Video games have been around for way longer than you might think. The first video game was created in the 1950s – with no computers in people’s homes, though, it has only made waves at science exhibitions. Later, solid-state computers made it possible for gaming machines to invade entertainment venues – the first arcades were born, and with them, competitive gaming. To this day, gamers compete in classic titles like Space Invader, Ms Pac-Man, and similar games.
Gaming competitions have been around ever since but as a form of entertainment rather than high-profile tournaments. Game publishers organized high-profile public LAN parties, casinos offered their players multiplayer slots and attractive casino bonus offers, and world champions were elected in various disciplines. Then came StarCraft, and with it, the foundations of the global eSports phenomenon were laid.
In the late 1990s, South Korea started expanding its broadband internet at an unprecedented speed. This coincided with a major financial crisis that left many people without a job. Many of them, while looking for things to do, discovered video games, especially Blizzard’s classic RTS StarCraft. Internet cafés were prevalent at the time, so the number of “professional” gamers started to grow fast.
The country decided to make it official: it created the Korean e-Sports Association, a branch of the local Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism. Its leader, Park Jie-won was the one to coin the term “esports” at the institution’s founding. Competitive gaming has become a regulated discipline in the country – and it started spreading around the world.
The popularity of competitive StarCraft and WarCraft III tournaments in Korea led to the mainstream media covering the discipline – dedicated cable TV channels were established to cover the events. In the rest of the world, eSports coverage was sporadic at the time, with just a few channels giving them air time – GIGA in Germany, and CBS in the US. But there was no need for traditional broadcasts anyway because most of the followers of this novel spectator sport were online.
Online streaming has become the medium of choice for eSports broadcasts. In 2011, Twitch – the dedicated eSports streaming service – was born. In a short time, it became the biggest such platform, with League of Legends and DotA 2 – two of the most popular esports – making up the bulk of its streaming minutes.
eSports has grown from novelty to serious business in less than a decade, becoming the fastest-growing spectator sport in the world. The industry has raked in revenues of up to $1 billion in 2020, and it shows no signs of stopping. And why should it?
eSports are becoming widely accepted as a mind sport. There are already schools that offer eSports programs to their students, and the discipline is also aiming for an Olympic bid. By 2023, the discipline is expected to grow its revenues to $1.5 billion a year… and who knows what new horizons the upcoming metaverses will open in front of it?