E-sports Intro


Coley Hatt, Columnist

Sports. Defined as activities involving physical or mental exertion or skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment. Organized sport has been around for over 15,300 years according to paintings of ancient wrestlers found in cave drawings from Lascaux, France. Sports have always evolved and changed to fit the needs of those watching for millenia. By this measure, a new form of sport has appeared. Esports. “Esports”, shorthand for electronic sports, has become one of the few forms of entertainment still able to exist in the post pandemic world. Today we will cover an overview of the history of Esports and how it could affect our culture moving forward.


To begin, what are Esports? Esports are defined as multiplayer video games played competitively for spectators, typically by professional gamers. Esports as a concept started in November of 1980, when Atari held the first ever large-scale video game tournament, “The National Space Invaders Championship”, This event was held as a promotional event for the game with Rebecca Ann Heineman from Whittier, California winning the championship. It was ambitious due to its promotitive nature. However this trend toward the large scale competition was continued later when Nintendo revealed its first “Nintendo World Championships 1990“ after their first attempt to popularize the concept of a “video game competition” failed (Nintendo Challenge Championship or NCC in Canada). The first competition was held in the Fair Park’s Automobile Building in Dallas, Texas and led to what is considered to be the start of modern day Esport events. The lead up competitions were fierce with up to 9 months of competition and up to 29 cities in the US participating in the event. Then the 1990 Nintendo World Championship Finals, dubbed “The World Finals” were held December 7–9, 1990 in Los Angeles, California at Universal Studios Hollywood. The competition dwindled the participants down to 3 champions. Jeff Hansen who won the 11 and under group, Thor Aackerlund as the 12-17 group winner and Robert Whiteman as the 18-up group winner. For reference, multiple sources state that Thor Aackerlund was unofficially crowned the overall winner when the 3 champions battled it out after the contest ended. Regardless of the true winner of the contest, the first successful esport push in America was successful. 


Next, we move to 1991. The Internet, or more specifically the world wide web, is released to the public by a computer programmer and engineer in Switzerland named Tim Berners-Lee. This was not the first internet experience by any means (U.S Department of Defenses “ARPAnet” predated this). However, it was the first time the internet as we understand it was open to the public. This signalled a massive shift in competitive esports. Now the whole world could compete on one stage. The 1988 game “Netrek” came to exemplify this idea. An Internet game for up to 16 players: it was written almost entirely in cross-platform and open source software. Netrek was the first Internet team esport. It was credited by Wired Magazine in 1993, in Kevin Kelly’s article “The First Online Sports Game”, as a “sport [that] becomes a fast-paced game of strategy and tactics not unlike basketball.” The article continues “Someday we’ll look back at the video game era of the 1980s and ’90s, and wonder why anyone played solitary games. How Dull! How sorry.” In just 5 more years, his words would be more than justified.


Fast forward to March 31, 1998. Real-time competitive strategy game, “StarCraft”, after the massive successes of the Warcraft and Diablo titles, is released by Blizzard (now Activision-Blizzard, or the Call of Duty people.) It immediately becomes a smash hit overnight globally, especially in South Korea. It became the best-selling PC game for that year, selling over 1.5 million copies worldwide. In the United States specifically, it was the best-selling computer game of 1998 with 746,365 units sold. This insane popularity (and gameplay balancing expansion known as “StarCraft: Brood War”) allowed for the 1999 Brood War Tournament World Championships starting on July 15th 1999 to consist of the 16 top-ranked players on the official online ladder from around the world. With a prize pool of $14,000 on the line, it was obvious that this tournament was going to be competitive to the end. There were multiple strategies and mains (specific character preferences) employed in this tournament, with data showing Protoss mains (5 players out of 16 and disregarding random selection) being favored among competitors. Guillaume Patry or Grrrr…, the Canadian winner of the tournament, won using this method of play.


The META (Most Effective Tactics Available) for competitive Starcraft only grew as the first televised tournament, the 1999 Tooniverse Progamer Korea Open (later to evolve into the OSL or OnGameNet Starleague, a major player in modern televised esports), happens to a massive success among viewers in South Korea. However that wouldn’t be the only place esports would be televised. November 8 2000, Valve released its first person shooter, Counter Strike. Counter Strike was very successful with 1.5 million copies being sold by December 2003. In one year, the very first Major, the 2001 Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL) Winter Championship (commonly referred to as a Major), offered an astounding $150K in prize money. This major, which set a precedent for all following majors, was won by Ninjas in Pyjamas (NiP), a very successful Swedish esports team. The Cyberathlete Professional League established itself with its Winter and Summer Majors, and was soon joined by Korea’s World Cyber Games in 2002 and France’s Electronic Sports World Cup in 2003. These tournaments were the Counter-Strike esports through the majority of 2007. However, after some unfortunate circumstances, CPL disbanded and the entire competitive counter strike scene was picked up by ESL where it has stayed with its three sequel games (1.6, Source, Global Offensive) for the past 12 years.


This leads us to the modern day esports. Esport Leagues such as League of Legends where just one franchise is evaluated to be worth “$50 million” according to Forbes. This evolution from a competition held in a small room to a multimillion dollar industry with huge spectator stadiums doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Many game companies are starting to form their own professional leagues in the vein of the old Brood War Tournament World Championships, where in the best of the best on ladder are brought on as professional players. Local esport events still exist, where students from Biddeford High have even competed such as Super Smash Bros. Melee player Blake “Blak” Illiano. But now in a post-pandemic world, esports seems to be the future of our professional sports entertainment, for example, the 2020 eNASCAR Heat Pro League. It hit 903,000 viewers in America alone on FS1, which smashes the previous record of 346,800 viewers held by the MORTAL KOMBAT “Chasing the Cup” Series. The League puts top players of the game against real top racers from the real NASCAR motor series. In this specific race, Denny Hamlin came out on top with a first place finish. Regardless, this data shows a massive growth in Esports as a concept even among casual American viewers during the pandemic. I believe it will continue to expand in this exponential way as more and more people become aware of the concept. It is already incredibly popular on live streaming sites such as YouTube and Twitch. Drawing in over 3 million people for the LoL World Championship 2019 and 1.12 million for the Overwatch League Grand Finals. Regardless of how the competitive gaming landscape evolves after this, one thing is for sure, It isn’t going away any time soon.