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The Rise of Esports: Where Did It All Start?

Sports are ingrained in the culture of almost every country in the modern world. From the Olympics of the Ancient Greeks to the extravaganza of today’s soccer World Cup, they have always enthralled us.

Every weekend around the globe, tens of thousands of people gather in stadiums to watch sports stars and teams perform. All year round, amateurs gather in parks and leisure clubs to contest amongst themselves as they relax outside of work.

Until very recently, only activities taking place in the physical world have been classified as sports. As the popularity of computer gaming grew in the late 20th Century, the idea “Esports” began to form.

The theory is that, if anything played competitively can be a sport, this should include digital games too. It has taken some time for this to gain traction but, today, Esports has become a thriving industry. Rather than growing up to be the next big player in the NFL, many children are now desperate to play video games competitively, but how do you play esports competitively?

Esports can be anything from Counterstrike to online blackjack or digital adaptations of real-world sports. The competitive nature means players will go the extra mile to achieve success like learning how to count cards in blackjack – although it’s not possible in the online format due to the automatic shuffling machines. But if it’s competitive and played on a computer, console, or device, it can be an Esport.

People are attracted to Esport competitions for the same reasons they are to physical sporting events. Participants want to test themselves against others and shoot for glory, audiences enjoy watching incredible skills and supporting the players.

Slow Beginnings

It took a long time for Esports to be seen as a genuinely respected extension of the traditional sporting world. In fact, it might surprise you to learn that the concept is more than 50 years old.

Commonly accepted as the first Esport event, though it didn’t use that term, was a Spacewar competition in 1971. Students from across the University of Stanford played the game against each other to win a Rolling Stone magazine subscription.

This event established the concept and led indirectly to two more formal competition events, nine years later, in 1980. The Space Invaders Championship attracted 10,000 competitors, while the Walter Day organization’s Twin Galaxies high-score competition garnered global interest.

When Nintendo arrived in the 1990s, the popularity of gaming boomed and the next step in Esports loomed. The console giant launched an official World Championships for their games, setting the template for the Esports of the future.

Online Revolution

While the efforts of Nintendo and others throughout the 90s were slowly growing the appeal of Esports, they were restricted. Having to use conventional advertising and bring players physically together to play limited the massive potential for growth Esports had.

With the 21st Century, and the popularization of the internet, everything changed. In the last 20 years, the ability to remotely compete in, and watch, Esports has catapulted competitions to new levels.

Through streaming services like Twitch, Esports now have a global media platform to rival any traditional sport’s TV deals. As a result of this, and big money sponsorship, the sector has exploded into the huge business it is today.

Modern Esports

In 2022, Esports is bigger than many commentators thought could ever be possible. To get an idea of just what a phenomenon it has become, here are some stats:

  • It’s estimated that, by 2023, the Esports sector will be worth in excess of $1.5 billion.
  • The total number of Esports gamers has grown from 167 million in 2018 to 276 million in 2022.
  • Global viewership of Esports is predicted to rise from 335 million in 2017 to 646 million in 2023.
  • In 2017, Twitch clocked an incredible 355 billion minutes of people watching and discussing Esports on its platform.
  • Forbes has stated Esports is on course to become the most financially lucrative market on the planet.

Why is it so popular? For some, it is surprising that Esports has grown to become a legitimate wing of the sporting world at all. Clearly, it’s only the very best who earn a living from esports so it’s vital to learn how to get amongst the elite at video games. This ensures that people are keen to watch you in action, gaining big viewing figures. In becoming a commercial success with a bigger audience than Major League Baseball, it has far exceeded many people’s expectations.

So, what is it about Esports that has driven such astounding success?

For a start, there’s a social aspect, Esports is fueled by websites such as YouTube, Twitch, and other social networks. This creates a natural connection between fans and players that is unrivaled by physical sports.

Then, there is inclusivity, 35% of Esports gamers and 30% of Esports viewers are female. While gender equality in real-world sports has made great strides in recent years, Esports is far ahead of the curve.

Added to this, is accessibility, Esports open the possibility of competing for people physically unable to join in real-world sports. The appeal of being able to compete or watch from anywhere without the traditional physical requirements of sport cannot be underestimated.

Investment, prize money, sponsorship, affiliations, and merchandising have all contributed to the monetizing of Esports, just as with physical sports. This means Esports is no longer restricted to being an amateur hobby but can now offer lucrative career opportunities.

The incredible rise of Esports over the last decade has changed the playing field forever. Is now the time for you to join the Esports phenomena before it leaves you behind?