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Short Guide to Milestones in eSports

A person playing eSports on a mobile device

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, the SOLVVE team has decided to take you on a short trip through eSports history to assist you in learning about the critical events that shaped this industry the way we currently know it.

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 tournament. 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 laptop 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 three 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 at 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

The 80s and the rise of eSports

The critical thing to know about the 80s in gaming is the popularization of the gaming consoles that played a significant role in the popularization 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 the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), followed by Sega Genesis in 1989 (or Sega Drive in some markets).

This decade they firmed positions of gaming as accessible and fun to everyone. Anyone could get a console and engage in gaming in the comfort of their homes. 

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 massive 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 and chat while playing made it possible to hold LAN parties. And it did not take long for this trend to go mainstream.

In 1997, QuakeCon already had 650 attendees, media coverage, and partial sponsorship from Activision. Probably it happened thanks to the success of the Red Annihilationevent earlier in May of the same year, where players also competed in Quake, and the winner got a Ferrari as the grand prize.

The same year, Cyber Athletes Professional League (CPL) appeared. The organization tried to create more competitive events and took a course to increase the grand prize further. CPL was the first organization to encourage people to take gaming more seriously and lured them with big money prizes into participation in competitions. 

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 trendsetter in eSports. The game sparked so much interest that, in a concise 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 to 2018: The Boom of eSport

Let us stick with Korea for a while, as many industry-defining things happened there. 

On the first day of the new millennium, January 1, 2000, the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism formed the Korean eSports Association (KePSA). The organization took the direction to make eSports a legitimate and official sport, create events and leagues, and provide conditions where cyber athletes could develop their skills. PSA is the reason South Korea is the global leader in the domain.

Tournaments and leagues kept popping up worldwide 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 fixing matches while trying to secure a considerable income from illegal gambling betting on match outcomes. This incident almost killed eSports in South Korea. Despite the public’s disappointment, this industry still stands firm in the country.

 Artificial intelligence and machine learning assist in tracking and preventing many fraudulent actions in eSports, like using aim-bots or leveling up at unusual speeds, and set up a more friendly environment by overviewing communications in chats and voice channels.  

A person playing eSports on a mobile device

The Next Steps

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 in stadiums. Dota 2 broadcasted its competitions in 4 different languages and offered a million-dollar prize for the winner.

The growth of prize pools was not surprising to 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?

The Nearest Future of the eSport

Some of the tendencies that are easy to predict are further diversification of games and their worldwide expansion. This, in turn, should come with stricter regulations of the competition. eSports engage minors, huge monetary prizes are taxable, international competitions need visa regulations for athletes, and some countries still recognize cyber athletes as professional sportsmen – this and many other issues remain unresolved. 

Unlike traditional sports, this industry welcomes a broader pool of participants by giving them opportunities they could not have otherwise. It is excellent news for marketers who can utilize streaming services and influencers to reach out to new audiences.

Having any questions or suggestions regarding eSports projects, feel free to contact us. We’ll definitely choose the best solution!