HoFor anyone who has been part of the gaming world for as long as I have (or longer), it still seems extremely amazing that eSports have become as big as they really are. As a child, I never thought that gaming would become a legitimate spectator sport with cash prizes that go up to the millions! I recently covered some of the highest earning eSports players in the world (here) and that really blew my mind.

When I was younger, playing games was purely for escapism and enjoyment (as well as to help manage and handle mental health issues, which you can read about here). Not once did I think about it becoming a competitive sport, let alone one that would reach the heights of popularity that it has today.

Considering the fact that Wembley Arena, one of the most famous arenas in the United Kingdom (if not the World) hosted an eSports tournament, I thought it was time for me to go back and see how eSports really started. I covered a very brief history of eSports before (here) but haven’t really looked at the origin of the sport. So, where did eSports come from? let’s take a look!

How It All Started

Competitive gaming (which would later evolve into the eSports that we know today) really found its routes with the release of Counter-Strike, originally a mod for Half-Life. The game brought about a much more focused way of playing games against other people online. However, if we really want to look at the origin of competitive gaming online, we need to jump further back still.

Considering how the eSports scene is largely dominated with first-person shooters, Massive Online Battle Arena games and fighting games, it may come as a surprise that the first game to introduce online PvP (Player vs Player) was actually an RPG. Specifically, it was Neverwinter Nights, a Western RPG developed by BioWare (makers of Mass Effect and Dragon Age) as part of their wonderful Forgotten Realms Dungeons and Dragons games. Whilst PvP gameplay was limited, it served as a taster of what could come next.

Note: as we are only looking at online eSports, this is correct. However, if you were to include offline competitive gaming as well, then the first gaming tournament was held in 1980, with 10,000 participants playing Space Invaders.

From there, other MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games) started to implement PvP gameplay, growing the competitive nature of gaming all the time. Then, finally, it was the turn of the FPS.

A Prolific Change In Direction

Up until the release of a certain game called Quake, as mentioned, it was mostly in MMORPGs that players would battle each other. That changed very swiftly following Quake’s release, as players flocked to the new game to show off their skills. As the game revolved around frantic yet tactical gameplay, everyone had to constantly improve and quicken their reflexes. This meant that some players found themselves left behind as those who were able to improve the fastest created an upper tier of players who could dominate the game.

Then, in 1997, the Red Annihilation tournament was held for Quake. This event is widely considered to be the first true eSports event, featuring around 2,000 participants and a grand prize of the lead developer’s Ferrari! The success of the event lead to the establishment of the CPL (or Cyberathlete Professional League) just a few weeks later, which would be the biggest league to appear at those times.

A Constant Growth

From the establishment of the CPL, we then started to see a rise in the prize pools, going upwards each year from around $15,000. This meant that, over each year, the competitive gaming scene evolved into something more “legitimate”. Then, with StarCraft and Counter-Strike coming out, everything exploded once again. These two games pushed what was a fringe scene into the spotlight, evolving competitive online gaming into an actual sport.

Therefore, when looking at eSports and how popular they are today, we can look back at classic and retro games like Space Invaders, Neverwinter Nights and Quake and say a huge thank you to them. Without these games, we wouldn’t have eSports events for Dota 2 or Overwatch. We certainly wouldn’t be seeing the likes of Wembley Arena hosting them, either.

And That’s All Folks

It’s being rather interesting to take a step back and delve into the history of eSports a bit further. Learning about how Space Invaders effectively started the entire industry, whilst also looking at the games that evolved it, has been enlightening. I hope you’ve found it as interesting as I did!

What do you think about the popularity of eSports? Let me know in the comments below.