History of Esports and Competitive Gaming

30 March 2022  

While video games began in the 1950s, it wasn’t until 1972 that the the world saw the first esport competition, at Stanford University. Since then, esports have grown into a popular activity that attracts large audiences and players worldwide. Let’s dive deeper into the history of esports, to see how competitive gaming began and where it is today.

The history of esports: the origin of Esports

The Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics was the first-ever video game competition, in which five students from Stanford University participated for the prize of a year’s subscription to Rolling Stone magazine.

Following this competition, Sega launched the first competitive face-to-face arcade video game in 1974 in Japan. Sega launched this tournament to encourage play and drive the sales of video games in the country.

Players across the country competed for transistor radios, television sets, and cassette tape recorders. Many consider this tournament to be the beginning of contemporary esports as we know them today.

Between 1972 and 1979, after the first video game competition, more game developers released additional arcade games, with Space Invaders topping the list as the most popular game in the market. This led to the next big leap in the esports industry.

The history of esports: esports in 1980-1989

Esports competitions reached mainstream audiences in 1980 with the launch of Atari’s Space Invaders Championship. The competition attracted more than 10,000 players, which marked the beginning of esports as a commercial niche product.

Following this event, Walter Day launched Twin Galaxies to record top scores in the Guinness Book of World Records. This saw competitions arise over the next decade, including the entry of competitive video games in television shows such as Starcade (US) and First Class (UK).

Technology and the New Era of Esports

The 1980s played a major role in bringing video games to mainstream media and public attention. However, it was the internet in the 1990s that set the pace for the massive growth we see today.

Nintendo Entertainment focused its efforts on improving gameplay, graphics, and accessibility of video games to homes around the world. Nintendo also launched numerous esports events that saw their popularity grow.

The first event was The Nintendo World Championships, which toured the US and ended at Universal Studios, California. Nintendo also held another world championship in 1994.

PCs were another technological development that contributed to the popularity of esports. They allowed gamers to compete against each other across the world.

The later 1990s saw the development of esports leagues such as the Professional Gamers League, the Cyberathlete Professional League, and Quakecon.

1997 saw the launch of the first ‘true’ esports competition, the Red Annihilation, which included 2000 entrants who faced off one another in one-on-one competitions. The final 16 players were flown to Atlanta.  There, they competed at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, attracting both online and in-person viewership.

The 21st Century

The developments in the last three decades set the stage for the growing popularity of esports. All the moving parts were in place, and the 21st century saw these pieces come together. Internet cafes around the world and the decreasing prices of computers allowed more people to play esports.

The 21st century also witnessed a growth in the prize pool for esports competition. Twitch also played an important part in popularizing esports.

Until 2011, esports fans around the world had different viewing mediums and only had access to what their broadcasting networks had rights to. However, the launch of Twitch in 2011 allowed esports players to reach millions of esports fans, delivering the same experience to all viewers.

Twitch became, and remains, a popular place for players and fans in games like League of Legends and Defense of the Ancients 2.

The Future

The growth and popularity of esports do not seem to be slowing down. The International Olympic Committee in 2017 acknowledged the possibility of esports becoming an Olympic sport in the future.

New developments such as the metaverse may also play a key role in the development of esports over the next decade.

What do you think the future holds for esports?