Data from Statista shows that approximately 3.6 thousand Americans participate in esports, the largest number of active competition players globally. Today, the electronic sports industry has become one of the biggest mediums of entertainment in the world.
However, esports has not always been a source of mainstream entertainment. In the past, the esports scene was just a miniature niche that you could only find at basement LAN parties. But with figures like Drake and Michael Jordan pouring money into this sector, its popularity has grown tremendously. Below is a brief history of esports from the 1970s until it became a full-fledged industry.
Origin of Esports
The origin of electronic sports dates back to 1972 when five students from Stanford University competed in the vintage Spacewar game. Unlike today when there is money pouring into the esports sector from viewers, sponsors, and players, there was no prize money for the winners. This event provided momentum for an official video game competition in 1980, known as the Space Invaders, attracting up to 10,000 participants.
Throughout the 1980s, several companies and game developers realized the potential of competitive gaming. Twin Galaxies, founded by Walter, created the arcade records database to store records of top scorers and arrange competitions for top players in the US. Soon, televised competitions appeared on the Starcade US television show from 1982 to 1984. Other events were also aired in shows like BBC’s ‘First Class’ and ABC’s ‘That’s Incredible.’
Development of Esports
In the late 1980s and the early 1990s, the rise of the internet led to a new dimension in the history of electronic sports. The internet made it possible to have competitive online gaming. Also, companies such as Blockbuster and Nintendo began sponsoring championships. Notably, PC games’ graphics, control, and accessibility also rose to a whole new level.
Some significant years that laid the foundation for the development of esports include:
• 1988: There was a major milestone in online gaming as Netrek brought the first online multiplayer.
• 1991: Nintendo was hugely successful with the release of Super NES, Super Mario, and StreetFigher 2, the biggest online game of the 90s. Nintendo also acted swiftly on the potential of electronic sports by launching the world championship. Game developers and designers took advantage of internet connectivity and made video games more accessible.
• 1994: Nintendo held another world championship at the grand finale in San Diego, which attracted many spectators.
• 1996: Direct competition was introduced in Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II games that determined the best player.
• 1997: The Red Annihilation competition was held, with about 2000 participants, regarded as the first true esports event.
Rapid Growth of Esports
In the 2000s, there was massive growth in video games, and more people gained access to gaming PCs. Also, South Korea became the hub of electronic sports after the mass building of LAN gaming centers and broadband internet networks that led to an influx of competition.
The advent of Twitch in the 2010s made it easier to participate in and watch esports competitions. A live streaming platform was made available in 2011, which connected gamers to esports competitions. This way, gamers could stream games in the comfort of their homes and earn a living by building an audience and gaining sponsorship deals. The platform had approximately 3.2 million visitors each month which grew to 20 million the following year.
As more people participated in esports competitions, players received some of the highest payouts. Dota 2 tournament had the largest prize pool of $18.4 million in 2015, which rose to $34.3 million in 2019. And with more funds pouring into this sector, there were more opportunities for gambling and esports betting. The presence of eSports Arena continues to grow in more than 16 Walmart locations in the US in 2021.
The growth of the esports industry doesn’t seem to slow down anytime soon. Besides, there is a booming gaming market, and sponsors are spending millions of dollars to sponsor grand events and esports teams.