While not an entirely new concept, e-sports tournament have become major sporting events in the past few years. The recently concluded The International Dota 2 tournament reminded the world just how popular, and competitive, e-sports can be.
With over AU$25 million available in the prize pool, the tournament provided the largest prize pool of any e-sports competitions, to date. Coverage by mainstream media outlets like ESPN, as well as worldwide support, has cemented e-sports as legitimate sporting events.
Gaming tournaments have been around since the inception of video games. The earliest known video game tournament, the Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics, happened in Stanford back in 1972 for the game Spacewar. In 1980, Atari sponsored a Space Invaders tournament, with players being judged on their highest scores.
It wasn’t until 1988, however, that a video game was recognised as being an online sport. Netrek was an open source, cross-platform video game that could host up to 16 players per match, making it one of the earliest examples of the now-popular Massive Online Battle Arena, or MOBA genre of games. The 90’s saw growing support for gaming tournaments, with Nintendo hosting multiple tournaments across America. By the late 90’s, professional gaming leagues like the Cyberathlete Professional League and the Professional Gamers League, would hold yearly tournaments for games like Quake and Counter-Strike.
As broadband Internet became better and more accessible, online gaming became more widespread. Credited with being instrumental in the proliferation of online gaming, South Korea was the first country to establish a government agency to regulate and promote online gaming with the creation of the Korean e-Sports Association in 2000 to address the rise of online gaming in South Korea.
While the 90’s saw the birth of e-sports, it wasn’t until the 2000’s that online gaming left the niche market and into the mainstream. Throughout that decade, major gaming associations were founded across the world; one of the largest, the World Cyber Games, was founded in South Korea while the Major Gaming League is headquartered in New York. The oldest continuing e-sports company is the Electronic Sports League, based in Germany. Each organisation would hold qualifiers and tournaments across multiple countries and multiple video games and platforms.
By the mid-to-late 2000’s, major tech companies like Intel would start sponsoring e-sports leagues, with the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) being founded in 2007.
The 2010’s saw e-sports become a recognised sporting event, with corporate sponsorships and worldwide coverage. From an average of 10-20 tournaments in 2000, 2010 saw an average of 260. With corporate sponsors heavily banking on the popularity of e-sports, prize pools in tournaments like The International and the League of Legends World Championships have skyrocketed, averaging at AU$19 million per tournament, drawing gamers from all over the world.
The past few years have seen proponents of online games petition numerous institutions to recognise e-sports as a legitimate sport. As of 2017, talks are underway to include e-sports in the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, citing the need to keep the Olympics relevant to younger generations.
Since becoming a global phenomenon, the e-sports movement shows no signs of slowing down, with only an incremental rise in participation, spectatorship and sponsorship, in its horizons.