Esports has shaken up the status quo and is a tech disruptor on par with the iphone. Today esports and gaming is a big part of the global economy, bigger than film and music combined, with its origins date back nearly a century, with the first brick (no not Tetris!) laid… in the 50s! eSport consists of playing a video game in a competitive context. Alone or in teams, players compete on their favorite games with the aim of winning the trophy and the reward. Esports tournament events bringing together tens of thousands of people today, creation of specialised schools, debate to know if e-sport is a sport in its own right and should integrate the Olympic Games … This practice has become part of the heart of the topicality and takes an increasingly important place. But how did esports come to be so successful? Connect your keyboard, mouse or controller, close the shutters, don your headset and take a few breaths - because deciphering the programmed success of electronic sport is a marathon itself!
In this article, eSports tipster takes a detailed look back at the landmark events which helped shape eSports as we know and love it today.
1950s - the first computer was born
At that time, e-sport did not exist, neither did video games. But the first computer is considered to be the trigger for the e-sport phenomenon. In 1952, IBM created the first scientific computer, used for American defence: the IBM 701, a real re-vo-lu-tion. The first game in history to see the light of day is OXO , on an older machine (Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator). The OXO, better known under the name of Tic Tac Toe or Morpion, appeared in 1952, and consists of making a sequence of 3 crosses or 3 circles on a grid of 9 squares. Well, not sure that a Tic Tac Toe competition will be full today, we agree!
But the release of this game allowed years of computer development, with the primary goal of developing a solution that would allow two players to compete against each other. Successful challenge in 1958 with the game Tennis for Two , which is the first multiplayer game in the history of video games. Thank you William Higinbotham for offering gamers of the day the chance to have fun with a joystick, a concept developed on a $120,000 analog computer from MIT. An astronomical sum!
A few years later, in 1962, it was Spacewar! which is designed. The particularity of Spacewar! ? To be the first game installable on 2 computers. An ultra-worked game, in which ships are equipped with fuel and ammunition and must destroy themselves. The gameplay is precise, and the code repeated several times later by the developers in the 60s. Spacewar! is the game that has most influenced these professionals.
1970s: The first esports tournament The development of video games is accentuated in the early 1970s, with a public increasingly passionate about the phenomenon.
1972 Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics
This is hailed as the very first video game competition. It took place on October 19, 1972 at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of Stanford University in California. The game played was Spacewar! which has an area-style vibe. The PDP 10 computer was used and around two dozen players who gathered in Palo Alto, California, around Stanford’s only PDP-10 computer to compete. Players fought by throwing projectiles, avoiding hazards and controlling their trajectory. The ultimate aim of the game is to torpedo enemies. A player is beaten when his ship collides with the sun or is hit by an enemy missile.
The retro Spacewar! on the PDP-1 computer is a much sought after bit of kit which you can still buy today on sites such as eBay. Alternatively, if you are in Cali, Spacewar! is still available to play on an original PDP-1 at the Computer History Museum in Moutain View, California. These throwback Spacewar! Events take place on the first and third Saturdays of the month from 3pm to 3:30pm
The Intergalactic Spacewar , the first esports tournament in which 24 players were ready to compete on a computer. 5 players play at the same time, a team game mode is also available. The winner’s reward? A far cry from today’s esports prize money! Slim Tovar and Robert E.Maas as a team, Bruce Baumgart as a solo player, won… a year’s subscription to Rolling Stone magazine who sponsored the event. A small gain, of course, but the immense pride of being the very first winners of an e-sport tournament in history.
Everything accelerated during this period, with in particular the advent of games and arcades. Arcade Pong terminal (1972), Home Pong (1975), Atari 2600 (1976): the video game industry was born. Atari was one of the major players in the development of gaming with its home console. The years that followed were a series of successes, with Sea Wolf and Space Invaders (1978).
1980 The National Space Invaders Championship
In 1980, no less than 10,000 American gamers gathered for the first national competition during the Space Invaders Championships. Also in 1980, the famous Pacman landed. The phenomenon is such that in 1981, the first TV program dedicated to video games is offered on the air with the show Starcade. Proof of the immense success of arcade terminals: in 1981.
