THE HISTORY OF ESPORTS

While competitive gaming facilitated by electronic systems has long been a popular pastime across the globe, esports has taken this to an entirely new level, with real-time strategy, fighting, first-person shooters and multiplayer online battle arena games now having hundreds of professional esports players. Participation and spectatorship of major events has grown significantly in recent years, with esports having developed substantially since the days of amateur players and virtually non-existent exposure.

Nowadays, many video game developers will now build features into their games specifically designed to facilitate competitive gaming. With esports betting markets now also among the most popular among bookmakers, just how did esports become such a global phenomenon? Let’s take a look at the history of esports, from the very start of electronic sports, to the modern era, where games such as League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Dota 2 generate millions in revenue. 

1980-1990

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 enters the mix

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.

1990-2000

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.  

Nintendo World Championships starts to pick up

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. 

QUAKE - THE FPS BEHIND THE FIRST EVER ESPORTS TOURNAMENT

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. 

StarCraft enters the market with much furore

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. 

2000-PRESENT

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. 

MLG: The start of something special

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.

ESPORTS RISES IN UNPRECEDENTED POPULARITY

During the 2010’s, esports grew dramatically, both in terms of viewership and prize money. With only 10 major esports events taking place in 2000, this number increased to 260 by 2010, with many new competitions being established. The Intel Extreme Masters and World Cyber Games saw the likes of League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive grow significantly, with streaming platform, Twitch, receiving over 4 million unique views during the popular “The International” tournament, while over $1 million available in many events. 

Dreamhack starts to gather momentum

Meanwhile, Dreamhack, a Swedish computer festival attracted visitors from across the globe, laying the foundations for some of the largest esports events today, with teams such as Evil Geniuses, Cloud 9 and SK Telecom T1 among the most popular in history. It was also during this time that many bookmakers established their esports betting markets, with League of Legends and CS:GO matches among the most popular titles for punters. Much of the success within esports can be put down to the foundation of exciting, spectator-friendly games, with the last decade having produced some of the most appealing titles in the history of esports. 

BUNGIE'S HALO TAKES GAMING TO A NEW LEVEL

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.

MOBA’s start to take off

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. 

THE FUTURE

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. 

Will esports to take over mainstream sports?

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. 

ESPORTS ARENAS ARE THE FUTURE

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. 

Dedicated broadcasters will further develop the sport

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. 

WITH GREAT POWER COMES GREAT REGULATION - MORE STRUCTURE TO COME

Meanwhile, while there has been concerns and issues over both the lifestyles and mistreatment of professional esports players in the past, the increasing emphasis and popularity of the industry is set to ensure that no such problems occur. Governing bodies are beginning to be established, with strict rules concerning illegal substances, illegal gambling and salaries. Esports players must now handle their own treatments, as well as their own medical insurance, unlike many other professional sports. Despite issues concerning match fixing in the past, with several players having been handed lengthy bans in the past, esports betting is now legal throughout many countries, with placing a bet on your favourite esports team potentially proving to be lucrative.