How Esports Went From Quiet Private Events to Stadium-Selling Blockbusters
Esports have been around in one form or another for decades, though the esports we know today couldn’t appear further distanced from those of the past.
While it’s impossible to make clean cuts to divide the history of gaming into easily-definable blocks, visible trends rose and fell throughout the decades from the 70s to the modern day.
That very history is fundamental to understanding why the esports industry is booming, poised to become as much a staple of entertainment as Hollywood or professional sports.
The true roots of esports were laid in arcade halls and enthusiast magazines; local competitions on arcade machines were truly the first form of spectator esports, with friends, bystanders, and arcade owners acting as an enthusiastic and energetic crowd. Some major arcades began to sponsor events that pit players against one another for the highest score, and as video game consoles began to appear in homes worldwide, many magazines like Nintendo Power started running competitions of their own.
Both in-person console gaming events and remote events, requiring photographic evidence of high scores, appeared around the world. In 1989, a film by the name of “The Wizard,” directed by Todd Holland and starring Fred Savage, depicted a massive live video gaming competition. The film was sponsored by Nintendo, served as an announcement of sorts for their third installment in the Super Mario Brothers series, and also served to create an image of what the future of gaming could look like.
While the movie was undeniably silly and fantastical, there is no denying that the vision it depicted of high-production-value gaming events with hundreds or thousands of spectators has been more accurate than many like to admit. While the décor is certainly more down-to-earth these days, gaming events of the modern age do sometimes resemble the great showdown in “The Wizard.”
Esports Grows Up
The 90s and the early 00s brought about fantastic change for gaming. The development and growth of the internet made remote competition possible. Major platforms that are still important today, like Battle.Net, were first developed in the 90s and began to be used for both official and unofficial tournaments.
At the turn of the millennium, games like Warcraft III, Command and Conquer, Halo, and Call of Duty had all developed competitive scenes.
The Golden Age
The late 00s into the 10s have delivered some of the most radical changes to esports, as video games have become a true mainstream pastime. With so much attention on video games in the modern day, esports teams, tourneys, and press events are able to net sponsors that were previously locked to the modern echelons of traditional sports.
One of this year’s biggest esports developments was the creation and sponsorship of the Overwatch League, a competitive first-person-shooter league centered around the game Overwatch. Within the league, multiple teams are owned by the same corporations that own NFL, NHL, and MLB teams!
The future of esports seems to be shining bright, and we’re all lucky enough to get to watch the next chapter in the history of a fantastic industry!