The History and Evolution of Esports

Bountie Gaming
4 min readJan 3, 2018


Ever since video games first appeared on screen, we have always been mesmerized and entertained by gaming. One aspect that has always prevailed throughout is the notion of competitive gaming, whereby players pit against one another to determine a winner and a loser.

Today we shall be focusing on esports, which is usually defined as a video game that is played on a professional level, often with a huge spectatorship.

First Esports Tournament

The first eSports event happened all the way back in the October of 1972 at Stamford University where students competed on the video game Spacewar. The grand prize for the winner was a year long subscription to the Rolling Stones magazine. However, it wasn’t until 1980 whereby the first video game competition was held. The Space Invaders Championship had a great attendance of 10,000 participants and received widespread media attention since Space Invaders (the game of the tournament) was a household name at that point of time.

Anyone still remembers this gem?


As the 1980s wore on, it would see the rise of several companies that recorded video game high scores. One such company was Twin Galaxies who promoted video games and publicized high scores and records on publications such as the Guinness Book of World Records.


When 1990s came around, it saw the rise of the now indispensable internet and the world wide web. The internet did for gaming what it did for instant messaging, it connected gamers through the web so that now online competitive gaming was made possible. Internet connectivity also gave rise to the growth in popularity of PC games and companies such as Nintendo and Blockbuster began sponsoring video game world championships around this time.

The infamous Red Annihilation ‘Quake’ tournament

In 1997, the Red Annihilation tournament for the former famous “Quake game” was held which dew in about 2000 participants. It is widely regarded as the world’s first eSports event. The winner also got to drive off in John Cormack’s (lead developer of Quake) Ferrari as the grand prize!

A few weeks later the leading major gaming league, Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL), was formed and they held their first tournament later that year. The CPL was one of the more prominent of new leagues and tournaments popping up during this period. We also began to see bigger prize monies, such as the $15,000 prize money by CPL for one of their tournaments in the following year.

Do you all remember this amazing game that came out during 1998?

Yes, its Starcraft and its expansion pack Starcraft: Brood War. What set this game apart from the rest was its real-time strategy gameplay; Which is unlike its other counterparts that relied on strategic thinking and execution rather than fast reflexes and muscle memory. The successor, Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty, continues to live up to the standard set by its predecessor while offering new strategical possibilities. Currently, the Global StarCraft 2 League (GSL) from South Korea is regarded as the most prestigious StarCraft 2 competition and strongest force in the RTS arena, boasting over 50 million viewers and 17.5 million views on alone.

One of the posters that features the 3 playable factions

At the turn of the millennium, major international tournaments such as the World Cyber Games and the Electronic Sports World Cup were launched, followed by the Major League Gaming (MLG) in 2002, being the current largest esports league today as well as the most generous in prize money awarded. In the later of the decade, the rise of Defence of the Ancients (Dota), a mod originating from Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos, would result in the true birth of the MOBA genre. Now popular games such as League of Legends continue on the MOBA formula and have huge followings as well as players on a daily basis.


Last year, the total esports prize money awarded out amounted to $110.6 million from a total of 3765 tournaments according to the website. The biggest prize pool from a single tournament? A whopping $24.6 million at The International 2017.

Esports has come a long way and will continue to grow to serve the booming gaming market. Esports revenue is projected to hit 1.5 billion by 2020 and shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. Just like how people have been gathering in over-crowded stadiums to watch a handful of athletes compete at the highest level for decades now, esports has developed the same sort of demand in terms of participation and spectatorship throughout the years. Perhaps, everyone loves a bit of competition and hard-fought glory. Have a great 2018 ahead!

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