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The History of eSports: A Look Into the Past

Blog written by Kylie Marler

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eSports is an exploding industry and is trending around the world. But while it seems like eSports “came out of nowhere,” the truth is that eSports dates all the way back to the 1970s. Let’s take a look at the history of eSports.


Early History

This article by Brookhaven National Laboratory, one of 10 national laboratories overseen and primarily funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, talks about the very first video game. According to the article, William Higinbotham created an analog computer and two controllers for an electronic tennis game in 1958.

The device was called “Tennis For Two” and could be played by two people with separate controllers that connected to the computer. The oscilloscope (a type of electronic test instrument) served as a screen for the players to see their scores.


The First eSports Tournament

The University of New Haven has this page on their website that outlines the history of eSports. The page shows that the first eSports tournament was held in the United States in 1972 by five students at Stanford University. 24 people competed in an “Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics” playing the game Spacewar.

The tournament was organized by five Stanford students who wanted to play more than just for fun, with a prize of a one year subscription to Rolling Stone magazine for the winner.


The 1970s Brought Arcades and Home Consoles

This article by ISPO, a global sport-inspiring magazine, writes about the journey of eSports through the decades, discussing the 1970s as well. The article talks about how the 1970s brought about a new era for video games. In the arcade and at home, the first generation of gamers was growing up.

Arcades were starting to pop up all over the country, bringing with them a new kind of social experience that would change how we play video games forever. At home, Atari kicked off the home console craze with Pong and soon after released their wildly popular game line-up that included classics like Adventure and Missile Command.


High Score Lists Begin in the 1980s

ISPO’s article also goes into detail about the development of eSports during the 1980s. The article says that at the 1980 Space Invaders Championship, “10,000 gamers [were] competing to win a version of Asteroids.” And, on October 10th, 1980, “William Salvador Heineman was crowned the winner of the challenge. He was thus the first winner of a national video game competition.”

The article continues, talking about the next big steps in eSports history. In 1982, arcade operator Walter Day founded the Twin Galaxies National Scoreboard, which came to be known as “Twin Galaxies”. The article states that when Day learned there was no national leaderboard for any video games, he founded Twin Galaxies.

The article also states, “In addition to maintaining a national record list, “Twin Galaxies’ Official Video Game & Pinball Book of World Records” was soon designed as a universal set of rules to prevent possible cheating”. On top of this, in 1983 Walter Day also, “founded the U.S. National Video Team, the world’s first professional gaming team.”


eSports Became Available to Mass Populations in the 1990s

The 1990s saw the rise of online gaming and the advent of the world wide web. The internet gave rise to new forms of social interaction and communication, which allowed players from all over the world to compete against each other in tournaments. Online gaming leagues began hosting regional events as well as global competitions—and this led to further expansion across continents and oceans until today, where professional gamers can compete for millions at international tournaments.


Conclusion

It’s no secret that eSports is a very young industry, but you might be surprised at how much the world of competitive gaming has changed over time. The first video game tournaments were held as early as the 1970s, and today there are eSports events held all over the world. From its small beginnings, eSports has grown into a multi-media billion dollar industry.


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References


BNL | History:The First Video Game? (n.d.). Brookhaven National Laboratory — a Passion for Discovery. Retrieved June 28, 2022, from https://www.bnl.gov/about/history/firstvideo.php


History of Esports | The University of New Haven Online. (2021, June 17). University of New Haven. https://onlinedegrees.newhaven.edu/resources/infographic/history-of-esports/


History of eSports: How it all began. (2022, January 18). ISPO.Com; ISPO. https://www.ispo.com/en/markets/history-origin-esports

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