you're planning on being competitive in this game. That, and a very big SSD, but that's besides the point for this article.
With a game that's this intense to run it's hard to look past a behemoth like the RTX 3080. Even this card won't stay above 240 frames per second at all times, but with its average refresh rate of 200 frames each second it is the next best option for people who are playing on a 240Hz monitor.
RTX 3060 Ti
If you are not the owner of a 240Hz monitor and you're playing on a 144Hz monitor then you can get away with a cheaper card. The RTX 3060 Ti quite reliably reaches past the 144 frames per second mark, even though it occasionally dips just below that. Those dips aren't enough to make a big dent in its performance though (as it never goes far underneath 144) so for 1080p 144Hz gaming this is our GPU of choice.
240 FPS gaming is becoming the de facto standard in the pro gaming scene. To be prepared, you'll need one of the more powerful GPUs on this list, and that combined with the cost of a 240 Hz monitor and a PC that doesn't bottleneck your graphics card makes the barrier of entry quite high. For competitive gamers this is easily worth the money but for others this might be quite the jump in price-point. Still, if you want to compete at the top level in any sport you'll need the best gear out there if you don't want to handicap yourself, so if your aim is to play at the highest levels you should definitely consider a 240 Hz setup.
Luckily, 144 Hz gaming is getting more and more affordable. Depending on the game you might even get away with a budget GPU if while lowering some in-game settings. Nearly every esports pro is playing on at least 144 frames per second so you are doing yourself a disservice if you're stuck at 60 Hz. If you want to become competitive, investing in a decent setup has become a necessity. Good that it's easily worth it.
Hopefully this guide has helped you. Thanks for reading!