Fast forward to the eighties and on November 1, 1980 the Space Invaders national championship took place in the United States. Sponsored by Atari, the tournament brought together almost 10,000 participants. Regional Qualifiers were held in San Francisco, Fort Worth, Chicago, New York and LA. The five regional winners were pitted head to head at Warner HQ in New York. Bill Heineman from LA won and left with a “Asteroids Machine cocktail” of Atari. After the championship, the competitive video game is recognised as a gaining momentum.
The Space Invaders national championship by Atari in 1980 to promote their new console.
The 1990s: the internet turning point It was at the beginning of the 1990s that the Internet emerged in the USA and in Europe, which largely contributed to developing the prospects for the evolution of e-sport tournaments. The practice is structured, with in particular the Nintendo World Championships which take place in several stages on the games Super Mario Bros., Rad Racer and Tetris. One winner for each category, each walking away with $10,000 US savings bond, a new Geo Metro Convertible, a 40″ TV, and a gold-painted Mario trophy. The payouts are starting to get interesting. But that’s nothing compared to the future jackpots that await players in the years to come.
1990 Nintendo World Championships
Many of the great nineties video games have Internet connectivity, especially the PC games.
During March 1990 the first edition of Nintendo World Championships took place. The championship took place across various locations, touring in 29 cities across the United States in total. The finalists won a trophy, along with US $250 and access to the grand final plus travel expenses. The grand final was held in December 1990 at Universal Studios in Hollywood, California. For the grand final, the game cartridge included three mini games customised based on the popular game Super Mario Bros., Rad Racer and Tetris. Total game time was 6 minutes and 21 seconds. The aim was to achieve a high score in a personalised cumulative rating formula in all three games.
3 titles were given to three winners in each category: Jeff Hansen for less than 11 years, Thor Aackerlund for 12-17 years, and Robert Whiteman for over 18 years. Each winner of the 3 categories was awarded US $10,000 in investment securities, a car Geo Metro Convertible, a rear projection TV 40 ” and a Mario trophy painted gold. Second place walked away with US $1,000 US investment securities and a silver Mario trophy.
In 2015, Nintendo honoured the first Nintendo World Championships by organising the 2nd Nintendo World Championships during E3 2015.
DreamHack started as a gathering of classmates and friends & in the basement of their school in the nineties in Sweden. In 1994, the event moved to the school cafeteria and became one of the biggest regional LAN games at the time. It was in 1994 that the DreamHack adopted the name. In 1997, DreamHack was held in the Arena Kupolen in Borlänge and became the largest of the Swedish LANs, and 3rd largest LAN in Scandinavia. In 2002, DreamHack became a semi-annual event, with DreamHack Summer and DreamHack Winter. In 2011 came the League of Legends Season 1 World Championship. DreamHack is arguably the biggest festival in the digital world, organising e-Sports, digital art events, & live concerts throughout Europe at cities including; Stockholm, Jönköping, Tours, Bucharest , Cluj, Valences, London, Leipzig. DreamHack hit America and for the first time during in 2016 going across the pond to the cities Austin and Montreal.
1996 EVO Championship Series founded
The Evolution Championship Series (EVO) was founded in 1996 by Tom Cannon, and consisted of an annual tournament around fighting games only. In 1996, the tournament was launched under the name of “Battle by the Bay” on games Super Street Fighter II Turbo and Street Fighter Alpha 2 in Sunnyvale, California. The tournament is open to all & and is double elimination. Players from around the world to played, many from Japan. In 2002, the event took the name of EVO. In 2009, the tournament hosted thousands of participants.
1997 Red Annihilation tournament
The first tournament with a major stake dates back to 1997 with the Red Annihilation, a tournament on Quake (FPS). The final is organized by Microsoft during E3 1997 (it was the largest video game show in the world). More than 2,000 players came together to try to win the incredible prize offered by John Carmack, the game’s creator: his Ferrari 328 GTS Cabriolet! This global event marks the official debut of esports, and the winner of the competition, Dennis “Thresh” Fong, thus became the first known professional player in history.
It was in the United States on May 1997 that the Red Annihilation Quake tournament took place. Dennis “Thresh” Fong won against Tom “Entropy” Kimzey on the map “The Castle of the Damned.” Dennis Fong won a Ferrari 328 GTS Cabriolet!
