Competitive gaming has existed perhaps almost as long as video games themselves, however this generally constituted of one player bidding to beat the high score of another. Things quickly changed, and starting in the 1980’s, organised tournaments and events became an increasingly common occurrence.
There is some ambiguity when it comes to the esports history books, with tournaments in both 1972 and 1980 believed my many to have been the first of its kind. A video game competition at Stanford University in 1972, involving the game “Spacewar”, saw students bidding in order to win a year’s subscription for Rolling Stone magazine. Elsewhere, Antari stages their first video game competition in 1980, a Space Invaders tournament attracting over ten thousand participants across the United States.
Twin Galaxies was a record keeping organisation founded by Walter Day back in 1980, who would go on to help promote video games, as well as publicising records through the Guiness Book of World Records. The United States National Video Game team was established in 1983, running events such as the Video Game Masters Tournament and North American Video Game Challenger Tournament. It was also during this period that televised esports events began to air, with American show “Starcade” running for a total of 133 episodes between 1982 and 1984, in which contestants would attempt to beat each other’s high scores on different arcade games.
The 1990’s was a crucial period in the history of esports, with the rise of PC gaming, as well as the first real esports competitions. Many games benefited from an increase in internet connectivity, none moreso than Netrek. Netrek was the first game to use meta-servers in order to locate game servers, with Wired Magazine naming it as the “first online sports game” in 1993. Tournaments in the 1990’s included the Nintendo World Championships, which toured throughout the United States, with the finals taking place at Universal Studios in Hollywood.
The second Nintendo World Championship took place in 1994 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, the Nintendo PowerFest 94. 132 finalists took part, with Mike Larossi taking home first place. Blockbuster Video soon got in on the action, hosting their own World Game Championships, with participants from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, among others, taking part. Esports history shows that games in this competition included NBA Jam and Virtua Racing, two of the most popular titles at the time.
In 1997, Red Annihilation’s tournament involving popular first-person shooter, “Quake”, is considered by many as the first proper esports event, with over 2,000 competitors battling it out for the grand prize, a Ferrari previously owned by Quake developer, John Carmack. Just a matter of weeks later, the Cyberathlete Professional League was formed, offering $15,000 in prize money during its first tournament. Esports history shows that this was a key period, with many new competitions and leagues being founded around this time. While games such as League of Legends and Dota 2 dominate the esports betting markets today, sports, first-person shooters and arcade-style games generally made up events in the 90’s.
In 1998, StarCraft: Brood War was released, undoubtedly one of the major developments in terms of real-time strategy gaming. The game offered players endless opportunities in terms of strategic development, paving the way for StarCraft II, one of the most popular esports titles today. Meanwhile, other tournaments established in the 1990’s included the Professional Gamers League and QuakeCon, which involved Counter Strike and Warcraft.
The history of esports will forever show the 2000’s to be one of the biggest in the industry, with the popularity of tournaments and games increasing to mesmeric levels. 2000 brought the founding of the World Cyber Games and the Electronic Sports World Cup, two major events that continue to help make up the esports calendar today, attracting audiences from the United States, United Kingdom and South Korea, among others. Major League Gaming, one of the world’s leading esports leagues, was launched in 2002, with games such as Dota 2, Call of Duty and Halo making up some of the biggest events in the calendar. Prize pools also increased significantly during the 2000’s, with the Winter Championships awarding gamers with over $170,000 in winnings.
Major League Gaming was also the first tournament to be televised in North America, although it failed to attract a major television presence in the long run. In 2006, G7 federation teams were formed by seven Counter Strike teams, with the aim of increasing stability within the world of esports. Despite its success, the organisation eventually dissolved in 2009. Esports had also become increasingly popular throughout Asia during this time, with StarCraft and Warcraft events regularly televised by 24-hour channels. While televised competitions were somewhat sporadic throughout the rest of the world, it was not long before the likes of the UK, France and Germany were all offering televised action.
Halo was undoubtedly a pillar of the first-person shooter market, with its fast-paced gameplay and intensity attracting millions of players around the world. Elsewhere, StarCraft II launched in 2010, quickly establishing itself as one of the most popular real-time strategy titles, improving upon the original StarCraft with better graphics and enhanced possibilities. The Global StarCraft II League is now one of the most anticipated tournaments around, with South Korean “HerO” taking home the spoils in April 2017.
Another huge aspect within esports history was the development of multiplayer online battle arena games, with titles allowing players to take control of a single. Meaning that gamers must rely on their team mates, this makes up one of the most entertaining forms of esports competition. As a result, it comes as little surprise that both Dota 2 and LoL tournaments offer the largest prize pools, with the League of Legends World Championship and The International offering respective prize funds of over $5 million and $20 million.
Given the dramatic growth in esports over the past decade, it remains to be seen just how far the industry can go in the near future. As video games grow in popularity, so does esports. The potential for both existing and new competitions is now huge, with television, social media and betting platforms now increasingly immersing themselves within the industry in the hope of getting in on the act. Esports is now increasingly becoming part of mainstream culture, with CS:GO matches and CS:GO bets now viewed by millions across the globe.
Certain esports events now attract larger audiences than major sporting events, including the NBA Finals, with television figures only set to improve, along with prize pools. Esports is now primed to take over the sports betting community, with betting on competitive video game tournaments now available on a whole host of platforms. Esports is finally being treated with the respect it deserves in the industry, with professional players helping to increase its popularity among young adults. With esports revenue set to reach over $1 billion by the year 2020, along with audiences of over 600 million, be prepared for esports to dominate many different platforms in the years to come.
New candidates are now vying for spots in professional gaming organisations on a constant basis, with gaming contracts offered by the likes of Riot providing lucrative salaries. More and more esports teams could well be formed in the coming years, with many bidding to get in on the action in this increasingly popular industry.
The first designated esports arena is currently being constructed in Las Vegas, with seating for over 200 people encompassed over a 15,000 square feet area. With high schools throughout America also forming their own esports teams, it is perhaps only a matter of time until colleges get in on the action too, with Columbia College already offering an esports scholarship program to incoming students.
Coverage of major esports events is set to grow significantly too, with national publications now covering tournaments and competitions both online and in print. The likes of ESPN, Yahoo and Sport1 are among the worldwide organisations helping to bring up-to-date news and information to readers, with many even offering tips on upcoming matches, perfect for those looking to place a winning bet on high quality action from the likes of League of Legends, Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive matches. The number of streaming platforms offering esports action is also increasing in a dramatic manner, with YouTube, ESPN, Twitch and HitBox all bringing both live and recorded coverage of major events from around the world.