The History of Gaming & Esports
Fitting in line with the future direction we envisage the entertainment, gaming and esports industries heading in, we continue to set the foundations, whilst making extensive progress towards our ultimate goal:
Bringing the best all-in-one social competitive gaming platform to the mass market, which for some may facilitate their transition from amateur to professional, but for all, will guarantee reward for doing what they love doing. Play. Compete. Spectate. Everyone’s a winner.
As we look to widen participation within the maturing esports industry, ere, we will take a trip down memory lane, outlining how technological advancements and cultural shifts in society have evolved competitive gaming and what is now known as esports.
With esports only fairly recently gaining mainstream acclaim, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the notion of competitive gaming is fairly new — no older than the rise of the arcades in the seventies, let’s say. In fact, though not available to the masses, the foundations to what would become a billion-dollar industry 60 years later were first recorded in 1958 with the multiplayer sports video game, Tennis for Two.
Of course, the capabilities and graphics for this multiplayer game were extremely limited (as demonstrated above). Naturally, technological innovations through the decades has increased the accessibility of gaming to the masses, whilst simultaneously increasing the demand for competitive gaming as a form of entertainment.
By the late nineties, with the expansion of the internet, competitive gaming — now known as esports to a scattered handful — would occupy a space of obscurity, and at times ridicule, to the majority, but a distant hopeful dream to a minority. In the spirit of competition, it is fair to say that the tables are now turning.
Rise of Organised Gaming Competitions
The first recorded esports tournament took place in October of 1972 at a Stanford University campus, titled the “Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics”. Developed a decade earlier (1962), Spacewar must truly be regarded as the parent of all modern day strategy powerhouses; a game that required diligence, reflexes and the effective use of limited fuel and missiles. On 19 October, Bruce Baumgart was crowned winner of the first five-man-free-for-all and his prize? A year’s subscription to Rolling Stone magazine and bragging rights.
With very little resources at their disposal, those involved would be the pioneers of a movement towards a new form of organised competition.
In 1980, the first video game competition hit the mainstream when Atari’s Space Invaders Championships drew over 10,000 competitors. An esports competition had never been carried out to this scale before, but it was a sign of what was to come. In the same year, with the aim of formalising esports competitions, Walter Day, an American businessman, founded an organisation that would begin to track video game records set by players; named Twin Galaxies, it was backed by the Guinness Book of World Records. At this time, the arcade scene was on the rise, too, as titles such as Donkey Kong, Pacman and Space Invaders would be enjoyed by players all over world, which the UK and US even provided televised coverage of competitions for.
By the mid-eighties, the console wars’ would consume much of the gaming industry’s attention, as Nintendo and Sega rapidly accelerated the quality of video games in a relatively short space of time. With the internet boom of the mid-to-late nineties, PC gaming would begin to take flight. Unlike these consoles, however, they would allow for players to compete against one another almost anywhere in the world — an internet connection permitting, of course.
The Evolution of Competitions
With greater accessibility to video gaming during the nineties, it was no surprise that esports leagues began to surface; the Cyberathlete Professional League, the Professional Gamers League, and Quakecon were most notable. Formed from very niche groups, similar to that of Stanford University’s Spacewar community, it was the passion of the players within these individual communities that contributed to the industry’s continued growth — Counter-Strike, Quake, and Warcraft would be the leading titles to feature at these events.
It was in 1997, for Quake’s Red Annihilation, that the gaming community would witness first-hand the lasting impact the internet would have on competitive gaming. For this event, the internet facilitated over 2000 participants to face-off in head-to-head competitions, which would be reduced to a final 16 players for the main event in Atlanta, Georgia.
The final 16 were flown to Georgia to compete at the Electronic Entertainment Expo at the World Congress Center, which by this point had just hosted its third E3 event. The event drew spectators in all capacities, also receiving coverage from newspapers and television broadcasters. Dennis “Thresh” Fong became the winner of the tournament’s grand prize: a Ferarri 328 GTS previously owned by Quake programmer John D. Carmack and his name in the esports history books.