Dennis Fong sat in the Ferrari 328 GTS convertible at the Red Annihilation 1997
1997 The FRAG
During 1997, a number of professional and semi-professional leagues online emerge, among them the CPL.
The Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL), founded in 1997 by Angel Munoz in Dallas, Texas, hosted its first tournament on October 1997, called The FRAG. The prizes consisted of equipment amounting to US $ 4,000. The following year, the CPL organised The FRAG 2, with a cashprize US $ 15,000. To date, the CPL has distributed over three million dollars in cash money prizes.
The Electronic Sports League (ESL) was founded in 1997 under the name of Deutsche Clanliga (decl) by current President Ralf Reichert and members of SK Gaming. It began to don name of ESL in 2000. Today, the portal brings ESL & more than 6 million users and more than 1 million of teams, more than 50 video games of various kinds, through national and international leagues. ESL is also involved in the IEM.
On 31 March 1998, Blizzard released the StarCraft game, running on Microsoft Windows. The game was a huge success, with more than eleven million copies sold worldwide. It is one of the best-selling PC video games, and in terms of the real time strategy game genre is the best selling of all time.
It is arguably down to the level of detail in the online capabilities of StarCraft that eSports is where it is at today. The popularity of StarCraft online has helped eSports develop on the professional stage. This is especially true in South Korea. The young adults of South Korea have played a key role in laying the eSports professional foundations and have shaped what eSports tournaments are in the world today.
2000’s: Esports surges
BOOM! 2000s, e-sport is launched, the internet arrives in more and more homes, technologies improve. The development of the Internet makes it possible to play online and no longer in LAN (local area networks). One of the biggest current e-sports leagues is born: the Korea e-Sports Association (KeSPA), followed by the World Cyber Games (WCG), the Electronic Sports World Cup (ESWC) as well as the Major League Gaming (MLG ) allowing the practice to democratize in Asia, Europe and North America which now have their major leagues. Tournaments are flourishing, players travel all over the world, prize money is exploding. Business is skyrocketing!
However, it has been since the 2000s that eSports has enjoyed exponential growth, both in terms of players and spectators, and of course also in monetary terms. For example, while in 2000 there were around 10 world eSports tournaments, in 2010 these increased to 260. Today’s most successful championships date back to these years, such as the World Cyber Games, the Intel Extreme Masters (sponsored by Intel), and Major League Gaming .
Games like Counter Strike, Quake, Unreal Tournament, Starcraft, then Warcraft 3, catapulted esports into the hearts of millenial youth.
In South Korea during 2000, the Korean e-Sports Players Association (KeSPA) was created, supported by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, which officially recognised the eSports as a national sport. In South Korea, eSports is currently the second most watched sport after baseball. KeSPA is one of the largest eSports organisations worldwide and is the reason why the eSports is so popular in South Korea and globally.
2000 was a productive year for eSports in South Korea. The World Cyber Games (WCG) was launched pioneered by Hank Jeong, president and director of the ICM (International Cyber Marketing), and financially supported by Samsung Korea. They organised their first event, “The World Cyber Game Challenge” in October 2000. The event was sponsored by the Republic of Korea, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the Ministry of Information and Communications and also tech giant Samsung. The event brought together teams from 17 different countries who battled on PC games such as Quake III Arena, FIFA 2000 Age of Empires II and StarCraft.
2001 CSGO tournament
The first milestone in the rise of esports to a billion-dollar industry was CSGO, the popular FPS game that had its first large-scale tournament in 2001. The winners were Ninjas in Pajamas who took home $150,000.
In 2002 Major League Gaming (MLG) was launched by Sundance DiGiovanni and Mike Sepso. MLG is a professional gaming league which organises events in major cities of the United States and Canada. MLG tournaments are broadcast on several TV channels, including ESPN. Today MLG is one of the largest eSports associations in the world and organises the some of the biggest tournaments in the world.
The Electronic Sports World Cup (now recognised as ESWC) was originally created by Ligarena, a French company which organised LAN throughout France under the LAN Arena name. In 2003, Ligarena decided to prepare a much larger event and organised the first ESWC. That year it brought together nearly 358 participants from 37 countries with a cash prize US $150,000 on the Counter-Strike games, Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, Unreal Tournament 2003 and Quake 3. The event took place at the Futuroscope in Poitiers. To qualify contestants had to pre-qualify in their country.
