Esports History: when it all began (origin of competitive games)

What is the history behind esports? When did esports start? How did video games turn to catch-up to traditional sports to the point of moving as many people as a Tennis ATP Championship, and have millionaire prize pools?

From this point on, we will talk to you about the nice and powerful history of esports, today’s part of global entertainment.

Esports history got took the first steps in the ‘50s, just along with videogames in general. In that decade, the first codes meant for gaming were written. But at that time nobody thought that there would be such a big evolution concerning this market.

In 1947 the first-ever video game was created. And, later on, in mid-1958 the first competitive gameplay appeared and was known as Tennis for Two.

At the time, it was a novelty to get a 2-player game, and it was where esports history timeline began.


The ‘60s

Themed games started to appear, scores were marked and so, tournaments were needed.

The esports background became stronger at the beginning of a new decade. But, what was the first video game to become an esports?

In the ’60s a game known as “Spacewar!” was released. In esports history, different games were emerging and the modalities were changing as well. In this case, the game mode was two people with a ship fighting.

But by that time the games were far behind in technology. The game mode was quite simple and players used to finish the games quickly. Nevertheless, “Spacewar!” had the honor of being one of the first esports to have a tournament.

The game also laid the foundation for future generations and received awards even 40 years after its launch for the mark it left.

Spacewar! the First Esport

© Computer History Museum


The ’70s

When did esports start? When tournaments got a place in the world, the ‘70s

As time went on, we saw an improvement in gaming technology. The tournaments became a worldwide thing and some companies became interested in growing this world.

The clearest example of this was the Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics being the moment when esports started. More than 24 players gathered to compete, and at that time the prize was a subscription to Rolling Stones magazine.

Also, you may want to know that in the beginning, most tournaments were limited to universities and similar institutions.

But this would also be the decade when consoles were at their first peak. The Magnavox Odyssey was the first console to be able to connect to a TV screen, a fact that would set a milestone in the history of gaming.

Arcade consoles were also built during this period. This made the ‘70s generation able to watch other types of games, such as Pong, Sea Wolf and Asteroids, and Starfire. By this time, competitions were held for the highest score as there were no multiplayer options.

Moving on, in 1978, the giant Atari took a step forward and hosted the first international esports tournament with its Football game.

history of esports


The 80’s

Gaming modes started to mean something & great players started to get recognition.

This decade came with a lot of new surprises; which include new tournaments, the appearance of teams, and the standardization of game modes, among several other things.

Just in the year 1980, the game Twin Galaxies was created and with it, the appearance of a new tournament. By then, Walter Day was the company that had created more games at that time.

But several important games also made their first appearance on arcade consoles. Donkey Kong and Pac Man were quite popular and Billy Mitchel was one of the most important players of the decade.

It was also a big step in esports history as major (and local) TV networks started broadcasting games quite often. During most of the decade, the most recognized esport games were Starcade and First Class from the United States and the United Kingdom respectively.

Space Invaders as part of origins esports

Another important event was the Space Invaders Championship, where more than 10,000 players participated, with William Heineman as the winner. 

But, here is the most important milestone. The German Armin Stürmer founded the Atari VCS Bundesliga team in 1982. 

It was quickly captured by Atari due to its growth and several clubs started competing with each other to determine a winner. This way, the champion of that league was chosen at the end of the year, and, although this only lasted for 3 years it set the ground for all the nice esports teams we now see on major tournaments.

In 1988 another important game appeared for the esports base. Netrek was born as a game that hosted up to 16 players and competed on the internet. Although access to internet was still too limited, this did no good to the game’s success in the end.

Space Invaders Championship

© Atari


The ‘90s

Internet really showed up, PC gaming came along.

The new decade brought with it the emergence of the Internet. This gave way to a boom for the origin of esports as more opportunities opened up. But also new companies started to get interested, Nintendo, Blockbuster Video, and also new games appeared that today have left a mark.

The first games of Super Mario Bros, Tetris, Sonic, Virtual Racing began to see the light worldwide. And consoles like the SEGA and SNES also began to take hold.

