Credit: Riot Games
When I was 4 I played my first video game. I don’t remember what game it was but i do remember the joy. Video games were such a fantastical concept to me at that very young age. I was instantly hooked. Video games were what I spent all my free time on. Always striving to become better at them, trying to clear a level a little faster or score just a little higher on the leader-boards. I loved the feeling of building improvement and competition between me and my friends. Still to this day i spend most of my spare hours playing video games. Today it the reason I play isn’t much different I find it fun and I love the competition. Some things have changed since then like how much I get to play them and who I can play them with. However, the biggest change that I have seen growing up the past 15 years with video games is the massive cultural shift around them. I remember when I was 9 wishing that I could just play video games forever and even make a job out of it “that would be the dream” is what I thought to myself. I naturally was then taken aback by the creation of the Major League Gaming Pro-Circuit for Halo 3. It was then in 2008 that I had become aware of what e-sports were. I found the concept so amazing getting the best players in the world and having them compete for money and prizes. It was a wondrous thought to me as a kid that if I got really good at Halo I might be able to compete and win the massive prize pool in my mind of $500. I could have never conceived then how big competitive gaming would become and how large e-sports would grow to be.
The Building Blocks
E-sports are still quite new to the world. With the first real competitions that were beyond just a few people in a town with a mock bracket, only barely predating me and I’m only a few months shy of 20. The early years of e-sports has a fragmented history of scattered events and tournaments whose presentation and format are hard to watch and resemble more of a bad 80’s sitcom than that of a serious competition that could be called a “professional sport”. There was one exception and that was in the nation of South Korea where in 2000 the T.V. station OGN was established that broadcast matches and tournaments of various games with the main game being Starcraft: Brood War a game that had seized the culture of South Korea. South Korea is where most of early e-sports were developed and it would take a few years until e-sports would take off in the U.S. and Europe. In order for e-sports to start building outside of the super tech focused and interconnected South Korea we would have to wait for the technology to advance and for the age of Social Media to begin.
The First Real League
The next big event for the dawn of e-sports is the founding of Major League Gaming in 2002. An attempt by a group of games media persons to found an MLB style league for video games. The founding of this organization was the beginning of some of the first professional teams in e-sports as now that there was money to be made by players semi consistently some could afford to try to make a career of it. However despite the attempts of MLG to become a definitive league where people could go “pro” in video games they struggled to find success or a solid platform on which to provide the matches to the masses. That is when YouTube came along which aided in getting the MLG branding and matches out to the scattered audiences of gamers across the U.S. and Europe. Consolidating the decently sized but greatly scattered potential audience. This created a burst of growth in MLG to the point that in 2008 the secured $10 million in funding from an investment group to expand operations. They quickly spent the money to expand their leagues into every game they could. At its height in 2009 MLG was host to the largest Call of Duty, Starcraft, and Halo tournaments in the same year. However, MLG was not set to stay king and was soon destined for a total collapse as the players were about to become far more popular then the organization and the players were about to build not only a better leagues but games designed to be played competitively.
Personality Begets Popularity
It was 2010 and Social Media has become staggeringly prolific and internet personalities were going from mere jokes to total celebrities in their own right. This boom in personality developing large fan bases was about to help e-sports spring into the future. It was around this time the most anticipated competitive game of the decade was about to be released. The sequel to Starcraft, simply titled Starcraft 2 created a groundswell of hype in the gaming community as it had been in development for nearly a decade. Leading up to its release Blizzard Entertainment the company who made Starcraft had the idea to begin a new type of ad campaign. The gaming community was one of the biggest groups that flocked to YouTube not to long after its release and it was filled with videos from players amateur to seasoned veterans. Blizzard Entertainment got the idea to sponsor and pay pro Starcraft players to play Starcraft 2 on their YouTube channels giving them early access to the game which drove massive traffic to them as they provided a limited glimpse of gameplay of the new game that was available. This greatly boosted popularity for the game and not only the game but the players as well for a good deal of them were quite personable and entertaining. These personalities created a new wave of popularity for e-sports as people where attracted by the entertaining personalities that started to dominate the scene.
One of such videos by Day9 a large at the time e-sports content creator
The Advent of Twitch
It was a natural progression of format for the media. The live-streaming service of Twitch.tv launched in 2011 to serve as a platform for gamers to stream games from the comfort of their own homes. This platform allowed the every man to now to do something that they previously had to rely on a large organization such as MLG to do and that was to reach a large audience live allowing them to now host tournaments of their own in formats they enjoyed far more than the slow to change formats of MLG. The service also allowed the games that were more popular to gain a larger share of screen time and gave a much larger amount of content for people who only liked one particular game. The biggest game to come out of the Twitch boom was League of Legends a game built around and solely for competitive multiplayer. It was a 5v5 team game with the objective of destroying the enemy Nexus before the can destroy yours. It allowed both for team skill and individual mechanical skill to shine.
League the Juggernaut
Today League of Legends is the most played game in the world and brings in nearly $1.6 billion a year in income for the company Riot Games. It is the most watched e-sport with the world finals last year garnering 57.6 million unique viewers. It has sold out massive stadiums around the world from the Staples Center to Madison Square Garden. Just this year the North American League has franchised itself and has attracted multi-million investments from Disney to the Golden State Warriors. It is a juggernaut in the scene and stands to a testament to how fast e-sports has grown. Here are some numbers for international events in League of Legends from Riot themselves.
For a overall better recap of history watch this video made by Score e-sports.