2005 The 2005 CPL World Tour
The 2005 CPL World Tour is a competition that was launched by the CPL during January 2005. It took place throughout 2005 around the world, with 9 international stages and one huge final which took place in New York in November 2005. The final brought together 32 finalists from around the world and the event was televised by MTV. Cash money prizes totalled US $1,000,000 and the winner, Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel, won the biggest cash prize in the history of the CPL scooping US $150,000. The official game of the event was Painkiller, a FPS developed by leading Polish game studio People Can Fly and published by DreamCatcher Interactive.
Fatal1ty, winner of the 2005 CPL World Tour
2006 Intel Extreme Masters
The IEM is a product of the ESL. In 2006, while Intel was sponsoring several tournaments throughout Europe, the company saw an opening for expansion particularly in the North American market, and then provided the funding for a world tournament, calling the Intel Extreme Masters. The first IEM took place in 2007 and the grand finals were held at CeBIT, the largest exhibition for technologies, nestled in Hanover in Germany. Participants played on Counter-Strike and Warcraft III.
2010 The scandal of match fixing
In May 2010, a scandal surfaced in South Korea. Eleven Korean professional players, including Savi0r, considered one of the best StarCraft players of all time, were approached regarding match fixing. Players rigged professional games in order to earn huge sums of money often by betting against themselves. This event has a destructive impact on eSports and its reputation in South Korea, as well as on the fan community, which feels betrayed.
2011 The International
The International 2011 marked a huge milestone in the history of esports. Organised by Valve Corporation, the first International took place in Cologne, Germany. It was a mega tournament for the multiplayer battle game Dota 2, featuring a prize pool of $1.6 million, which was considered unprecedented at the time. The event attracted top Dota 2 teams globally to compete for the title of best team overall. The final match, played on August 21, 2011, saw Natus Vincere (Na’Vi) from Ukraine emerge victorious, defeating EHOME from China in an epic showdown. The success of The International 2011 not only elevated Dota 2’s status as a premier esports title but also set the stage for the game’s continued growth in the competitive gaming scene.
2011 Twitch launch
After the development of the Internet, the appearance of Twitch in 2011, which aims to broadcast e-sport competitions to make them accessible to as many people as possible. Very quickly, Twitch reached 5 million users. Everything is accelerating. League of Legend enters the scene, as do Dota 2 and Call of Duty. These three games are competing for the title of the most viewed game on Twitch. This fight is tough, but the platform is rubbing its hands: in 2013, Twitch had 45 million viewers.
At the same time, TVs also began broadcasting eSports competitions, with the birth of dedicated channels. However, the preferred method for users to follow eSports remained the Internet, and in particular the dedicated social network Twitch. By 2018 the platform had 2.2 million monthly broadcasts and 15 million daily active users.
2012 The Season 2 World Championship League of Legends
The second season of the World Championship of League of Legends 2012 offered the biggest cash prize of all time. A huge sum of US $2 million. 12 teams from around the world participated in the tournament. The final took place on October 13, 2012 and gathered 8.2 million viewers, making the event the most watched eSports event of all time. This record is of course surpassed since.
2012 Oxent ESWC merger
After purchasing Games-Solution in 2009, the French company Oxent, known for its online competition platform management Toornament acquires the ESWC in 2012.
After acquiring Games-Solution in 2009, Oxent, a renowned French company known for its expertise in online competition platform management through Tournament, took another significant step in the esports industry by acquiring the Electronic Sports World Cup (ESWC) in 2012. The acquisition of ESWC was a strategic move that solidified Oxent’s position as a major player in the competitive gaming landscape. ESWC, a prestigious international esports tournament, had already garnered a reputation for hosting top-tier competitions across various popular titles such as Counter-Strike, Warcraft III, and Quake. With the addition of ESWC to its portfolio, Oxent expanded its reach into organizing and managing high-profile esports events on a global scale.
