Video games: the ‘eSport’ of the future

Computer or video games can be understood as part of wider media transformations related to the improvement of current digital technologies. Video games are the most developed of the new media and they can be seen as the product between audio-visual media forms and game cultures, introducing a new relationship between subject and representation that goes beyond the ‘spectatorship’ position. Digital gaming is not only changing the way media is produced and consumed but also the way leisure is organized, playing, thus, a major role in our everyday life.


“For many years since the mid 80's the video games business has been screaming out for recognition as a valid hobby or pastime. It craved ‘mass media’ attention but would always be re-inventing itself as what it actually stood for. First they were computer games, then toy products, then interactive entertainment and now games. The whole medium of games covers art, technology, entertainment and business so they’ve always struggled to fit in. Gaming has evolved as the Internet has grown so it’s hard for the media to ignore the business.” — Jonathan Beales, video games journalist.

A brief history of video games

Evolution of Video Games 1952–2014 by Adammus95

There are several debates over which was the first video game and who was its creator, with the answer depending on how the terms ‘first’ and ‘video games’ are defined. Driven by the needs of World War II and the ‘Space Race’, the history of video games emerged in the 1940s, when academics began designing simple games, simulations, and artificial intelligence programs as part of their computer science research.

Circuitry schematic of the Cathode ray tube amusement device

The earliest known interactive electronic game was designed by Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle Ray Mann. Based on a Cathode Ray Tube (CRT), the game was a missile simulator inspired by radar displays from World War II. It used analog circuitry to control the CRT beam and position a dot on the screen. More complex video games using CRT tubes were developed and adapted into other games, gradually increasing their level of sophistication during the 1950s.

Spacewar! creators playing the game

In 1962, three students of the MIT (Martin Graetz, Stephen Russell, and Wayne Wiitanen) created the game Spacewar! on a DEC PDP-1 mini-computer, a new computer at the time. Using a vector display system, the game, started with two spaceships, controlled by two human players, shooting each other while a star in the centre of the screen created a large hazard for the crafts. Spacewar! is one of the first influential computer games and is considered the first shooter game. The original game can be played as in 1962 on any computer with Java enabled. Simply go to this link, follow the instructions and enjoy!

Telstar Console Commercial 1976 by pongmuseum.com

But video games did not reach popularity until the 1970s, when the arrival of video games in amusement arcades, basic gaming consoles and home computer games were available to the general public and companies such as Atari became well-known. Since then, video gaming has become a popular form of entertainment and a part of modern culture in most parts of the world. As of 2014, there are eight generations of video game consoles.

Click here to enlarge the image. Image by Wikia.

Electronic Sports: the story of competitive gaming

eSports are organized video game competitions between professional players, where they play video games, individually or in teams, against each other in order to win prizes or trophies.

Competitive gaming has existed almost as long as video games themselves. Earliest arcade games inspired some fierce competition between friends, challenging each other to best their high scores, but it didn’t take long for organized tournaments to emerge.

Bruce Baumgart, first winner of The Intergalactirc Spacewar! Olympics Tournament

The earliest known video game competition was held in California 42 years ago, on October 19 1972, at Stanford University for the game Spacewar! The tournament was titled “The First Intergalactic Spacewar! Olympics” and was sponsored by the music magazine Rolling Stone which offered participants beer as well as prizes such as a year’s subscription to the magazine.

In 1980, Atari held The Space Invaders Tournament which was the earliest large scale video game competition, attracting more than ten thousand participants. In the 90s, with the rise of PC gaming and major companies like Nintendo and Blockbuster sponsoring world championships, arcade and console games tournaments become increasingly common.

John Carmack (left), with his Ferrari.

Red Annihilation tournament for the first person shooter (FPS) “Quake” is considered to have been the first real eSports competition. It was held in 1997 and attracted more than 2,000 participants. The tournament was sponsored by Microsoft and the winner received a Ferrari owned by the lead programmer and co-founder of the video game company ID software, John Carmack. The prize made the news and after this things started to progress.

Several businesses with eSports as their main business model were born and just a few weeks after Red Annihilation, the Cyberathlete Professional League, one of the first major gaming leagues was founded by gaming entrepreneur Angel Munoz. In October 1997, the CPL hosted its very first event, called The FRAG and by the next year, it was offering more than $15,000 in prize money.

At this time, most eSports focused on first person shooters, sports games, and arcade-style games, but in 1998, with the release of StarCraft, real time strategy games(RTS) started to gain as much popularity as FPS. While shooters focus on twitch skills and fast reflexes, RTS games also require careful thought and long-term planning and have been compared to a modern version of chess.

StarCraft and MLG: the rise of eSports

StarCraft is a military science fiction real-time strategy video game developed and published by Blizzard Entertainment and released on March 1998. The game became the best-selling PC game for that year, selling over 1.5 million copies worldwide. Many players enjoyed it for its multiplayer system, and it gained huge followers in South Korea.

