In the ever-evolving landscape of entertainment, few industries have witnessed a meteoric rise quite like eSports. What once started as a niche in the gaming world has now grown into a global sensation, captivating both amateur and professional players with its competitive events, life-changing cash prizes, and viewership figures in the hundreds of millions. Domain and hosting experts Fasthosts has compiled a brief overview of the rise of eSports, and competitive gaming throughout the years, and where the future may take the industry.
The Start of Competitive Gaming
eSports, at its core, revolves around competitive video gaming, and has experienced exponential growth over the past five decades. The earliest known gaming competition stems back to 1972, when Stanford University hosted a contest featuring the science fiction rocket game ‘Spacewar’. The event – orchestrated by sports reporter Stewart Brand – showcased the potential of video games as an “exhilarating spectator sport”, setting the stage for what was to come.
The Slow but Steady Rise
For several decades, the popularity of eSports experienced a gradual rise. In the pre-internet era, arcade tournaments provided the battleground for players, with magazines and record books recognising top players’ achievements. The 1990s marked a turning point as gaming tournaments began to gain traction, offering increasingly substantial prize pools. The technological advancements in video game consoles, and internet and PC gaming paved the way for a prosperous decade for the industry. At the end of the 90s we saw the internet cafe boom where young players would meet and play together in PC cafes, which was the start of the strong youth social gaming culture you see today.
The New Millennium
It was the early 2000s that witnessed the true birth of eSports as leagues and tournaments started to take shape around iconic titles like Counter–Strike, StarCraft, and Warcraft III. In 2001, the first World Cyber Games was held in Seoul. The tournament featured several popular games and attracted over 174,000 participants from 17 countries, making for an unexpected global success. In 2005, the CPL World Tour or Cyberathlete Professional League became the first event to have a prize pool offering over $1 million, demonstrating the start of life changing prizes that go hand in hand with competitive gaming.
Streaming Platforms: The Catalyst for Growth
From 2010 onwards, the world witnessed the revolutionary impact of online streaming platforms like Twitch.tv and Youtube Gaming, leading to skyrocketing eSports viewership figures. When Twitch launched, the ‘League of Legends’ world championship viewership figures went from 1.7 million in 2011 to 8.2 million in 2012, and to 32 million in 2013.
These streaming platforms connected fans worldwide, allowing them to tune into live events from home. The large viewing figures, advertising, and sponsorship opportunities led to investors starting their own teams, and household game developers creating leagues and tournaments. It became standard for eSports events to attract millions of viewers, and the landscape of competitive gaming had been transformed.
In 2015, eSports reached a defining moment with The International 2015: Dota 2 Championships. The prize pool offered a staggering $18 million, breaking records and solidifying eSports’ place on the global stage. This marked a monumental shift, proving that tournaments could rival traditional sports events in terms of both prize money and profitability.
The New Decade: eSports Takes Centre Stage
As the calendar turned to the 2020s, eSports entered a new era. The decade began with some of the largest tournaments in history, attracting millions of spectators and providing the largest prize pools seen to date such as The 2021 International Dota 2 Championships which took place in Bucharest Romania, offering a $40,018,400.00 prize pool – the largest prize at the time.
By 2020, it had become increasingly common to see the term “professional eSports player” conceptualising the individuals dedicating their lives to competitive gaming, undergoing strict routines and training in the unique journey of becoming the world’s next best gaming athlete.
At present, the most-viewed tournaments are impressive spectacles in their own right, with titles like ‘Free Fire World Series’, ‘League of Legends’, and ‘Mobile Legends: Bang Bang’ drawing millions of viewers. Looking to the future, in August 2023, Saudi Arabian tournament organiser Gamers8 ran their ‘The Land of Heroes’ tournament with a colossal prize of $45 million dollars, a figure that we will see constantly being pushed higher in tournaments in following years. And according to BeyonGames .biz, the eSports market is estimated to grow at 21.81% between 2022 and 2027, with the size of the market expected to increase by $3,515.1 million.
The journey of competitive gaming from its humble beginnings to its current global standing is a testament to its enduring appeal and cultural impact. With its exhilarating competition and substantial rewards, eSports has become a true force in the entertainment world. As the industry continues to innovate and evolve, one thing remains clear: this isn’t just a passing trend. It’s a phenomenon that has permanently transformed the way we engage with and celebrate competitive gaming.