Florian Larch

In 70 Years: The Evolution of eSports into a Market Worth Billions

The History of the Origin of eSports

Anyone who believes that eSports has only been around for a few years was wrong! Already in the 50's the foundation stone of video games was laid and with it the competition on PC or console. Only technological progress at the end of the 90s made video games suitable for the masses. The increasing improvement of hardware, graphics and the expansion of the Internet around the world have all contributed to the development of cyber sports as a major sport.

Formerly a leisure activity, today a well-paid profession as a pro-gamer.

The 50s: The Age of Computers Starts

The early days of competitive computer games date back to 1952. At that time computer scientist Alexander Shafto Douglas was working in Cambridge on his PhD about the interaction between humans and computers and had the idea to implement the game "XOX" - better known as "Tic-Tac-Toe" or "Three Wins" - as a computer game. However, humans always played against the computer and could only determine who began.

The first real multiplayer game was presented in 1958 by the then director of the "Instrumentation Higinbotham, at the Open Day. It was called "Tennis for Two" and allowed two people to play against each other. The game was played with an early form of the joystick, with which the players could hit the ball over the net and adjust its trajectory. Today this title is considered by many to be the birth of eSports.

Don't miss the annual event for the digitalization of the sports business! The ISPO Digitize Summit 2020 will take place in Munich on June 30, 2020.

The 60s: The First eSports Tournament Is Held

It would take a few more years before the first eSports-like tournament would take place. The space game "Spacewar!" had already been written in 1962 by computer scientist Steve Russel and some colleagues like Martin Graetz and Wayne Wiitanen of the "Tech Model Railroad Club" at MIT on a PDP-10 computer. Two players with one spaceship each play against each other. Interestingly, the spaceships already had a limited supply of fuel and ammunition and had to fight against the gravitational field of a planet.

It is considered the world's first digital computer game and was named one of the top ten computer games of all time by the New York Times in 2007. On October 19, 1972, however, the time had finally come: the Laboratory for Artificial Intelligence at Stanford University organized the world's first eSports tournament, the Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics. 24 players met that day to compete in "Spacewar! The winner received an annual subscription to Rolling Stones magazine. The early games were still limited to universities and similar institutions, as these had the technical prerequisites.

Arcades took the USA by assault.

The 70s: Arcades and Home Consoles Celebrate Great Successes

With the introduction of the "Magnavox Odyssey" in 1972, the first game console that could be connected to a television set appeared. Even if the use was rather cumbersome - for playing the playing field had to be stuck in the form of a template on the television screen - digital playing became suitable for the masses through this console.

In addition, arcades were built in the following period, which made it possible for the general population to play at machines such as Pong. However, the competitive character only became possible with the introduction of permanent highscore lists. One of the first vending machines to feature this option was "Sea Wolf" from 1976.

In 1979, Asteroids and Starfire appeared, two machines that enabled gamers to immortalize themselves in a highscore list for the first time with a personal name abbreviation. Since only a few machines provided for playing against each other, these lists became the yardstick of playing ability. With Space Invaders, Atari laid the corner stone for the world's first major eSports tournament in 1978. The early game classic was played in 1980 at the "Space Invaders Championships" by over 10 000 gamers who competed against each other to win a version of "Asteroids". On the 10th of October 1980 William Salvador Heineman was crowned winner of the Challenge. He was the first winner of a national video game competition.

The next steps towards eSports came again from the USA. The amusement arcade operator Walter Day from Ottumwa in the state of Iowa founded the "Twin Galaxies National Scoreboard", the first referee service for video games, on the 9th of February 1982. The background was a story in the 1982 Time magazine about how 15-year-old Steve Juraszek set a record at Defender. Walter Day, however, knew a young player in his arcade who had far surpassed this record.

After consulting machine manufacturer Williams and game developer Namco, he had to learn that there was no national best list for Defender or other video games - the initial spark for founding his service. The name Twin Galaxies is derived from the name of his own arcade. In addition to maintaining a national record list, "Twin Galaxies' Official Video Game & Pinball Book of World Records" soon became a generally applicable set of rules designed to prevent possible cheating or the like.

In 1983, he founded the U.S. National Video Team, the world's first professional gamer team. He also hosted the "North American Video Game Challenge", the first video game masters tournament in the USA. Thanks to his extensive efforts around the topic "video games" he can confidently be called one of the pioneers of eSports.

The 80s: The First German Clan Is Founded

In Germany Armin Stürmer founded the "Atari VCS Bundeliga" in 1982. A community project, which soon aroused the interest of Atari Germany due to the fast growing number of members. Various clubs competed against each other according to a fixed set of rules in four rounds and different games. A time limit of 15 or 30 minutes was set for the players to reach as many points as possible. The "German Champion" was determined at the end of the year. Only three years later Atari already left as an official partner and also the Bundesliga was probably discontinued in the same year.

