Evolution of Esports

Daniella Caldarella, Sports

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In the sports world, there are a few mainstays that typically come to mind: soccer, basketball, baseball, and football.  But there is one unconventional sport that is taking the world by storm–esports–the fastest growing sport in the world.

Esports, or electronic sports, is a multiplayer video game that is played competitively, typically by professional gamers. The very first recorded public video game competition was held in 1972 at Sanford University for the game Spacewar!  In the 1980s an Atari’s Space Invaders championship was held, drawing tons of media attention to the new world of esports.  

In the 1990s, the increased popularity of the internet introduced a new way for gamers to connect and compete. Gaming with internet connectivity elevated the popularity of PC Games and Nintendo Blockbuster. Within the decade, five major esport championships were held in the United States and in Europe. In 1997, the leading major gaming league formed, the Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL), and they held their very first tournament later that year. By the 2000s esports was a global phenomenon with the industry rapidly growing worldwide. Multiple esports associations and competitions formed during that decade, including the US based Electronic Sports League (ESL). In 2002 Major League Gaming (MLG) formed, which today is the largest esports league. Television channels began airing events, giving esports representation in popular media.

The uber-popular app, Twitch.tv, which was created in 2011, allows gamers to livestream their games and play interactively with their audience. Consequently, this has lead to an increase in multi-player gaming via an internet connection.  Within just a few months, Twitch’s monthly traffic rose by tens of millions. In 2017, esportsearnings.com reports that over $110.6 million was awarded as prize money from 3,765 video game tournaments. This number is projected to hit $1.5 billion in prize money in 2020.

Between professional players and at-home gamers, many video games have reached extreme popularity. As of October 2018, NPD Group reports the top selling video games (including digital and retail purchases) are Call of Duty Black Ops III, Red Dead Redemption II, Assassin’s Freed: Odyssey, NBA 2K19, and Super Mario Party. NPD group reports consumer spending on video games for the first half of 2018 is $19.5 billion, which represents a 40% increase from last year’s reports. Bigfish.com reports 65% of households own a gaming device. Between 2014 and 2016 viewership of esports has increased from 204 million to 292 million, which is a 43% increase in a two-year period. Esports now has an audience spanning all ages, and it is reported that 97% of teens in the US alone play video games. The video game industry is growing at an incredible rate when considering the increase in revenue, viewership, and sales of games and devices.

With this growth, esports is connecting millions of people all around the world through the multiplayer games that are boosting popularity.  Twitch gives many people a platform to display their skill and passion for all things esports. It also allows many teens to escape to a place that is interesting and challenging and shows their perseverance in a whole new world. There are millions of dedicated gamers that spend hours of their time to better their performance and increase their skill until they become a professional gamer. Gamers have reached the status of celebrities, such as Bill Mitchel, who is famous for holding record high scores for Pac-Man and Donkey Kong in the 1980s. Today, top gamers include, Xu “Fy” Linson playing DOTA2, Martin “Rekkles” Larsson playing League of Legends, and numerous others. These cyberathletes are commonly overlooked for their skill and dedication to the esports world.

But little does the general public know that millions of gamers all over the world are competing and playing various video games. Esports adds to the excitement and entertainment of common sports. Every decade gaming evolves and is popularized as esports continues to be a growing ambition among new players. One can only imagine what new technology is to come into the esports universe in the next decade, mobilizing and inspiring a new generation of gamers to find their passion for esports.