When I see a piece of news from the traditional media about eSports, I can only smile. I listen to all kinds of misinformation. The most common is to say that electronic sports have “come out of nowhere. “As if they had arisen by some kind of spontaneous generation.
That’s why I’m going to tell you a story. Sit around the fire and listen carefully. Hear how everything started.
A History of Men and Machines
It was the 60s, and video games were science fiction. They were not even conceived in the collective imaginary, whether as entertainment or as a sport. In 1962 a guy named Steve Russell developed something called Spacewar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology! It was a program he did with his colleagues, all of them university students, to work on a PDP-1 computer. Spacewar! It was a “game”, for lack of a better word. In it, two spaceships tried to destroy themselves without falling into the gravitational force of a star.
Exactly ten years later, in October 1972, Standford University held a Spacewar competition! They called the event “intergalactic olympics”, and attendees drank free beer. The prize for the winner was a one-year subscription to the famous Rolling Stone magazine.
Eight years later in 1980, Atari organized the first large-scale tournament in the history of eSports. It consisted of getting the best score from the popular Space Invaders (the Matamacians par excellence). More than 10,000 people from all over the United States competed (given the technical limitations of the time) in-person in New York. The winner of the Space Invaders National Championship was Rebecca Heineman. She became the first person to win a national video game tournament. Subsequently, she developed a successful career as a programmer in the sector.
Promises of the Future
Between March 8 and 11, 1990, the company of Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda held the first Nintendo World Championship. It was held in 29 cities in the United States with the games Super Mario Bros., Tetris, and Rad Racer. It consisted of different competitions, individual, and in pairs. Although there was no official list of winners, this honor was later taken by Thor Aackerlund.
Parallel to the tournament, Nintendo Power magazine held a contest in which they gave away something very special. It was a golden NES cartridge with the three games of the competition. It is currently valued at more than $ 15,000. There was another similar Nintendo World Championship four years later, but it did not have the effect of the first.
The Lost Opportunity of Nintendo
Pokémon fever, starting in 1996, again prompted Nintendo to do competitive events. The trigger was the releasing of Pokémon Stadium in 2000, which gave a spectacular never before seen in the saga. It was a 3D video game for Nintendo 64. What made it unique is that you could use the equipment saved in Game Boy cartridges.
That same year national competitions were held all over the globe, looking for the best players. The champion of Spain was a very young Sergio García Maroto, who then competed against the best in Europe. His performance was so good that he managed to qualify for the Sydney World Championship in Australia, where he won third place.
For things in life, Sergio would be known twelve years later as the Youtuber Knekro. He became famous again thanks to his content of League of Legends, the eSport par excellence.
Returning to Pokémon, Nintendo had a golden opportunity. Following that championship, eSports could have been born a decade earlier. But the Japanese company could not see the potential behind all that. And, unfortunately, the competitive Pokémon was relegated to the background.
Pokémon was not the only example of what we could call the pre-eSports era, although it was the most popular. In the late 90s, and early new century, there were a few others.
To name one, there was the Red Annihilation tournament of the Quake shooter in 1997. It is considered one of the first examples of “modern” eSport. Among the 2,000 participants, the winner won the Ferrari from the game’s chief developer, John Carmack.
On the other side of the globe, in South Korea, Starcraft, Blizzard’s science fiction RTS, triumphed. This country was the first to professionalize eSports competitions. The players were treated as “athletes”, and the games began to be broadcast on television. The first clubs, sponsors and player unions also emerged.
Thanks to Blizzard, although indirectly, came the definitive boom with the editor of video game Warcraft. The same users created the Defense of the Ancients (DOTA) map, which is now standalone Esport game from Valve and which Riot would later rely on for the LOL.
League of Legends has become the most popular eSport , but there are many others. From shooters (Counter-Strike, Call of Duty, Overwatch …), card game (Hearthstone), mobile (Clash Royale) or more original (Rocket League).
Today, eSports move millions around the planet, and its a booming business. But all this comes from certain “intergalactic Olympics” 45 years ago. Therefore, when you hear that the phenomenon is recent, remember this: Rome was not made in one day.