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.

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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.

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