The Landmark Moments That Helped Shape Esports
There are now more than 450 million esports fans across the globe and its popularity continues to skyrocket each year. The industry will be worth more than $1 billion in 2019 and blue chip companies like MasterCard, Coca-Cola, and Intel are investing huge sums in sponsoring the scene. It boasts millionaire superstars, player federations, training camps, dedicated stadiums and all the trappings of traditional sports, but it is also at the forefront of cutting edge technology. Competitive gaming has come a long way from its humble beginnings, and these are the 10 landmark moments that helped shape the industry that is flourishing today:
Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics
Esports was born in 1972 at the Stanford University Artificial Intelligence Lab in Palo Alto, California. Twenty gamers gathered around the university’s PDP-10 computer to battle for glory in the inaugural Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics. The prize was a case of beer and a year’s subscription to Rolling Stone magazine. One Bruce Baumgart won the singles tournament and Rolling Stone reporter Stewart Brand called computers “the best thing since psychedelics”.
Space Invaders Championship
Atari attracted an impressive 10,000 gamers to take part in the first ever Space Invaders Championship in 1980, making it the first esports tournament of scale. Rebecca Heineman surged to victory in the Grand Final and shot to national fame as a result. She then took a job at a magazine called Electronic Games, before going on to design games like The Bard’s Tale III and Dragon Wars for Interplay. She then set up Contraband Entertainment and Olde Sküül, joining the International Video Game Hall of Fame in 2017.
Forty of the greatest Super Street Fighter II Turbo and Street Fighter Alpha 2 players descended upon Sunnyvale, California, for the Battle of the Bay in 1996. Alex “CaliPower” Valle won the Street Fighter Alpha 2 tournament playing as Ken, Ryu and Sagat, while he also finished fourth in the Super Street Fighter II Turbo tournament, which was won by Graham “GWolfe” Wolfe. This annual event was renamed Evo in 2002 and it is still going strong to this day. Evo 2019 took place at the Mandalay Bay resort in Las Vegas, featuring Street Fighter V, Super Smash Bros., BlazBlue, Cross Tag Battle, Guilty Gear Xrd REV2, Injustice 2 and Dragon Ball FighterZ.
The world’s largest esports company was launched in 2000 as a successor of Deutsche Clanliga in Cologne, Germany. Before ESL came along, esports was a low-key, underground scene. Tournaments gained very little attention, the prize money was paltry and fans in LAN cafés with barely working connections were few and far between. ESL dragged it into the mainstream and built up leading brands like ESL One, Intel Extreme Masters, Pro League, Intel Grand Slam and National Championships. It has hosted more than 100,000 tournaments and it has offices in Germany, North America, the UK, Spain, France, Poland, China and Australia, earning it a dominant role in the burgeoning world of esports.
League of Legends Released
University of Southern California graduates Brandon Beck and Marc Merrill broke the mould when they unveiled League of Legends in 2009. They were sick and tired of developers ditching games after a few months in pursuit of the next quick buck, so they set out to create a free-to-play game that could nurture a passionate community of fans over many years. LoL was born and it has gone on to become the most popular esport in the world. Developer Riot Games constantly updates the gameplay, keeping the title fresh and dynamic, while it makes a fortune each year from microtransactions. There are now major LoL leagues in China, Korea, Europe and North America, smaller leagues across the world and massive international tournaments each year, while personalities like Faker have become superstars as a result of the game’s tremendous popularity.
The Advent of Broadband
Esports has only really taken off as a mainstream pursuit in the past decade, and that is largely thanks to the rollout of high speed broadband across the globe. It allows gamers from anywhere on the planet to come together and lock horns on Summoner’s Rift or Dune II, while millions more can stream the action direct to their computers. Broadband hit 300 million subscribers in 2010, as dial-up died out, and that really marks the birth of esports as we know it today.
Esports would be nothing without the viewers and its meteoric rise to prominence owes a great deal to streaming platform Twitch. It was launched in June 2011 as a dedicated platform for streaming video games and associated content, and it has gone on to become a behemoth. Amazon snapped it up for a cool $970 million in 2014, and that proved to be a shrewd investment, as it is now worth billions. YouTube has emerged as a credible rival, but Twitch still dominates live streaming of gaming, and it has more than 15 million daily viewers.
Believing in Unikrn
Former Microsoft Ventures boss Rahul Sood set up Unikrn.com in 2014 to capitalize on the burgeoning popularity of competitive gaming. Unikrn is an esports betting site, but it also offers news, features, tips and much more. Gaming fans love to wager on their favourite esports as it allows them to turn their expertise into a potential profit, and it boosts the thrill of watching the action unfold. This has helped the esports scene reach even greater heights, and the global esports betting handle is expected to hit $23 billion in 2020, according to researchers at Eilers & Krejcik Gaming. Most traditional bookmakers now offer esports betting, but Unikrn was a true pioneer and it remains a popular destination for many competitive gaming fans.
Invictus Conquers the World
A record-breaking 205 million people watched on as Chinese team Invictus beat Fnatic at the 2018 League of Legends World Championship Grand Final. That saw it easily eclipse the Super Bowl and many other big traditional sporting events in the popularity stakes, announcing that esports is now a credible rival to the likes of football, basketball, tennis and golf going forwards. It is extremely popular in China and if it can continue to gain momentum in the world’s most populous nation then it will enjoy a glorious future.
The International Remains on Top
Last month the prize purse for The International 2019 surged past the $30 million mark. It ensured that the leading Dota 2 tournament will retain its position as the most lucrative esports event in the world, seeing off stiff competition from the Fortnite World Cup. Fortnite developer Epic Games is desperate to turn its flagship title into an esport in order to enjoy similar longevity to LoL, Dota 2 and CS:GO, and it invested $100 million in prize money this year. That included the $30 million Fortnite World Cup, which made several teenagers into millionaires. However, the Dota 2 community was not to be outdone, and it snapped up enough battle passes to push The International 2019 prize pool north of $30 million. All this cash flooding the scene helps more gamers make a handsome living out of gaming, allows teams to play higher salaries and makes the entire scene more professional and aspirational, ensuring that esports continues to thrive.