The collaboration between Oxent and ESWC brought numerous benefits to the esports community. Oxent’s expertise in organizing online tournaments and providing robust competition platforms added a new dimension to ESWC’s operations, enhancing the overall experience for both players and fans. The acquisition allowed ESWC to tap into Oxent’s extensive network of gaming enthusiasts and leverage their cutting-edge technologies for improved tournament logistics and broadcasting capabilities. As a result, ESWC gained more visibility and credibility within the esports ecosystem, attracting top teams, sponsors, and a larger audience to its events.
The synergy between Oxent and ESWC proved to be a game-changer in the esports landscape. Their combined efforts contributed to the growth and professionalization of esports as a mainstream industry, paving the way for even more exciting and well-organized tournaments in the years to come. The acquisition of ESWC by Oxent remains a pivotal moment in the history of esports, demonstrating how strategic partnerships and visionary leadership can elevate the status of competitive gaming worldwide.
2013 US recognises eSports professional players
A groundbreaking milestone reared its head during July 2013 when the US government finally decided to recognise the professional players of League of Legends as athletes and professionals offering foreign players visas to enter competitions in the US. This saw the official LOL tournament League Championship Series as being recognised as a sport by the US government.
2015 DreamHack Stockholm
DreamHack Stockholm 2015 was a mammoth event in the world of esports and gaming culture. Held in the Swedish capital, Stockholm, it was one of the most significant and prestigious editions of the DreamHack festival. The event brought together thousands of gamers, esports fans, and industry pros from all over the world united by their love of video games and esports tournaments. DreamHack Stockholm 2015 featured a wide range of esports tournaments, including popular titles like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends, and Dota 2, among others. The festival also hosted digital art events, live concerts, and showcased the latest advancements in gaming technology. With its rich history, dedicated community, and diverse range of activities, DreamHack Stockholm 2015 solidified its position as a premier esports event and further contributed to the growth and recognition of esports on the global stage.
2015 eSports recognised as an Olympic sport at level 2
With the pressure put by KeSPA, the KOC (Korean Olympic Committee) recognised eSports as an Olympic sport at level 2, alongside chess, cheerleading, polo or motor racing. It was on January 27, 2015 that the decision was taken by the the Korea Council of Sports. Recognition by the KOC puts pressure on the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which oversees the inclusion and exclusion of sports events at the Olympics.
To coinside with esports being recognised as an Olympic sports at level 2, the number of spectators following eSports live grew exponentially. In 2015, the Esports Arena opened its doors in Santa Ana, California, the first facility entirely dedicated to eSports. A few years later, in 2018, a second arena joined it in the premises of the famous Luxor Las Vegas hotel.
2015 MTG Purchase ESL
In July 2015, the Modern Times Group (MTG) acquired 74% of Turtle Entertainment, the company that owns the ESL portal, for US $86 million.
The acquisition of Turtle Entertainment, the company behind the ESL portal, by the Modern Times Group (MTG) in July 2015 was a landmark deal that reshaped the landscape of esports. With a staggering investment of US$ 86 million, MTG acquired a significant 74% stake in the renowned esports organization. This strategic move showcased the growing interest of major media companies in the potential of esports as a lucrative industry. MTG, a Swedish entertainment company with a vast portfolio of media properties, recognized the immense value and popularity of esports, and saw the ESL as a gateway to tap into this thriving market.
By acquiring a majority share in the ESL, MTG secured a dominant position in the world of esports content and event organization. The ESL, or Electronic Sports League, is one of the largest and most influential esports organizations globally, known for hosting premier tournaments, leagues, and events across various gaming titles. The partnership with MTG provided the ESL with access to substantial financial resources and extensive media reach, elevating the visibility and production quality of its esports competitions.
For MTG, the acquisition of the ESL represented a strategic entry into the esports arena, diversifying its entertainment offerings and gaining a foothold in the rapidly expanding esports industry. The move was an acknowledgment of the global appeal and engagement potential of esports, especially among younger audiences. MTG’s investment in the ESL further legitimized esports as a mainstream form of entertainment and attracted attention from traditional media outlets and advertisers seeking to reach the ever-growing esports fanbase.
