A History of the Fast-Rising ESports Industry

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Because of its explosive growth, many people believe that the eSports industry popped up from nowhere. But that’s simply not true. ESports started in the 1970s, in obscurity. Nowadays, eSports hit live television on platforms like ESPN, and boast tens of millions in prize money. Back in the ’70s, they were unpopular and small—but still there! Just waiting for their time to shine. Fortunately for gamers everywhere, that time is now.

October 19, 1972

The event that started it all took place in the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at Stanford University. Students were invited to compete in a simple early computer game called Spacewar. First prize was a year’s subscription to Rolling Stone magazine. Bruce Baumgart won and unknowingly made history as the first person to win an eSports tournament.

Late 1980

In 1980, Atari held the first tournament for the arcade game Space Invaders, a landmark of that era.

Such tournaments gave video games a much-needed push toward the limelight. They were now in the public eye.

Walter Day

The following year, American businessman Walter Day created an organization called Twin Galaxies, for the purpose of keeping world records for video gaming. Endorsed and supported by Guinness World Records, Twin Galaxies went on to become part of the foundation the industry was built on.

Billy Mitchell

A player named Billy Mitchell became renowned for mastering many types of video games, among them Pac Man and Donkey Kong. His fame led to a phenomenon in which people competed for high scores. Mitchell’s success brought him and the video games he had mastered to live television.

A technological arms race

With new technology introduced in the late 1980s and early 1990s, companies like Nintendo burst onto the scene. Graphics, controls, and gameplay were all vastly improved, and technology like the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) was released. With the rise of the Internet, eSports began to climb the steep hill towards mass popularity.

Nintendo World Championships

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As Nintendo held the reins of the growing eSports industry, it began to host worldwide events to showcase the SNES. Most of the events took place in the United States and concluded in California, at Universal Studios. Further tournaments to promote the SNES were run in San Diego.

The rise of PC gaming

With widespread use of the Internet and PCs, players could go online and face off against one another, regardless of whether they were in the same room or a different country. The rise of PC gaming allowed the first eSport tournaments of stature to occur, and the first eSports leagues to be founded. The following were the most popular.

The Red Annihilation

In the opinion of many, the first true eSports tournament was the Red Annihilation of the mid-1990s. It involved the game Quake and nearly 2,000 players worldwide. These players faced off a one-on-one, with the winner moving on. Eventually, by May 1997, the field was narrowed to 16, who were flown to Atlanta, Georgia. A Ferrari 328 GTS was the grand prize won by Dennis Fong, known by his gamer tag Thresh.

FUN Technologies

In 2006, the Toronto online-game company FUN Technologies hosted an ePports tournament in which 71 players competed for a $1 million grand prize. In the months following, dozens of other tournaments were held. To many, this era marks the start of the industry’s explosive growth.

Wii Games Summer 2010

After a long absence from the eSports world, Nintendo decided to host a monthlong tournament to showcase its new eSports hit Super Smash Bros. This cemented the Nintendo Wii as a top console.

The introduction of Twitch

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When the video-game live-streaming service Twitch was introduced in 2011, the entire industry was reshaped. Tournaments became available to anyone and everyone online. Corporations could sponsor events, and fans could watch. This marked the beginning of fan bases for individual players, who routinely had thousands watching them.

League of Legends World Championship

The inaugural League of Legends World Championship took place in Sweden in 2011, with an overall prize pool of $100,000. A year later, in California, the second world championship took place, this time with a top prize worth over $1 million. By 2016, the League of Legends World Championship had over 43 million viewers worldwide. In 2017, it had over 60 million.

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The future

Not only are leagues, teams, and players becoming more and more popular and abundant, but large corporations are beginning to acknowledge the presence of this new industry. In 2014, Amazon bought Twitch for close to a billion dollars, and A-list celebrities and athletes have recently been investing millions in eSports. The future is definitely looking up.

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