ESports, or electronic sports, has blown up in recent years. I’m sure you’ve heard of some of the games featured- DOTA 2, Street Fighter, freaking League of Legends? More and more people are watching these contests, the prize money is growing, and the eSports industry is only growing larger and larger. But, how did this happen? How were eSports even born?
Well. It’s been quite a journey for the new medium.
From Humble Beginnings
The beginning of eSports can be traced back to the 1980s, into the early 1990s. This was the time when arcades were still very prevalent, far more than any video game home console. The first large-scale gaming tournament ever was actually for Space Invaders, in 1980, attracting over 10,000 people. This was the spark that started a wave of new tournaments- world championships were hosted by Blockbuster and Nintendo, and games such as Pac-Man, Asteroids, Galaga, all had competitions that attracted many, many competitors.
From here, the foundation was laid for modern eSports- it was proven that, at the very least, people were willing to compete for prizes. However, what was not proven at this point was the ability of Video Games to draw a massive audience for said competition. Nintendo would host tournaments all the way up until the 1990s, but they were never actually treated very seriously. It would take a while, but in the 1990s, the first step towards this goal was taken.
The Birth of E-Sports: FPS to RTS
In the 1990s, PC gaming became all the more relevant, and with this development, came the birth of the first genuine “eSports.” FPS games became popular, in particular, widely considered the first true eSport game, Quake. The Quake tournament, Red Annihilation in 1997 was, by the same token, considered the first instance of true eSports. After this tournament, the Cyberathlete Professional League, among other, smaller organizations, was created, helping champion, as they were called at the time, Cyberathletes.
During these early years, FPS games took over the scenes, beating out the older arcade games. Games like Quake, Unreal Tournament, and of course, Counter Strike, were exhibited during this time, wowing the world with fast, reactive, exciting gameplay that was completely different from the score-based systems of old. This was mostly happening in America though- what was happening halfway across the world was just as important, if not even bigger.
In South Korea, the game known as Starcraft was creating waves. This was the advent of Real Time Strategy Games, starting as early as 1999. Internet cafes in Korea at the time were becoming ever more popular, resulting in very widespread knowledge of games such as Starcraft- and from there, an audience was built. Starcraft was beginning to get television exposure, thanks to the 24 hour cable TV game channels known as Ongamenet and MBCGame. With the release of Warcraft III in 2002, the industry there only grew bigger, and has maintained a huge audience ever since.
Continued Growth and The Explosion of MOBAs
In the 2000s, eSports began to boom. In 2002 in particular, MLG, or Major League Gaming, was created in America, and it exploded in popularity. Hosting tournaments for shooters, RTS’s, and fighting games, it was able to finally able to appear on North American television. It didn’t work out in the long run, but such a step was hugely important in its growth- it showed that eSports were being acknowledged.
This growth continued in a massive way for the whole of the 2000s, as games like Starcraft, and eventually Starcraft II maintained their huge audience, while in the Americas, MLG experimented with different games, one of which being the famous Counter Strike. These specific games have their own leagues even today, which compete for hundreds of thousands of dollars, but something happened in the 2010s which continues to dominate the eSports world to this day.
MOBAs, or Multplayer Online Battle Arenas, started off as a spin off of the RTS genre. In particular, the Warcraft III mod known as DoTA, or Defense of the Ancients, attracted huge attention around 2008. In 2009, however, the genre really began to take off with the release of League of Legends. Thanks to the growth of the streaming platform, Twitch, viewership of LoL and DoTA’s sequel, DoTA 2, began to balloon to ridiculous levels. Now, millions of people watch these competitions, as professional teams vie for prizes up to tens of millions of dollars! The International in particular, the premier DoTA 2 tournament, provided a pot of $20,770,460, and, again, was viewed by millions of people across the globe.
This growth hasn’t stopped yet, and it doesn’t even encompass the whole of eSports history! There’s many games that have had their time in the spotlight, and many, many more plans for the future. The fighting game community has a history all of its own, and it is still carrying on strong as well. 343 Industries, Capcom, Blizzard Entertainment, and many more companies are planning to invest heavily in eSports, hosting competitive series, sponsoring players, and far more.
Indeed, the future looks bright for eSports. Who would’ve thought that gaming could grow this big? And it’s not even stopping! ESports is continuing to grow- millions of people are continuing to watch, and many more are learning about them as time goes on. And to think that such an industry was born from the nerds in arcades, competing for hi-scores. Nice.