StarCraft — Video Game History by GameSpot

Professional gaming changed forever when “StarCraft: Brood War” came out later in 1998. The amount of changes, new maps and characters really made the game even better than it had been and people loved it. Companies saw business opportunities in this and in 2003 Korea had two major professional Starcraft leagues, the MBCgame Starcraft, known as the MSL and the OnGameNet Starleague (OSL), which is by many considered the most prestigious Starcraft league in the world. These leagues were formed by Korean cable companies which broadcasted Starcraft on television and had live tournaments with a great price pool.

2010 OSL Finals. Players entrance by SKT1BEST

Players started to gain publicity through television, making money out of it and living on the money they made from playing the game, both with tournament winnings and advertisements on their clothes and hats. Soon the best players started to look like typical sports stars, they began to have managers and the teams that included the best players became companies with giant sponsors.

“In America, eSports is recognised by the US government as a real sport and in South Korea the pro players are treated like soccer players in the UK, they’re major stars. It’s not going away and will only grow bigger.” — Jonathan Beales, video games journalist.
What is Major League Gaming? by MajorLeagueGaming

Two major international tournaments, the World Cyber Games and the Electronic Sports World Cup, were launched in the year 2000 but it was not until 2002 when the largest and most successful eSports league, Major Leage Gaming, was launched. MLG is a North American professional Electronic sports organization launched by Sundance DiGiovanni and Mike Sepso. It features numerous games in a variety of genres, from shooters to RTS games, and offers some luxurious prizes. In 2006, MLG became the first televised console gaming league in the United States, with their Halo 2 Pro Series being shown on the USA Network, however it did not succeed and when they realised the sponsors cared as much about having their advertisements shown through internet streaming as through TV they decided to show their events through live streams over the internet.

EGL Summer Open 2014 Teaser by eglpro

Other major tournament to arise in recent years is the European Gaming League. Founded in 2007, the EGL hosts competitive gaming events and tournaments throughout Europe but primarily in the UK. This year, EGL has announced that their summer event “EGL: Summer Open 2014” is set to take place in Blackpool.

History of competitive gaming by SuperdataResearch

The present: eSports ratings and media coverage

Major League Gaming 2013 Infographic by MLG

The presence of eSports is slowly sneaking into mainstream entertainment. Gaming series around the world are getting record number of viewers, with events being broadcasted on dedicated streaming platforms. Nowadays, bandwidth is cheap and fast, it allows people to stream and watch games everywhere on different platforms or apps for tablets and smart phones.

Companies like Twitch.tv are supplying streaming frameworks for gamers to stream their games for free through their website and the most recognized and best players are able to show their skill while practicing for big tournaments on the website and gain fame and funding through advertising. Thus, more players are able to play professionally as there are more games and more cash flow around the business.

eSports viewers 2013 Infographic by SuperdataResearch

Some of the world’s largest brands like Monster Energy, American Express and Red Bull are getting involved with eSports sponsoring organisations and individual players.

With an increased amount of people attending and competing in tournaments worldwide, the scale of events have grown monumentally.

“eSports is becoming absolutely massive. It’s really amazing to see just how far it has actually come in just a few short years.” — Ben May, professional video game player.

UK Video Game Industry

The UK is estimated to be the 5th largest video game market in 2014 in terms of consumer revenues, after the US, China, Japan and Germany.

UK games sector by CIUK TOTHEWORLD

Its involvement is predominantly in the field of software game development and many major video game franchises, such as Tomb Raider and Grand Theft Auto, are developed in the country.

UK is one of the most competitive retail games market in Europe. Video games sales generated £3.5bn in 2013, up 17% from 2012, surpassing DVDs and other video formats sales, establishing the gaming industry as the country’s biggest entertainment sector.

In 2013, UK eSports enthusiasts are more likely to play eSports franchises such as Call of Duty, League of Legends, World of Tanks, DOTA 2 and StarCraft.

Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare has been chosen by Britons as ‘Game of the year’ for 2014 and for the fifth time in UK history, Activision’s series has hit the No.1 in the best seller lists.

Call Of Duty: the ‘star’ of eSports

It is not possible to talk about eSports without mention Call Of Duty. COD is a first-person shooter video game franchise. The first title of the series was developed by Infinity Ward and published by Activision in 2003.

Histoy of Call Of Duty by Call of Duty IGN

First person shooter is one of the most common video game genres associated with eSports and the most commercially viable. It has taken more market share of any other genre in the gaming industry.

