The History of eSports

I (Sir Reginald) started to think “I used to love LAN parties”. Then one thought to himself “How did competitive gaming become a multi-million £/$ industry?” With this in mind, one decided to find out. And in all honesty eSports fans, one learnt some surprising facts!

The First video game Competition.

The founders award for competitive gaming goes to Stanford University. On 19th October 1972, the well-respected arena of knowledge was also the Arena to the first ‘Spacewar!’ tournament. Students were formally invited to the “Intergalactic Spacewar! Olympics” for a first place prize of a year’s ‘Rolling Stone’ subscription.

Tomohiro Nishikado’s legendary hit ‘Space Invaders’ was next up to receive the competitive gaming bug in The ‘Space Invaders Championship’in 1980. The first of its kind, Atari received 10,000 players across the U.S. trying to gain the highest score. This event is credited by the gaming industry as being the event that made competitive Gaming a hobby.

“Space Invaders Championship”

Grab a Pen Walt!

In the summer of the same year, a high score record company named ‘Twin Galaxies’ was founded by Walter Day. Twin Galaxies went on to become a big contributor in promoting its records through publications such as ‘The Guinness World Book of Records’. Three years later in 1983, the same company founded the U.S. National Video Game Team. The team went on to run the ‘Video Game Masters Tournament’ for Guinness and also Sponsor the ‘North American Video Game Challenge Tournament’.

As gaming tournaments profiles began to rise, key U.S. magazines such as ‘Life’ and ‘Time’ began to give coverage. eSports were even televised during the 80’s on shows such as ‘Starcade’, ‘That’s Incredible’ and the BBC’s ‘First Class’ as part of their Gameshow content.

“BBC’s First Class. Image resized to Match TV Sets at the time…”

The Dawn of Online Video Games

Finally, a year one was born in. In 1988 an open source (free) game hit PC’s called ‘Netrek’, this shooter/strategy MS DOS based game is considered the First Online Sports Game. In fact, ‘Wired magazine’ credited it for just that in 1993. Netrek was the first online game to utilize meta data to seek open game servers, and to think one was happy with a good old fashioned LAN party years later!

What would this article be without mentioning the ‘Nintendo World Championships’ in 1990 for the NES and in 1994 for the SNES which was renamed ‘Nintendo Power fest 94’. The finals were hosted in Universal Studios California and San Diego respectively. The original Championships is known for its elusive World Championship NES Cartridge featuring remixed NES game levels utilized for competitive play. This single cartridge is the single most valuable game in the history of gaming. With nine gray cartridges produced for finalists of the tournament, one recorded sale of said cartridge went for a mind blowing $100,088 on eBay in 2014. It was also reported that GameStop offered $1.25 trade in when the winner had completed it.

“The Illusive World Championship Grey Cartridge”

Remember Rentals?

The now defunct ‘Blockbuster Video’ held its own line of World Game Championships which was Co-Hosted by ‘GamePro’ magazines. Remember Magazines? Participants from the U.S., Canada, UK, Australia and Chile were able to apply.

For this writer and for many more gaming enthusiasts knocking around their 30’s, some of the biggest tournaments were formed in the 90’s and one still continues today. These include Quake-con, Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL) and the Professional Gamers League (PGL).

British and Australian television was also a great advocate of early eSports. These shows included the legendary ‘Games Master’ and ‘Bad Influence!’ In the UK, ‘A*mazing’ in Australia and the Canadian game show ‘Video and Arcade top 10’

“Quake Con 1996. Zero yellowing, Zero Hairstyle”

Gaming’s eSports Wall

The competitive gaming scene mostly went underground in the 2000’s, with games like Counter-Strike and Super Smash Bros. Melee receiving community developed mods to support the cause. Obscenely, games developers and publishers didn’t believe in the meta-game and longevity built within their titles.

Putting this into perspective, there were 10 official gaming tournaments in 2000. The eSports Boom wouldn’t trigger until 2010. A total of 260 big tournaments were held. During this period however some major players within the eSports industry today were formed:

  • World Cyber Games
  • Intel Extreme Masters
  • Major League Gaming

2006 saw the formation of the ‘G7 Teams Federation’. The goal of the organization was to increase stability in the eSports world, particularly in standardizing player transfers and working with leagues and organizations. Although only lasting until 2009, this Federations founding members include some of the biggest teams in eSports right now:

  • 4Kings
  • Fnatic
  • Made in Brazil
  • Mousesports
  • NiP
  • SK-Gaming
  • Team 3D
“Full roster of G7 Members”

The Great eSports Boom.

The 2000s however was a great time for Television coverage, mostly in South Korea with StarCraft and Warcraft III tournaments. However other European countries and the U.S. tried their hand at broadcasting but ceased after two or three years on air. 2011 saw the formation of Twitch, the online broadcasting service built for gamers. ‘Twitch’s’ toddler years were a whirlwind of success with 12 billion minutes of video content watched in 2013, mostly from Broadcasts of ‘League of Legends’ and ‘DOTA 2.’

Nintendo finally warmed to the idea of eSports in 2014 by hosting the ‘Wii Games’ in summer 2010 which had 400,000 contestants. They later held a Smash Bros. For Wii U competitive tournament at E3 2014 which was streamed on Twitch. 343 Industries also made the move into eSports in 2014 with the ‘Halo championship Series’ with a prize pool of $50,000

“The pinnacle of modern eSports, ESL”

One of the biggest names today within the eSports industry is the ‘Electronic Sports League’ or ‘ESL’. Their origins began with an online only gaming league and an accompanying magazine. It also briefly rented out servers for various competitions.

With ESL annual productions more than doubling between 2012 to 2014, 2015 saw the 74% stake purchase from MTG (Modern Times Group)from ESL’s parent company ‘Turtle Entertainment’ for a blowout $86 million. ESL have participated in many ground breaking events from ‘eSports in cinema’ to recently hosting the first DOTA 2 Grand finals on British soil. They even have an Anti-Doping Policy to ensure fair play.

Some perspective.

Putting it simply, the eSports industry is growing year on year. As a parting fact, the first eSports Arena was built in 2015 in Santa Ana, California. This year has seen the completion of Luxor Las Vegas eSports Arena on the Las Vegas Strip with additional Arenas planned for the decade ahead. And let’s not forget in 2017 the Olympics Games recognized eSports as a valid sport with eSports being presented as an exhibition event at the 2018 ‘Asian Games’ as a lead-in to the 2022 games.

eSports is here to stay readers, and the competition is building year on year!


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