In 1988 Netrek, the first multiplayer computer game, appeared, which could host up to 16 players competing against each other via the Internet. It was a real-time strategy game in the Star Trek universe. The players take over the role of the Federation, the Klingons, the Romulans or the Orion and have to conquer a galaxy consisting of 40 planets. Netrek was played all over the world, but as in the early days of video games, it was mainly scientists, especially computer scientists, who fought hot battles because scientific institutions had access to the early Internet.

The 90s: Better Technology Makes Cyber Sports Suitable for the Masses

At the beginning of the 1990s, Nintendo had also recognized the phenomenon of competition and organized the "Nintendo World Championships" in the USA in 1990. The winners of the competition, which was held in three age groups, received golden Nintendo gaming modules. The game was a triathlon of Super Mario Bros, Rad Racer and Tetris.

The video store chain "Blockbuster Video", well-known in the USA, organized a world championship for video players in 1994 in cooperation with the American GamePro magazine. The tournament was played on the Super Nintendo and Sega Mega Drive - including Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Virtua Racing.

In the 1990s, it became clear that the future of competitive gaming would be to be found in PCs and networks. As hardware became more and more affordable and more powerful, PCs became interesting for private households and thus also for the gaming industry. In the mid-1990s, the first big LAN parties were held at which gamers could compete with each other. However, not only on a large scale, but above all on a small scale, gaming over the network exerted an ever-increasing fascination. More and more gamers met at small network sessions and gambled their favorite games.

Counter-Strike  was the most played online action game for over ten years, in 2012 it was detached by CS:GO.

Out of these meetings the early clans emerged who were to advance professional gaming. Soon these teams were competing against each other in the bigger tournaments. With the progress of networking and the possibility of private Internet connections, the previous regional restrictions also fell. Games like Doom, Quake, Unreal Tournament or StarCraft are now an integral part of the history of eSports. They laid the foundation for playing against each other - whether in a team or alone. As a result of this development, the first eSports leagues were founded towards the end of the 1990s: For example, the Electronic Sports League, which emerged from the "Deutsche Clanliga" (DeCL), or the "ClanBase", founded in 1998.

The popularity of the theme in Germany was demonstrated in 1999 by the "Gamers' Gathering" in Duisburg. Over 1600 players from all over Europe gathered here to compete against each other in various games.The topic of eSports was strongly professionalized, especially in South Korea, with the founding of the "Korean e-Sports Association" (KeSPA) in 2000, which from the very beginning focused on the possibilities of marketing eSports in the TV sector as well.

And yet another highlight of the year 1999 favored playing in the network against each other in the team: Counter-Strike. The game was released on 19 June 1999 as a mod of the Valve title Half-Life and was the result of a small team of students. In gameplay, everything revolves around the fight of an anti-terrorist unit against terrorists on a limited map. The game is played in rounds of 5 minutes each. The game spread rapidly and became a real multiplayer hit - and is still one of the most successful eSports games today.


At the end of the 90s, during the troubled economic situation in South Korea, eSports found its origin. The South Korean government promoted the expansion of telecommunications and Internet infrastructure, thus setting the course for eSport.

The 2000s: Worldwide Networking Guarantees Success

Thanks to developments in South Korea, the first World Cyber Games (WCG) were held here in Seoul in 2000. In 2003 the first "Electronic Sports World Cup" (ESWC) was played in Poitiers, France. The so-called "Grand Final" of this tournament was played this summer in Paris. While the initial focus was on PC games, console titles were gradually added to the competition canon. Halo 2, which has played a pioneering role in console games since 2004, deserves special mention here.

The "CPL World Tour" (Cyberathlete Professional League) was the first eSports event in 2005 to be endowed with one million dollars. The "Painkiller", which was indexed in Germany at that time, was played. The entire series took place in ten cities around the world and ended with a finale in New York, broadcast live by MTV. The winner of the tour was the Dutchman "Sander "Vo0" Kaasjager", who had earned a prize money of over 250,000 US dollars - while the winner of the final was the American "Johnathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel".

And finally the "Championship Gaming Series" (short CGS) 2007 caused a sensation. The competition took place for the first time this year and was announced with prize money of over one million US dollars. Together with the associated player salaries of around five million US dollars, this was the most expensive eSport event of all time to date.

In almost 70 years of computer game history, eSport has established itself in many countries of the world today. The prize money has increased significantly and the events are increasing every year. From a small niche, a multi-medial billion market has emerged, which is now attracting many investors.

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Florian Larch