When the first video game was created in October of 1958 it set a course that would change the very definition of what a sport is. What began as living room competition evolved into a professional sport. Hosting events that would sell out the largest stadiums, eSports have become one of the most competitive sports in history. But when did this evolution begin? How did video games transform from household family fun to an international competitive battlefield? What does the future hold for the ever evolving eSports? What we know for sure, the incredible progress of competitive gaming has created an unstoppable force; eSports.
Where it all Began
The first recorded video game tournament began on October 19, 1972, located at Stanford University California. Playing the Atari 2600, competitors battled head to head in the Rolling Stone sponsored tournament. The tournament was known as the “Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics” and pitted players against each other, locking them in epic dogfights, for a shot at competitive video gaming’s first prize. One winner took home a full year subscription to Rolling Stone Magazine, along with bragging rights for winning the world’s first ever video game tournament.
Competitive gaming first revealed its true potential in 1980 during the “National Space Invaders Championship.” Based in New York, the Atari-sponsored tournament shattered expectations, drawing in more than 10,000 contestants! This unbelievable contest highlighted the training and skill required to be the best in the nation, creating the image of the first eSports athletes. Also, bringing the overwhelming need for organized gaming contests to the forefront, this event foretold the success of competitive gaming and the later creation of eSports.
After 1980 arcades became a mainstay for entertainment, which made competitive gaming even more available. Local organized tournaments for console and arcade games were common place. Companies like Blockbuster and Nintendo even became sponsors, creating “World Championships” for many game titles. Championship tournaments included many different brackets. Brackets incorporated separate competitions for children, teenagers, and adults, concepts which have since been dropped. Competitive gaming was steadily growing, yet one innovation would take it to the next level.
The PC Changed Everything: 1990’s
Until the 1990s, PC gaming had always been on the backburner of the gaming world, especially competitive gaming. Certain key titles along with internet connectivity were all it took to catapult the PC, which allowed it to officially take part in the transformation to eSports. These titles cemented the international component to competitive gaming and are widely believed to mark the true beginning of eSports.
One of the most renown titles of all time, which set the bar for all competitive first person shooters, released in June of 1996. Quake, the successor to id Software’s Doom series took competitive gaming further than any title before it. Making possible the largest tournaments in history, Quake provided the best prize pools of the era. In 1997, the Quake tournament “Red Annihilation” awarded the first place winner with John Cormack’s (the lead developer for Quake) Ferrari. The success of Red Annihilation brought about the creation of numerous professional video game leagues. The achievements of these leagues varied, with more popular leagues offering up to $15,000 in event prize pools.
Although it released in late 1998, it wasn’t until the early 2000s that Starcraft: Brood War really took form. Brood War was the first time a real-time strategy (RTS) game managed to reign king, especially in a competitive market. Eventually becoming a sort of Korean national pastime, Starcraft took the world by storm. The game’s competitions sold out massive arenas, gathered in enormous crowds of fans, and was even broadcasted live on South Korean TV networks. The impact of Brood Was was so great that even today, nearly 20 years after release, its competitive scene still has significance.
In January 2016, an old rivalry was given new life as two Korean Starcraft professionals, “Bisu” and “EffOrt,” went head to head in a match reminiscent of the early 2000s. The match went live and streamed internationally in multiple languages and captivated a crowd the size of which rivals any modern eSports contest. Starcraft: Brood War is a cornerstone for eSports, creating the very foundation for today’s events. The fact that even today, fans love to watch these games definitively cements its position as one of the most influential competitive games of all time.
Rise of the MOBA: 2000s
The success of RTS’s did more for competitive gaming than meets the eye. What started as a custom map called Defense of the Ancients (DOTA) for Blizzard Entertainment’s Warcraft series, became something magnificent. As DOTA’s popularity skyrocketed, indie and major companies alike began looking for their profitable piece of the pie. Many tried and failed, falling very close to catching DOTA’s captivating essence. It wasn’t until October of 2009 that a company finally caught lightning in a bottle, and League of Legends was born. Later, in 2013, a carbon copy of DOTA was made by the Valve Corporation. This game, aptly named DOTA 2, along with League of Legends would elevate eSports higher than anyone could have imagined.
League of Legends (LoL) became a raging success, becoming not only a rival for the most popular eSport, but it became the most played game in history. Topping 81M hours of gameplay watched in 2016 alone, LoL brought eSports to more people than ever before. Although DOTA 2 commands 25M less total hours of viewing time in 2016, the majority of that time was during professional eSport play. DOTA 2’s increased focus on eSports showed clear during “The 2016 International” as they boasted a staggering $20.7M overall prize pool! With millions of viewers, incredible prize pools, and unparalleled competition, LoL and DOTA sealed eSports’ place in the entertainment world, now and for the future.
Now in 2017, eSports is thriving by following the road paved by its colorful history. Though LoL and DOTA still make up for the bulk of large-scale competitive play, other titles are still pushing the boundaries of competitive gaming. Any and all gaming genres are represented. Fighting games, to sports games, to shooters, and everything in between, al, have their own unique competitive scene; even puzzle platformers find their way to competition as professionals race to the finish in timed speed runs. The addition of more titles and genres to eSports is exciting, but competitive gaming today is growing in a way none ever expected.
As the desire for eSports continues to grow, other standard sports programs are beginning to see their potential as a true sport. This was clearly demonstrated when the University of California, Irvine (UCI) announced it would be adding eSports to its collegiate sports programs. Providing an opportunity for professional coaching and even scholarships, UCI is viewing eSports athletes under the same light as any other athlete, and treating them as such. Since UCI, ten more colleges and universities from around the world are following suit. Collegiate eSports is the next step in the growth of competitive video gaming, making eSports even more available to the world!
The Future of eSports
Without a doubt, the future of competitive gaming is a bright one. With collegiate eSports continuing to grow year by year, it won’t be long until eSports programs in colleges and universities rival those of other mainstream sports. All the while professional leagues will continue to grow in size and quantity as more and more new competitive titles are released. Competition will stay heated as leagues perfect methods of adapting with the quickly evolving gaming market, and increase the availability of eSports to the public. We can expect the very definition of what a sport is to begin to change in order to include gaming. If trends continue as they have for the past 50 years, competitive gaming could easily grow to become the most popular sport in history.
What began as a meager form of family entertainment quickly evolved into one of the most competitive sports available. Video games have grown and will continue to grow both as family entertainment, and as a professional sport. If history has taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected, because gaming is just getting started!
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