ESPORTS-THE SERIES: A BRIEF HISTORY
In Asia, and particularly in South Korea, RTS games became so overwhelming popular as to influence the development of eSports on a global scale.
The International - an annual tournament.
A head-to-head video game makes for a thrilling experience – a rush of light, sound, and adrenaline. It will test your reflexes, strategy, and willpower to overcome a worthy opponent. This makes the game not only fun to play, but also incredibly exciting to watch. And it has led to the rise of eSports – competitive gaming leagues with millions of fans worldwide, and lucrative prizes for the cream of the crop. It has even generated nearly US$800 million in revenue worldwide and is projected to generate US$1.9 billion by 2018. In Part 1 of this multi-part series, we explore the history of how it all began.
Competitive gaming has existed for almost as long as video games themselves. In 1980, Atari held the first video game competition, the Tournament, attracting more than 10,000 participants. A decade later came the rise of PC gaming and the Internet, accelerating the advent of true eSports and online competitive multiplayer gameplay. The Red Annihilation tournament in 1997 – featuring
the critically-acclaimed first-person shooter (FPS) by id Software – is hailed as having been the first eSports event, drawing over 2,000 participants with the grand prize of a Ferrari previously owned by John Carmack, then lead developer at id Software.
Later that same year, the Texas-based Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL) was founded and became among the first major gaming leagues in the arena. New York-based Major League Gaming (MLG) was founded in 2002 and had broadcast its tournaments on ESPN.com. Just this January, MLG was acquired by Activision Blizzard as part of its plans to build an eSports-focused television network. The U.S.-based Evolution Championship Series (better HWM | M AY 2 0 1 6 known as EVO) traces its roots to 1996 and focuses exclusively on fighting games, holding its annual tournament in Las Vegas since 2005. On the European front, the Germany-based Electronic Sports League (ESL) was founded in 1997 and now operates the Intel Extreme Masters world championships with more than 6.1 million registered members, over one million teams, and over 12.1 million games played. The most popular games included those from different genres, with titles such as the and The release of Blizzard’s genre-defining, real-time strategy (RTS) game (and its
expansion) in the late 90’s changed everything. Up until this point, gamers and spectators alike were accustomed to twitch skills and lightning-fast reflexes. But RTS games demanded careful thought and long-term planning, much like a modern version of chess. That’s not to say that RTS games are incapable of adrenaline-pumping action; they do when battles erupt and players’ speed, accuracy, and multitasking skills are pushed to the brink.
In Asia, and particularly in South Korea, RTS games became so overwhelming popular as to influence the development of eSports on a global scale. This period of late 90’s and early 2000’s also saw the peak of televised eSports in the region, featuring round-theclock coverage of and in Korea by dedicated cable TV game channels Ongamenet and MBCGame. In 2000, the Korean eSports Association, an arm of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, was founded to promote and regulate eSports in the country. The phenomenon of eSports in South Korea was sparked by the Asian financial crisis in 1997, where then-President Kim Dae-jung and his administration saw an opportunity to accelerate the country’s telecommunications and internet infrastructure, developing its broadband technologies at an exponential rate.
Today, eSports in Korea wield so much influence that its players are brought in to raise morale for South Korea’s National Soccer team during public matches. Tournaments such as the OnGameNet Starleague (OSL) have been sponsored by Korean Air, and officially held at Korean Air’s airplane hangars. In 2013, the eSports community scored a big win when Riot Games, creators of the popular online competitive game announced that it had successfully lobbied the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services to begin issuing professional players P-1 visas. Subsequently, Canadian player Danny ‘Shiphtur’ Le became the first pro gamer to receive a P-1 visa, a category designated for ‘Internationally Recognized Athletes’.
As video games become ever more popular and accessible, and as this first generation of gamers embrace parenthood, it is only a matter of time before gaming and eSports achieve its rightful place as a cultural mainstay. We shouldn’t be surprised when the major league tournaments one day generate the same fevered excitement as does the FIFA World Cup! Meanwhile, stay tuned for the next piece in our multi-part eSports series exclusively on HWM Malaysia.
An Editor-in-Chief for a regional magazine by day, Anthony is a passionate and analytical gamer in a spectrum of genres, drawing from his experiences as an avid collector of north of 1,000 PC game titles. His gaming resume dates back to the early 90’s with the Famicom, Super Famicom, and the family 486 Windows 3.1 PC. Anthony can occasionally be found streaming on his Twitch and YouTube Gaming channels.