Not so long ago eSports went mainstream and caught the attention of people who might not have been avid gamers. However, the success of this industry has drawn so much interest that it is hard to deny the potential of it. Nevertheless, many of those who would like to partake in eSports – as an athlete, investor, sponsor, or in any other capacity – do not know how to approach this fascinating area.
Thus, SOLVVE decided to take you on a short trip through the history of eSports to help you learn about the key events that shaped this industry the way we know it today.
Pre-80s and the birth of computer gaming
Yes, eSports is that old, even though the peak of its popularity is probably ahead of us. It is common to mention the 1972 tournament, which we will discuss below, as the first-ever tournaments. However, everything started even earlier.
Competitive game titles walked hand in hand with the development and progress of computers. So, the first attempt to run a competition in eSports belongs to Alexander Douglas of Cambridge who made it possible to play tic-tac-toe with a computer as his Ph.D. work.
At this stage, the competitive element was in overplaying the machine. People could choose who starts the game (them or the computer) and try to get 3 wins.
Later, in 1958, the world saw Tennis for Two, a game where two people could play against one another with a device that we could roughly call a joystick. This title was the first multiplayer game. This was probably the birth of eSports in its present forms: people playing versus people in real time within the same game setting using a computer.
Nevertheless, the Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics of 1972 held in Stanford University is often cited as the first competitive gaming event. The game was well known among the development community of that time and attracted enough attention to be sponsored by Rolling Stone magazine. Participants played for the grand prize of a year’s subscription to Rolling Stone.
This is not the kind of grand-prizes you might see today. Yet, at that time it was a big deal, and the next decades helped to make it bigger.
The 80s and the spread of eSports
The key thing to know about the 80s in gaming is the popularisation of the gaming consoles that played a major role in the popularisation of eSports (even though this term will be born long after).
In 1980, Atari held its now-famous National Space Invaders Championship played using Atari 2600 consoles. It drew about 10 000 competitors in the United States. In 1983, came Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) followed by Sega Genesis in 1989 (or Sega Drive on some markets).
This decade solidified positions of gaming as accessible and fun to everyone. Anyone could get a console and engage in gaming in the comfort of their homes. Competitions started to happen often. However, those were not official and therefore could not be supported or sponsored by any significant stakeholder in the industry.
The 90s and the era of PC gaming
Right at the beginning of the decade, Nintendo took gaming to the next level again when it started its Nintendo World Championship. The company held a tour in 30 cities across the United States where players competed in such titles as Super Mario Bros and Tetris. The winner got a money prize and a TV set. This was a huge rise in the prize pool compared to the magazine subscription. Yet, as we know this was not the limit.
The new decade also brought new ways to play. The spread of the internet and the possibility to engage more people in the game as well as to chat while playing made it possible to hold LAN parties. And it did not take long for this trend to go mainstream.
In 1996, QuakeCon took place in Texas. While the event that year started rather small, it grew fast as the news of it spread through the net. In 1997, QuakeCon already had 650 attendees, media coverage, and partial sponsorship from Activision. Probably it happened thanks to the success of the Red Annihilation event earlier in May of the same year where players also competed in Quake and the winner got a Ferrari as the grand prize.
The very same year Cyber Athletes Professional League (CPL) was born. The organization tried to create more competitive events and also took a course to increase the grand prize further. CPL was the first organization to motivate people to take gaming more seriously and lured them with big money prizes into participation in competitions. These tendencies will only grow stronger in the next decades as we now know.
Moreover, in 1998, Starcraft by Blizzard came out. This one online real-time strategy title was enough to make South Korea the biggest fan and the trend-setter in eSports. The game sparked so much interest that in a very short while the country developed the professional scene for this title and showed the rest of the world what eSports competitions could and should be.
From the 2010s and the rise of eSports
Let us stick with Korea for a while as many industry-defining things happened there.
On the very first day of the new millennium, January 1, 2000, Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism formed Korean eSports Association (KePSA). The organisation took the direction to make eSports a legitimate and official sport, create events, leagues, and provide conditions where cyber athletes could develop their skills. KePSA is the reason South Korea is the global leader in the domain.
Tournaments and leagues kept popping up around the world fast as the number of game titles and their quality grew. So did the speed and coverage of the internet connection. Online gaming transferred from a hobby of information technology geeks in the 50s to a large-scale industry of the new millennium.
Prize stakes kept growing. Sooner or later frauds were bound to happen. And so they did. The new decade in eSports saw many scandals. However, the first major one was the match-fixing scandal of 2010 in South Korea.
About a dozen of the most known Starcraft players, including the all-time best Savi0r, were caught in fixing matches as they were trying to secure a huge income from illegal gambling betting on matches outcomes. This incident almost killed eSports in South Korea. Luckily, despite the disappointment of the public, this industry still stands firm in the country.
Today, artificial intelligence and machine learning can help track and prevent many fraudulent actions in eSports like using aim-bots or leveling-up at unusual speed as well as to set up a more friendly environment by overviewing communications in chats and voice channels. Yet, preventing all unlawful actions is impossible and the industry, unfortunately, will probably see more scandals in the future.
The 2010s onwards
The last decade saw numerous massive eSports events like the League of Legends World Championships having prize pools of over a million dollars and millions of people watching the tournaments online and offline on stadiums. Dota 2 broadcasted its competitions in 4 different languages and offered a million-dollar prize for the winner as well.
The growth of prize pools was not surprising anyone as we saw this tendency unfolding for several decades. However, the burst in the viewing demand defined the 2010s.
Where there is a demand there is a supply. In 2011, Twitch was born. It gave players and viewers the platforms to interact which they desperately needed. And it did not take long before corporations realized the enormous potential eSports holds.
In 2014, Amazon purchased Twitch. In 2016, Microsoft acquired Mixer (then Beam), and in 2019, Google launched its Stadia, finishing the transition of eSports to the mainstream.
Where do we go from here?
eSports of the future
Some of the tendencies that are easy to predict are further diversification of games and their worldwide expansion. This, in its turn, should come with the stricter regulations of competitions. eSports engages minors, huge monetary prizes are taxable, international competitions need visa regulations for athletes, some countries are still to recognize cyber athletes as professional sportsmen, – this and many more other issues remain unresolved to this day. However, with the constantly growing media attention and increasing body of knowledge and experience in the industry, we can hope to see eSports properly regulated in the upcoming decades.
Unlike traditional sports this industry is welcoming to a wider pool of participants by giving them opportunities that they could not have otherwise. It is great news for marketers who can employ streaming services and influencers to reach out to new audiences.
If you have any questions or ideas related to eSports projects, do not hesitate to contact us. Let us make this happen!