Gamercraft’s Guide on The History of Competitive Gaming

Who could have imagined that competitive gaming would blossom into the industry it is today? Arenas are built to accommodate competitors and spectators and several countries broadcast matches on dedicated channels. Prize money pools reach into the tens of millions, and the industry brings in over a billion dollars in revenue.

Indeed, competitive gaming has come a long way in its short history, and it’s only going to go up from here. There will always be new players looking to take their shot at winning jackpots and plenty of new games to compete with. The future of competitive gaming is ripe with possibility, and we need only look to the industry’s past to see where it could go.

At Gamercraft we’re taking a look back at the origins of eSports. After all, how can you look forward to the future if you don’t reflect on the past?

The Early Days of Competitive Gaming

As we said, eSports and its viewership has grown astronomically in recent years. In fact, it’s estimated that the sport will draw 454 million viewers and reach a billion dollars in profit this year. The numbers don’t lie, and it can’t be denied that competitive gaming is immensely popular and entertaining. But, can you believe that these competitions got their start back in 1972 with a game called “Spacewar!”?

Gamercraft’s Guide on The History of Competitive Gaming

“Spacewar!” features two playable ships that engage in a two-player dogfight while fighting against a star’s gravitational pull. It was introduced in 1962 and was popular among early computer programmers. So much so that students at Stanford University participated in a competitive gaming contest called the “Intergalactic SpaceWar! Olympics” in 1972. While the grand prize of a year’s subscription to Rolling Stone Magazine doesn’t nearly equate to the jackpot prizes we compete over today, this was the first instance of eSports as we know it.

In 1980, Atari hosted a championship competition centered around a game called “Space Invaders.” This competitive gaming spectacle drew more than 10,000 competitors and laid the foundation for eSports today.

Only 90s Kids Will Remember This

The 90s brought with it some iconic styles, unforgettable trends, and video game advancements unlike we’d ever seen before. Traditionally, many competitive gaming contests were won by achieving high scores individually and comparing them to other players competing at the same time.

But the nature of the competition took a turn with the introduction of “Street Fighter 2.” Players were able to compete for head to head in a tournament style rather than by score comparison. This popularized fighting games and introduced competitive multiplayer to the eSports scene.

The 90s also ushered in largescale competitive gaming tournaments. eSports tournaments held during this time include:

  • The Nintendo World Championships
  • Nintendo Powerfest ‘94
  • Blockbuster Video (R.I.P a legend) World Game Championships (this competition allowed citizens from multiple countries to participate).

Gamercraft’s Guide on The History of Competitive Gaming

Organizations and annual tournaments centered around competitive gaming came onto the scene during the late 90s and specialized in specific games. The Cyberathlete Professional League and Professional Gamers League were both formed in 1997 and competed in PC games like Counter-Strike and StarCraft. QuakeCon also established itself as a huge competitive gaming convention that draws thousands of competitors and viewers annually.

The Modern Competitive Gaming Boom

Since its inception, gaming has inspired and driven players to compete. What happened back in the 70s through the 90s truly laid the groundwork for what was to come. Today, eSports is a thriving and bustling industry with no signs of stopping. Cities like Seoul, South Korea are practically centered around the action. Stadiums are built to accommodate large audiences, news stations broadcast coverage of competitive gaming via television and radio, and there’s an uncountable number of internet cafes (PC bangs) in the city.

The 2000s saw substantial growth in the competitive gaming industry, but 2010 was the turning point. About 260 tournaments were hosted around the globe that year, and more followed year after year. Grand prizes soared into the millions, and different games were added to competition rosters. Super Smash Bros, Madden NFL, Halo, Dota 2, League of Legends, and more let gamers compete on a broader and more diverse range.

Gamercraft’s Guide on The History of Competitive Gaming

Going beyond competing for prize money, many organizations have seen the massive growth in competitive gaming and are looking to include the activity in other major athletic organizations. It’s still debated whether or not eSports is technically classified as a sport, but Japan has been aggressively backing competitive gaming’s inclusion in the 2020 Summer Olympic games.

It’s safe to say that competitive gaming is here to stay. If you were looking ahead from the 70s, it’d be hard to believe the industry has evolved so much in its short history. We’re not sure where competitive gaming will take us into the future, but we’re excited to see whatever comes.


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