To understand how truly far eSports has come, we must go back to the birth of computerized gaming in the 1950’s. Not surprisingly, the first game for PC was a copy of an already existing game. Dubbed “XOX” it was created by Alexander Shafto Douglas, a computer scientist working on his PhD at Cambridge, who programmed a PC to play “Tic-Tac-Toe”. While extremely simple this game allowed humans and machines to compete for the first time ever and served as a small step forward in the history of video games.
Then in 1958, a big shift occurred when we received the world’s first ever multiplayer game, “Tennis for Two”. This game allowed players to simulate, you guessed it, a game of tennis. Using an early version of today’s joystick, players could hit a virtual ball across a virtual net until one player emerged victorious. Definitely not the best game of all time, but it was a start. Most importantly it allowed players to compete against one another, the basis for any eSport popular today.
After the commercial success of “Tennis for Two” the video game industry continued to grow quickly. In 1962 Spacewar was released, and even with its simple concept the game was a huge hit. In fact, it even made the New York Times list of top ten games of all time in 2007. As discussed earlier, this game placed its players in separate spaceships in 2D space with a limited supply of fuel and ammo. The opponents would then battle to the death all while fighting the gravitational field of the nearby planet. Ten years after its release Spacewar was the first game to host a competitive tournament, and as mentioned above Bruce Baumgart won, ushering in a new era of competitive gaming.
As the 1960’s rolled on into the 1970’s interest in video games continued to grow. Amusement halls across the country became arcades, and home consoles were born. People flocked to arcades to play the newest hit games like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Space Invaders and arcades became a popular American pastime. Even more so when, in 1979, people could immortalize themselves in the new permanent highscore lists on both Asteroids and Starfire. Additionally when the “Magnavox Odyssey” came out in 1972 you could now directly hook up a console to your TV at home and game for hours.
In the 1980’s video game tournaments took off with an influx of investment from gaming companies. Atari kicked this off by hosting the world’s first national video game tournament in 1980. The “Space Invaders Championships” featured 10,000 gamers competing to win a version of “Asteroids”. William Salvador Heineman was crowned the winner on October 10th 1980, becoming the first ever winner of a national video game competition. eSports continued to grow as early leaders in the industry like Walter Day emerged. He founded both “Twin Galaxies National Scoreboard (TGNS)” and “U.S. National Video Team”, the first professional gaming team in the world. TGNS helped to grow gaming by keeping a national scoreboard which only the best could hope to land on and the team gave hope to people that gaming could one day become a profession like any other.
Next in the 1990’s Nintendo jumped on the eSports bandwagon, organizing the “Nintendo World Championships” in the USA which pitted competitors against each other in Nintendo’s best games. The Finals occurred December 7th–9th, 1990 with three World Champion titles given out to Jeff Hansen winner in the 11 and under category, Thor Aackerlund winner of the 12–17 category, and Robert Whiteman who won the 18 and older category. Not only was the tournament more competitive the prizes were better as each winner was awarded with a new 1990 Geo Metro Convertible, a $10,000 U.S. savings bond, a 40″ Rear-projection television, and a gold painted Mario trophy.
These console based companies helped push us in the right direction but it became clear soon their time was almost up. Why? Because later into the 1990’s more people gained access to the internet and increasing innovations continued to drive down the price of PC hardware resulting in a PC boom. Players flocked to PC where they could compete online with friends in games like Doom, Quake, and Counter-Strike all from the comfort of their own home. As these games and their player bases quickly grew PC gaming started being approached more professionally and the the first leagues were formed. For example, the Electronic Sports League which was founded in 1998 and the Korean e-Sports Association in 2000.
In the following years video game tournaments continued their assent to where they are today. In 2000, the first World Cyber Games were held in Seoul, South Korea. Next came the 2003 Electronic Sports World Cup in Poitiers, France. Then the Cyberathlete Professional League(CPL) World Tour in 2005, the first million dollar tournament, which was a huge success. The CPL finale was even live broadcast by MTV, marking eSports emergence into the mainstream. As these tournaments grew and spawned more tournaments around the world, eSports entertainment value grew rapidly. Now, as more and more people compete to be the best at their favorite game, the industry continues to expand. Whether your game of choice is Halo, Counter-Strike, or Fortnite, you can compete for entry into these tournaments with the professionals and win extremely large cash prizes for playing video games. Isn’t it crazy how things can change?