While traditional sports fans taking a recent interest in esports might think they are quite a new invention, this is not the case at all.
In fact, the history of esports actually dates back almost 50 years. While that event at Stanford University – which was centred on the game Spacewar! – looked totally different to the glitzy esports events of today, the world of competitive gaming has been developing for decades.
A few years after the Spacewar! tournament at Stanford, some 10,000 competitors took part in a New York City tournament on the Atari classic Space Invaders. Rebecca Heineman won the event and then later went on to forge a successful career as a games developer.
It is fair to say that it took a long time for esports to capture a larger audience, though. The 1990s was the time that esports started to see serious growth, with PC games such as Doom and Quake attracting a lot of people to competitive gaming for the first time.
One of the major esports stars of the era was Johnathan Wendel, a Quake specialist who played under the name ‘Fatal1ty’. Wendel was one of the first esports stars to use sponsorships to make money and a lot of top players follow the same formula to make their money today.
During this period, gaming was still widely seen as quite a niche activity. But the arrival of the next generation of home consoles, led by the PlayStation from Sony – the first console to sell more than 100 million units – brought gaming to the masses for the first time.
The rise of esports in the noughties and beyond
Competitive gaming needed one title to really push it to the next level – and that was StarCraft. The game, which sold over 10 million units, had mass appeal as it was about much more than button-bashing.
Strategy was at the heart of StarCrafts success, making it ideal as an eSport. The sequel – StarCraft II – is still one of the world’s most popular esports games to this day.
Television started to take an interest in gaming around the same time, but the arrival of faster broadband speeds and streaming sites resulted in another explosion in esports interest.
Services such as Xbox Live made competitive gaming at home easier than ever before, with the hobby no longer needing complex and expensive set-ups – just a speedy internet connection.
The launch of Twitch at the beginning of the noughties is widely considered to be one of the most important developments in pushing esports to the position it enjoys today.
Twitch is now thought to have in excess of 15 million active daily users, many of whom are tuning in to watch live esports. Last year, over two million people watched American teenager Kyle Giersdorf – known as Bugha to esports fans – win $3 million by triumping at the Fortnite World Cup in New York.
Valorant to take esports to the next level in 2020?
Sports fans who are just getting into esports are likely to be interested in what is coming next in the world of competitive gaming. Riot Games – which had huge esports success with League of Legends – is soon set to release its latest first person shooter, which is called Valorant.
While Valorant is currently in a closed beta phase, streams of the game on Twitch have been massively popular and Valorant is expected to become a leading esports title very quickly.
There has been steady growth in the world of esports since that first competitive gaming event at Stanford at the start of the 1970s. But esports are exploding now, so there has never been a better time for sports fans to start taking an interest.