This decade allowed competitions to grow, not only did consoles improve, but new computers began to be on the market. And with that came the appearance of Doom, Quake, Unreal Tournament, StarfCraft, Age of Empires that were present in the origin of esports.

It can be said that the moment when esports started was in the ’90s. Origins esports came together to set the stage and so it was, the momentum that took esports was unimaginable because of the accessibility that everyone started to have.

During the ‘90s gaming modes became genres, and so, fighting games, FPS, and racing games became a part of the esports world.

Tetris Arcade


The 00’s

South Korea decided to take a step, RTS took power and MOBA games took the throne afterwards.

The euphoria of a new millennium was accompanied by more than just strong emotions for the players. The technological boom of this decade is almost unique throughout history.

So, esports began to be seen in more corners of the world, and legislation began to be created to manage the growing phenomenon.

Many competitions had a focus on computer games, new releases of old games began to be seen on computers. Even more, RTS esports games such as Age of Empires, Starcraft, and Warcraft III ruled the world. And later on it happened, the W3 editor allowed the first strikingly popular MOBA to enter the scene Defense of the Ancients (DotA)

And, consoles were not left behind. Microsoft, along with its console, Xbox, began delivering games like Halo 2, shortly before 2005. PlayStation was not left behind and looked for its console to compete for a space in that world.

The first tournaments with $1.000.000 in prizes began to be seen. From that moment on, the prizes were increasing, sponsors began to have a greater interest, and in general, all the platforms wanted a piece of the pie.

Esports betting, first sights

The scandals also started, the esports story had its first hitch in South Korea, where betting on skins became popular. It didn’t represent a big problem at the time, but the pages where such bets were made were mostly illegal. By this time, thinking of legal esports betting USA was just a dream.

Defence of the Ancients (DotA)

© Defence of the Ancients


The 2010s

Streaming started, big companies took sponsorships, esports betting came along and, well, LOL

When did esports become popular? With the birth of platforms dedicated to streaming started in mid-2011.

The first to appear was Twitch, a platform where individual players and large esports tournaments took as a means to expose their market. After several years, the number of people increased to 45 million streamers, a milestone in the history of esports.

On the other hand, more sponsors started to take an interest in this world. This way, computer manufacturers, food and beverage companies, telephone companies, and a few others started to sponsor big and local esports teams, as esports stocks and markets could only grow.

League of Legends replaced DotA as the favorite MOBA game; and so far in the history of competitive gaming, the League of Legends has been one of the most played and exploited in the industry. Players have even been recognized as professionals by the government.

With all this, new esports, FIFA, Dota2, CoD, StarCraft II, also emerged, and the list is short.

At the very end of the decade, Player’s Unknown Battleground (PUBG) pushed the Battle Royale genre to the market, and by 2019 Fortnite (by far the esports game of the year) had the major esports tournament ever! The Fortnite World Cup 2019 raised a prize pool of 100.000.000$ and over 2 million spectators.

League of Legends World Championship 2014

© LoL Esports


The 2020s

Is esports dying? The new decade promises to bring even more surprises.

New technologies are on the way, and with them surely an extension to everything we already knew –Or maybe, something new?

Streaming platforms are recognized by almost everyone, and now esports are as televised as a normal sport. The evolution continues, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop any time soon.

On the other hand, esports betting has taken extra steps, giving new spaces to esports markets in world-known bookies. At the moment we can say that it is a promising decade. Surely there will be new sponsors, new games will come out to the public and the giants will continue to innovate to stay ahead.

Read also: Are Esports Dying?

History of esports betting

Esports betting first signs were in South Korea (In the late 2000s), where they started with Skin betting in forums. Esports background allowed betting to be exploited and so it was.

Over the years new methods of betting were added throughout the world. Virtual esports bookmakers were appearing all over the web; the fact that there were games of the year in esports only gave way to an undiscovered world.

By 2010 esports were settling videogame competitiveness as a whole market. And so on, with the emergence of cryptocurrencies, there was another momentum, both of which were used to boost the esports betting markets.

Finally, in 2015, real money started to be used as the official currency for gambling. This opened up new opportunities, and today betting is a real part of the esports industry –With Fantasy Esports right behind.

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