The image your mind conjures up when you think of eSports is one of a dedicated venue packed to the rafters with video game fans cheering on the world’s best gamers across the latest AAA titles. eSports is a massive business today, one with revenues of $1.1 billion and an industry that sees $14 billion worth of eSports wagers and prop bets at online sportsbooks placed every year.

eSports has not always been as popular and lucrative as we know today; the industry started life humbly back in 1972. The earliest known video game tournament took place at Stanford University on October 19, 1972. Stanford students were invited to battle it out in an “intergalactic Spacewar Olympics” for the game Spacewar. The top prize? A year’s subscription to Rolling Stone magazine! Bruce Baumgart won the five-person free-for-all tournament, making him the world’s first eSports champion.

Sega was a forerunner in the eSports world, creating a massive competition in 1974. The All Japan TV Game Championships ran the length and breadth of Japan, across 300 locations, with Tokyo’s Hotel Pacific hosting the final. Champions won television sets, transistor radios, and cassette tape recorders, a far cry from the millions of dollars enjoyed by today’s biggest winners.

The Golden Age of Video Games Begins

Four years later, in 1978, the golden age of video games was heralded by Taito’s Space Invaders. The game was a massive, instant success and had grossed $3.8 billion in the four years since its launch, the equivalent to more than $15 billion in today’s money. Space Invaders popularized the use of a persistent high score for all players.

The Space Invaders Championship of 1980 saw the Atari-hosted event attract 10,000 participants across the United States. It is seen as the first-ever large-scale video game competition.

The video game industry was exploding with new titles at this stage. It spawned the likes of Asteroids, Track & Field, and Paperboy, all of which has gamers clambering for their controllers and attempting to register high scores. Walter Day was one player who loved traveling the United States and logging high scores on various machines. He took it upon himself to found Twin Galaxies, an organization dedicated to logging video game high scores and records.

As the 1990s rolled in, the video game industry was booming, which helped immensely increase eSports’ popularity. Capcom’s Street Fighter II inspired grassroots tournament series, which ultimately became the Evolution Championship Series. The competition saw the first shift from obtaining high scores to a tournament-style competition between two players.

The Modern Era of eSports

Broadband internet connections and powerful PCs and consoles have seen the eSports industry ignite in more recent times. Players now stream their play from their homes, with Twitch and YouTube channels garnering millions of views every day, helping push eSports to all corners of the world.

First-person-shooters, such as Counter-Strike, Rainbow Six, and Call of Duty, surged in popularity, as did real-time strategy games such as League of Legends and Dota 2. Fans of games, particular genres, and eSports stars tune into the various streams in unbelievable numbers. For example, in 2013, only two years after its launch, Twitch viewers soaked up 12 billion minutes of video game streaming! That has increased massively, with the latest figures showing 6.51 billion hours were watched on Twitch in the second quarter of 2021 alone.

Remember how the first eSports tournament awarded its winner a year’s subscription to Rolling Stone magazine? How times have changed. The International 2021, held in Bucharest, Romania, in October 2021, broke the record for the largest eSports prize pool in history. A staggering $40,018,400 filled the pot with Team Spirit, made up of “CoLLapse,” “Miposhka,” “Mira,” “Yatoro,” and “TORONTOTOKYO” winning the Dota 2 competition and securing $18,208,300 in prize money between them!

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