FPS is a type of three-dimensional video game genre centred on weapon-based combat through a first-person perspective. The player experiences the action through the eyes of the protagonist, and in some cases, the antagonist. They focus on action gameplay, with fast-paced and firefights, some of them place an emphasis on narrative and problem-solving. They feature a multiplayer mode which allow thousands of players to compete at once in multiple squads, with leaders issuing commands and a commander controlling the team’s strategy.

“I like the fact that it feels like I’m the person in the actual game and I get so zoned into it when I’m playing it feels like real life to me.” — Ben May, professional COD player.”
Call Of Duty Infographic by Activision. Click here to enlarge image

“COD arrived as 1 player shooter on PC, it was all WW2 based, very historic and had an incredible cinematic feel about it with really absorbing graphics & atmospheric game play. It was so technically advanced as Activision the publisher placed it head to head with a rival title from Electronic Arts called Medal of Honor. This went on for a few years but COD eventually won the war! Now its releases annually and there are 4 different development teams who are rotated every few years to deliver the latest instalment.” — Jonathan Beales, video games journalist.

Sky Sports journalist, Jonathan Beales, has been working in the video games industry since 1986. He started as a caster/presenter running events in stores such as HMV and doing Shopping Centre tours in the 1990's before eSports had really taken off, working with the games publishers who needed someone to organise some events in order to promote their new games. It then expanded to consumer shows and events like Gadget Show Live, Top Gear Live and the Goodwood Festival Of Speed.

Beales, who has been on the weekly Soccer Saturday show for 17 seasons, is producing a documentary about Call Of Duty, called CODumentary. The 90 minute documentary tracks the history of the series and the eSports scene that has sprung up around its competitive multiplayer. It provides insights from all aspects of the franchise and features interviews with professional eSports personnel.

CODumentary Trailer by CODumentary:Call Of Duty Story
“I’ve always loved COD as a single player game, I enjoy the storyline and production values. CODumentary is something I’ve always wanted to make. A film about such a great game and the story behind it. A COD documentary hasn’t yet been done whereas there’s quite a few generic eSports films and I have a policy of only getting involved with projects that I genuinely enjoy. It’s been very challenging to make and if you watch the trailer you’ll see there’s a fair bit of production which has gone into it. This is a full production with a very serious narrative and a strong message at the end. It’s in no way a fan boy type thing all about guys who just play COD. There’s way more depth to it.” — Jonathan Beales, CODumentary producer.
Call of Duty Championships 2014 Highlights by Oliwooo

Call of Duty is the most popular played franchise among eSports viewers and participants in the US and Europe. Redbull has reported new data from a research company that states Call of Duty is on top of eSports in terms of audience and viewers, being played by 56% of active eSports participants.

“It’s got a core audience of 40 million players and the majority of people buy it to play online in teams and against each other. As a multi player game it’s been incredibly well designed with slick weapons and strong attention to detail.” — Jonathan Beales, video games caster.

Earlier this year, during a MLG event in Anaheim, US, COD hit highest attendance of any game at an MLG event in league history.

“It’s really enjoyable to watch as a spectator and that’s why I think so many people love it, because it can be really fast paced and exciting” — Ben May, professional COD player.

The future of eSports

The eSports industry is one to be taken seriously from a financial, cultural, and technological standpoint. It is undeniable that pro gaming is rapidly developing and innovating as technology becomes more integrated into society. Virtual reality innovators are bringing video games to the lead of technology.

SuperData, digital media intelligence company, has reported that total competitive gaming viewership reached 71.5 million viewers across all platforms in 2013. Thanks to live streaming, allowing fans to watch tournaments over the internet on channels like Twitch, Ustream and XboxLive, eSports has become a multimillion-dollar industry in Europe and the United States, featuring major global events attended by thousands and watched by millions. The 2013 League of Legends Season 3 World Championship surpassed both the BCS National Championship and Game 7 of the NBA Finals by 7 million viewers.

Competitive gaming is recognized as a pro sport in United States. The US government recognizes League of Legends pro players as professional athletes and it has started to award visas to eSports players working in the United States. Academic institutions are rewarding college scholarships for qualified eSports players. Robert Morris University, Illinois, introduced a scholarship last year that covered up to 50 percent of tuition and 50 percent of room and board and The University of Pikeville in Kentucky will offer 20 scholarships for high level League of Legends players in 2015.

The UK is getting its first eSports arena next year since Gfinity, a pro gaming company that organises live eSports tournaments, has announced that it will open a permanent venue in London in 2015. The arena will host different tournaments, covering competitive games such as Call of Duty and will accommodate up to 500 spectators. This is such a good new since the UK has several dedicated eSports teams and with the new arena it may be possible to increase the popularity of competitive gaming in the country.

“It’s brilliant news. GFinity have done so much for UK eSports, they’ve put it on a new level. An eSports arena is needed and it’ll be a huge hit, can’t wait for it to open!” Jonathan Beales, video games journalist
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