The MTG x ESL deal set new standards for esports event production, broadcasting, and fan engagement. As esports continued to gain popularity and recognition worldwide, the acquisition solidified MTG’s position as a major player in the media and entertainment landscape. The success of this partnership laid the groundwork for more substantial investments and partnerships between established media companies and esports organizations, further accelerating the growth and professionalization of esports as a global phenomenon. The acquisition of the ESL by MTG in 2015 remains a pivotal moment in the history of esports, signaling the industry’s transition from a niche subculture to a mainstream entertainment powerhouse.
2015 The International - biggest cash prize to date
During 2015 The International, which is the the biggest annual tournament for Dota 2, brought the biggest cash prize in the history of eSports: US $17 million in total. Part of cash prize was funded by the gaming community. The previous record was held by The International, in 2014, with a total allocation of US$10.9 million.
2015 scandal in South Korea
In October 2015, a new scandal broke out in South Korea, once again the foucs was on match fixing. At least 12 people were involved in match-fixing on StarCraft2, including 2 professional players and the coach of the Korean team Prime. Choi “Yoda” Byeon-Heon and Choi “BBoongBBoong” Jong-Hyuk (B4) paid the price and received a ban for life by KeSPA and were arrested by the police. Player B4 received cash in exchange for a lost match, while Yoda is known to have received US $26.600 in exchange for fixing a handful of matches. In terms of punishment a total of 12 people, including brokers, were involved in the scandal.
2016 Activision Blizzard acquire Major League Gaming
The year 2016 marked a significant moment in the evolution of esports as a mainstream industry with Activision Blizzard’s acquisition of Major League Gaming (MLG) for a whopping US$ 46 million. This strategic move by the gaming giant signaled its intent to establish a dominant presence in the competitive gaming space. MLG, a prominent esports organization known for organizing major tournaments and leagues, had already garnered a substantial following and a reputation for delivering top-tier esports experiences. The acquisition by Activision Blizzard, a leading publisher of popular gaming titles like Call of Duty and Overwatch, created a powerful synergy that combined MLG’s expertise in esports event organization with Activision Blizzard’s expansive gaming portfolio and financial resources. This union further solidified the legitimacy of esports and attracted more traditional sports investors and media outlets to the rapidly growing industry. The purchase of MLG by Activision Blizzard in 2016 played a pivotal role in elevating esports to new heights and set the stage for even more significant growth and innovation in the years to come.
Arguably, the first major milestone in the rise of esports to a billion-dollar industry was CSGO’s tournament in 2001. The popular first-person shooter game gave esports its first large-scale event and winners Ninjas in Pyjamas, a Swedish team, netted $150,000.
Esports has been shaped over several decades, through computer developments, technological exploits, and perfectly negotiated opportunities. The development of the Internet has largely contributed to the success of esports today, but it is not the only factor in this success. The democratization and scale of the e-sport phenomenon have been driven by streaming (Youtube, Twitch), but also by sponsorship and the increasingly strong media coverage of this practice. CANAL+, for example, is the first French television channel to devote an e-Sport program every week. beIN eSports, E-football League, talk shows are emerging, the team even devotes a section of its site to it.
Today esports has an estimated global audience of 475 million for big tournaments. Prize money for esports tournament-winning teams is set to reach over $10 million by 2030.
Recently Tundra esports, an esports team from London, England won The International 2022, a tournament funded by in-game purchases, pushing prize money into multiple millions, after beating Team Secret 3-0 in the final in Singapore in front of 10,000 spectators and pocketing a cool $8.5m share of the prize pool of over $17m playing DOTA 2.
Now world famous, the International tournaments for the multiplayer battle game DOTA 2 began in 2011 with a prize pool of $1.6 million, which rose to $10.8 million in 2014. By last year, the gaming boom due to lockdowns swelled the pool to $40 million.
The win grants the team the title of the best Dota 2 team in the world and a massive first place prize of at least $8,486,704.
The final match was watched by 1.7 million worldwide, putting both Tundra and esports on the map.
Esports has therefore taken up the winning bet to earn its place in the sports landscape by establishing itself as an innovative, technical, strategic discipline that requires dexterity and concentration…all from your chair. Simply unheard of!
Esports truly can create millionaires in the same way that the Premier League can. Jaden “Wolfiez” Ashman, an 18-year-old gamer from the UK, has earned in the region of $1.5 million.