Esports…? A History of Competitive Gaming

Video games have been around for almost half a century, but how did competition become such an integral part of their culture and economy? While the answer goes back farther than most would expect, only recently have the infrastructure and accessibility improved to the point of worldwide appeal and renown.

As far as anyone knows, the first video game competition took place in 1972 at Stanford University, where players faced off in Spacewar to win a Rolling Stone subscription in both singles and doubles. The first massive game competition wasn’t held until Atari’s Space Invaders Championship in 1980, but the 10,000+ attendees from around the country heralded in an age of competitive arcade gaming. Twin Galaxies and the Guinness World Records aided in the publicity and score-keeping of these arcade games, which began garnering television and film attention to boot.

The 1990s saw considerable improvements to competitive gaming, mostly due to the advent and improvement of internet connectivity and reliability, but local games saw a continued rise as well. Nintendo held two World Championships in 1990 and 1994, and later on the Cyberathlete Professional League was created to host tournaments for games like Counter-Strike, Quake, and Warcraft.

Modern day esports began around 2000 when KeSPA, the Korean e-Sports Association, was founded in the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, which led to mass broadband networks being built and a large unemployment rate that resulted in free time spent gaming at internet cafes. Regulating teams and the industry became more of a priority as the number of large tournaments worldwide increased from 10 to around 260 by 2010. In 2011 Twitch was launched, and the popular streaming site helped usher in a new era of more accessible spectating than ever before, reaching numbers like 4.5 million unique viewers on just that site alone for the Dota 2 event The International.

Profitability of esports is becoming undeniable, and currently they are in turn shaping the gaming industry conversely; that is to say, game developers from gigantic corporation to indie studio have begun designing, producing, and marketing games with the possibility of said game becoming an esport in mind. Riot Games founded their company and has thrived on the strength of one title, League of Legends, now the most popular game in the world by many metrics, and hordes of others startups wish to do the same. Though the controversy around the sports classification is still alive, strides are being made, and one thing is clear — esports are here to stay.