Esports History: Exploring Esports Part 1

Like most people, you’ve likely heard the term ‘esports’ by now, but do you know what it means and the background behind one of the fastest growing industries of this century? Well, if not, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered with our four-part blog series, ‘Exploring Esports’. Part one begins with ‘Esports History’. Read on to find out where this thriving sector found its foundations and began the journey to household recognition. 

The roots of competitive gaming started in 1972 at Stanford University in the US. On October 19th, competitors gathered in Stanford’s AI Lab in California (one of the few places in the world with the equipment capable of facilitating such an event) to participate in what has come to be recognised as the first video game tournament, based around a rocket combat game called Spacewar. The prize? A one-year subscription to Rolling Stone magazine. 

This tiny event created a spark of momentum that led to the first official competitive gaming event in 1980, a Space Invaders championship held by developer Atari and attended by an impressive 10,000 people. The event drew huge interest from around the globe as the games industry, media and consumers started to realise how much potential there was. A Twin Galaxies competition was quick to follow the Space Invaders event which paved the way for televised broadcasts and prize money offered for the first time. 

The 1980s and 90s were arguably some of the most important years in the development of esports, as gaming powerhouse Nintendo launched the Nintendo Entertainment System which pushed consoles further into normal households, allowing gaming to become more popular. This popularity encouraged the industry to develop more powerful technology and opened the door to more competitive gaming events, as playing games became more accessible for regular consumers and widened the base of great players. Nintendo recognised this, launching the Nintendo World Championships (NWC) in 1990.

The championships ran over six days in two rounds in March and December 1990. The first round invited the most talented gamers from 29 American cities to compete for City Champion (prizes included a trophy, $250 and a trip for two to the World Finals at Universal Studios Hollywood) and the World Finals featured those City Champions playing Super Mario Bros., Rad Racer and Tetris. Prizes included a $10,000 savings bond, a car, television and gold painted Mario trophy. The 1990 NWC was arguably the first games competition that truly received global recognition, setting a standard, opening doors to the future and creating one of the most sought after Nintendo collectibles with the games cartridge used in the competitions (currently sells for between 5 and 7 figures depending). 

Fast forward to 2001; the internet had taken hold, PC gaming became a popular past-time and a first person shooter (FPS) Half-Life mod called Counterstrike was the number one competitive multiplayer game and made its esports debut with a prize fund of $150,000 and launched the modern era of competitive gaming on a global scale. 

Across the decades of esports history laid out above, the media were involved and competitions were broadcast. But as the industry grew, a battle arose for rights around different viewing mediums. This directly hampered the growth and recognition of the industry until 2011 with the launch of Twitch. Twitch started out as an offshoot of popular streaming service Justin.tv, but in 2014, they both rebranded to Twitch Interactive and thrust esports into the spotlight; providing an interactive, accessible, mass-market solution for players both large and small to stream content to the world.

Twitch was one of the first of numerous streaming providers that offered immediate access to the world of esports, with audience figures in the tens of millions, and helped turn the industry into a household name. And that’s esports history! Come back next week as we dig into the current esports industry including platforms, games, tournaments and how the sector is building for the future. 

There’s never been a better time to join the esports industry, as you’ll see in this series. We’re just at the start of what’s possible. At ACC, we’ve got esports courses designed to get you ahead of the competition and set you up for a viable career in the industry. Find out more about our courses, accepting applications for September 22, right here!