By the turn of the century, esports would take yet another leap towards mainstream dominance. Gaming cafés began to spring up, nurturing the development of competitive multiplayer gaming and esports. High-powered PC’s and internet connections at home were fairly costly, especially in some regions, so it is easy to see why these took off. By the mid-to-late 2000’s, however, game cafés became obsolete as PC’s were more affordable for households, particularly for regions in the West; yet regions like Asia and Eastern Europe would continue to rely on these cafés.
Twitch Takes Competitive Gaming to the Next Level
Formally Justin TV, Twitch burst onto the scene in 2011 at time when there was a shift in the demand for content. The PS3 and Xbox 360 were widely accessible, and alongside enhanced connectivity to internet, we were preparing for the then-next-gen consoles (the PS4 and Xbox One) to be released two years later.
Alongside this shift in content consumption, interactivity has since become a huge part of the gaming industry’s success. Now, viewers not only have the ability to select and tune into live or pre-recorded content on demand, but they can now communicate with other spectators and the streamers themselves. This is why many believe that streaming platform’s will not only trump linear TV, and others believe that linear TV will not work for esports. Twitch undoubtedly provided a context for competitive gaming and esports to thrive; the position of the spectator was now more important than ever before.
Increased spectatorship has presented opportunities for brands, particularly those non-endemic to gaming and esports, to reach audiences unlike ever before. With this, brands are contributing to the vast growth of esports, which increases audience sizes, boosts prize pools, and generates a greater number of competitions.
Three years later, in 2014, multinational technology giants Amazon subsequently purchased Twitch for a billion dollars, beginning yet another chapter in the industry’s admirable rise as a leading form of entertainment ahead of the film and music industries.
League of Legends World Championships, The International and Fortnite World Cup
In the same year that Twitch launched, so did the League of Legends World Championships. The first Championship boasted a total prize pool of $100,000, as $50,000 went to the winners, Fnatic. In 2012, hosted in Los Angeles’ Galen Center, 10,000 fans were in attendance to watch teams battle it out for an increased prize of $1m. This progression continued: in 2013, the Championship upgraded to the Staples Center in front of a sell-out crowd; 2014, hosted in Seoul in front of 40,000 fans. In 2016, the LoL Championships brought in 43m viewers, which peaked to 14.7m concurrent viewers, until 2017 where viewership rose to 60m viewers!
Similarly, The International (TI), which is Dota 2’s annual main event also demonstrates just how far esports has come. Year-after-year, TI smashes its previous years’ prize pool record, the majority of which is raised by its community. This year, competing against Valve’s TI was Epic, whom last year announced “the largest-ever esports prize pool” for the 2019 Fortnite World Cup. TI had just ousted the Fortnite World Cup with $34m going to Red Bull-sponsored OG. Despite this, the Fortnite World Cup was unrivalled in terms of exposure: a 16 year old became a multi-millionaire, a 13 year old secured himself $900,000 and all finalists (regardless of final placings) guaranteed $50,000 in just four hours!
The winners of both the TI and Fortnite World Cup subsequently became the industry’s highest earners, showing just how far esports has come; once a very niche concept now has the potential to change lives.
The Bigger Picture
Esports has indeed come a long way, as we hope we have outlined throughout this piece. The internet boom of the nineties saw the transition of localised competitive gaming competitions at arcades and gaming cafés, to the homes where players could practice and compete online with friends on consoles and PC’s. We must acknowledge how instrumental this has been in terms of catering for the mass market, and establishing player bases, but also how it has facilitated the transition back to localised competitive gaming competitions, which now cater to the growing number of leagues and tournaments.
Yet, as much as esports is changing lives, top-tier esports remains inaccessible to the majority as provisions supporting players’ progress to the top appear minimal. We will touch upon this problem and what it means for the future of esports, but for now, what’s your fondest memory of competitive gaming?
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