The esports industry has grown rapidly in recent years and it now boasts 454 million fans across the world. It has allowed a number of gamers to turn professional and the best of the bunch are now multimillionaires with huge fan bases.
Its rise to prominence is remarkable when you consider that it was a niche, underground pursuit a decade ago. These are the landmark moments that helped turn competitive gaming into the $1.1 billion industry it is today:
Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics, 1972
The first ever esports tournament took place at the Artificial Intelligence Lab at Stanford University in California. The year was 1972 and a group of gamers assembled around a PDP-10 computer to compete in the inaugural Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics.
Rolling Stone magazine sponsored the event, offering a year’s subscription to the winner, while it sent reporter Stewart Brand to cover it. He produced an epic 9,000-word feature on the events of the day, and he recently said he is not surprised by esports meteoric rise in recent years.
“It may seem extraordinary that you can now fill arenas with people who want to watch videogames,” said Brand. “But it’s a perfectly reasonable outcome of what you could already see in 1972.”
League of Legends Released, 2009
Developers Brandon Beck and Marc Merrill turned the gaming industry on its head when they released League of Legends in 2009. They were frustrated by the speed with which studios abandoned popular titles to work on the next game in their production line. They decided to create a game that could enjoy longevity by nurturing a passionate community of fans.
They set up Riot Games and the firm spent three years creating League of Legends, a multiplayer online battle arena title. It was released on a free-to-play basis in 2009 and it proved to be a roaring success, hitting 100,000 current players within two months of launch.
LoL earns money through in-game microtransactions on cosmetic items that can personalise the gaming experience. It has been a remarkably successful model and it brings in more than $1 billion per year for the studio, which still dedicates all of its attention to LoL.
There are 2,500 employees at Riot Games and they all work on LoL, constantly updating the game to ensure it is fresh, dynamic and utilising all technological advances. It has gone on to become the world’s most popular esport, as screaming fans pack into stadiums to watch the leading teams in action, while millions of people stream the action from the comfort of their own homes.
DreamHack Winter 2013
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive was released to great fanfare in August 2012 and it quickly established itself as a key title in the first-person shooter genre. Developer Valve teamed up with the organisers of the DreamHack Winter digital festival in Jonkoping, Sweden, the following year to host the first ever CS:GO Major.
It attracted the best 16 teams from around the world, divided them into groups of four and let them battle it out as 145,000 concurrent Twitch viewers watched on. Local team Fnatic vanquished Ninjas in Pyjamas in a gripping final, and the community was able to see just how brilliant the CS:GO competitive scene could become.
High-speed broadband was being rolled out around the world, Twitch was gaining traction and CS:GO hit the market at the perfect time. It went on to become the top FPS title in the esports scene and the Majors are now some of the world’s most popular tournaments.
The International 2014
The International is the most prestigious Dota 2 tournament of the year and it commanded pretty high prize pools in its early years. However, the prize money on offer shot up into the stratosphere when Valve introduced its compendium model.
Players buy a battle pass and Valve funnels a portion of this cash into the prize purse for The International. The compendium was launched in 2013, when the prize money rose to $2.9 million, but it really worked its magic the following year. The International 2014 carried a prize pool of $10.9 million and that did wonders for the perception of the esports industry.
It was no longer a geeky pastime. Now esports offered gamers the opportunity to earn life changing sums by displaying their prowess with a mouse and keypad. The prize money shot up to $18.4 million for The International 2015, $20.8 million in 2016, $24.7 million in 2017 and $25.5 million last year. The prize pool for The International 2019 has already gone past the $30 million mark and that will make it the richest esports tournament ever.
Invictus Rules the World, 2018
A record-breaking 205 million people streamed the Grand Final of the League of Legends World Championship last year. Most of them were in China and they were overjoyed to see their team, Invictus, beat European outfit Fnatic 3-0.
The LoL Worlds is always the most popular esports event of the year, but the massive Chinese audience pushed it to new heights in 2018. It had far more viewers than big sporting events like the Super Bowl, the tennis Grand Slams, the NBA Finals and the golfing majors. It showed just how big esports has become, and how immense its potential is.
Intel Signs $100 million Deal, 2018
A number of blue chip companies are piling into the esports scene, from MasterCard to Coca-Cola, but Intel has been its biggest supporter for a number of years. The Intel Extreme Masters was launched all the way back in 2006 and it remains the longest running tournament in the world of competitive gaming.
In December 2018, Intel signed a $100 million deal to extend its sponsorship of Electronic Sports League to 2021. That is a crucial for the overall professionalism of the esports scene, as the cash is reinvested in infrastructure and prize money. It ensures that big events are well organised and that teams are able to pay players handsome salaries, and it also sets a high bar for other companies that want to get into the esports space.
Fortnite World Cup, 2019
The proliferation of esports has allowed games like LoL, Dota 2 and CS:GO to enjoy unprecedented longevity in an otherwise fickle gaming industry. Fortnite developer Epic Games realised this, so it decided to pump $100 million into prize money for Fortnite tournaments in 2019.
It culminated at the Fortnite World Cup in New York City and the event proved to be a tremendous success. A 16-year-old by the name of Bugha walked off with the $3 million first prize and newspapers around the world went nuts for the story. You can now expect to see billions of teenagers spending eight hours per day playing Fortnite in a bid to follow in his footsteps.