Why are esports so popular?

DotA 2 esports stage

More than 1 billion dollars in revenue in 2019, 500 million players, prize pools of almost 40 million dollars: why are esports so powerful?

The competitive video game market has grown exponentially over the years. Esports really took off in the late 2000s, but the first official esports event was held in 1980. The Space Invaders Tournament attracted more than 10,000 participants from all over the world, and the 1st prize, an arcade machine, was won by Rebecca Ann Heineman. Nowadays,  things have changed, and in 2019, the Dota 2 official event The International reached the highest prize pool ever in the history of esports, at about 35 million dollars.

Esports are the final form of traditional sports. Whilst the latter have been around for hundreds of years (tennis dates back to the 12th–13th-century, for example), sometimes struggling to get noticed by a large public, esports took just 30 years to become a worldwide phenomenon. To put it another way, electronic sports are like dynamite, while traditional sports resemble sparklers, the hand-held firework that burns slowly while emitting coloured flame.

The question, then, is why are video game competitions so popular?

There’s no absolute truth. The success of a phenomenon, or its failure, is influenced by many different factors that are not always easy to identify. However, there are 10 events we can point to that likely helped boost the growth of competitive gaming.

10 factors that have contributed to the success of esports

“OXO” aka “Tic-Tac-Toe”

Tic-Tac-Toe – The ancestor of esports

Surely most of you have killed the boredom with Tic-Tac-Toe at least once, but for those of you who don’t know what it is, it’s a game “played on a piece of paper in which two players write either O or X in a pattern of nine squares. It is won by the player who places three Os or three Xs in a straight line.” (Cambridge dictionary)

The video game version, OXO, was developed by Alexander Shafto Douglas in 1952, as part of his Ph.D. thesis on human-computer interaction for the University of Cambridge. It was designed for the EDSAC, one of the first digital electronic computers.

The user played against an artificial intelligence, and just like the original game, the first one to create a straight line of three Os or Xs in a 9-box matrix won the match.

Although it was just a simple digital transposition of the game, with no multiplayer or any other video game mechanics, OXO represents the starting point of video games and therefore, indirectly, of esports.

The Space Invaders Tournament

Space Invaders was developed by Taito in 1978. After Pong, it was one of the first blockbuster video games, so much so that it caused a lack of 100-yen pieces (the coin used in arcade machines) after its release. To celebrate this game, Atari set up a tournament in order to find the best Space Invaders player. The event was a success, and 4 finalists from among 10,000 participants had the opportunity to play against each other in front of four thousand people.

Atari inspired more tournaments over the years, basically becoming the founder of esports.

Space Invaders video game

The Game Boy and the PlayStation

While PCs are generally better platforms for video games and especially esports, the Game Boy and the PlayStation allowed video games to reach a much wider audience. For the first time, it was possible to play anywhere at any time for next to nothing.

The idea came from Gunpei Yokoi, an electronic engineer at the Japanese company Nintendo. He saw a bored businessman playing with his calculator during a train trip. This image triggered something in Yokoi: the idea to create an easily portable way to play games.

Game Boy wasn’t the first portable console. There had already been other gaming platforms, like the Microvision: a bulky, interchangeable cartridge console with a small LCD screen. However, Yokoi’s aim was to create a portable and cheap device for people of any age, with a basic, sturdy design and reliable functionality. He wanted to give gamers an alternative to the famous Nintendo NES.

The Game Boy saw the light in 1989, and the concept of portable gaming changed forever. For the first time, a console gave the player the chance to play hundreds of titles, a huge upgrade from other handheld platforms already on the market which had just one pre-installed game.

The first Nintendo World Championships was organized one year later (1990). It touched different US cities and the final was held at the Universal Studios in California. Participants had six minutes and 21 seconds to win three different mini games:

  • collecting 50 coins in Super Mario Bros.,
  • finishing a custom track in Rad Racer, and
  • scoring as many points as possible in Tetris.

They needed to achieve a cumulative high score across all the three games. The winner got a $10,000 U.S. savings bond, a 1990 Geo Metro Convertible, a 40″ rear-projection television, and a gold-painted Mario trophy.

Four years later, Nintendo replicated the event. The Nintendo Powerfest ’94 was a success. 132 finalists challenged each other in San Diego, California. The winner, Mike “Qik” Larossi, was given $5,000 and a Ford Mustang.

Affordable computers and LAN parties

Lan party — https://github.com/topics/lan-party

LAN (Local Area Network) parties are events that allow people to play games together without the need for an internet connection. As these gatherings became more popular in the mid-90s, competitive teams arose, and the professional scene began to grow. Video games like Doom, Quake, Unreal Tournament and StarCraft were getting more and more famous, thanks to both increasingly fast internet connections and computers that were both more powerful and more affordable.

The rise of first-person shooters: Overwatch, Call of Duty and Counter-Strike

The first-person shooter (FPS) video game genre is centered on gun and other weapon-based combat from a first-person perspective; that is, the player experiences the action through the eyes of the protagonist (Wikipedia).

While Maze Wars blazed the trail for FPS games in 1973, it was with Counter-Strike that first-person shooters caught on among players.

Counter-Strike was released by a team of students in 1999. The dynamics were pretty simple: two teams clash with each other on a delimited map, with 5-minute rounds. Each team attempts to complete their mission objective and/or eliminate the opposing team.

With this game, Valve introduced new mechanics for the time, like the chance to respawn, multiple objectives, and a whole new way to play. It was easy to learn but difficult to master, so people could play for a few minutes or for hours, and this meant that both assiduous players and casual ones could enjoy themselves.

Counter-Strike was a success, revolutionizing both the world of video games and esports; in this regard it was one of the first titles to become a real esport.

Nowadays, thanks to Call of Duty and Overwatch, FPS games account for about 40% of viewers on Twitch. The Call of Duty World League (CWL) is the main CoD league, owned by Activision and managed by Major League Gaming; it includes twelve teams, with prize pools of up to 2 million dollars.

The three-time world champion Damon “Karma” Barlow is the CoD professional gamer to have earned the most: over 760,000 dollars.

The ESWC: esports becomes a spectator event

Matthieu Dallon can be credited with transforming competitive gaming into a show. Even though esports had always been known for their astonishing demonstrations of skill, back in 90s things were slightly different, and esports tournaments were a very long way from what we’re used to today.

Drawing inspiration from a trip to Korea in 2001, he decided he wanted to make esports as breathtaking as the events he saw there. The Electronic Sports World Cup was his first attempt to create something amazing, and it also became his first success.

For the first time, players were competing in front of a public. Viewers could watch the match live on a giant screen or via streaming thanks to HLTV, and there were casters in different languages. A prize pool of 156,000 US dollars was contested by 158 players from 37 different countries playing Counter Strike, Warcraft, Unreal Tournament and Quake.

The ESWC was the first esports tournament to become a real show.

You can check out the full article about esports history at the following link: http//…

League of Legends

League of Legends was created by an American video game house named Riot Games, which was founded by Brandon Beck and Marc Merril in 2006. It’s one of the most popular games in the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) genre, in which two teams compete to conquer each other’s base. These days it’s the emblem of esports: every day about 22M players from 145 different countries play League of Legends, exceeding 100 million every month. That’s more than 1% of the world population. League players all together would make up the fifth largest country in the world.

Despite Riot’s game being the most successful MOBA ever created, it’s not the first. There were other titles like StarCraft and Dota that acted as founders for the esports scene, but League of Legends is surely what made esports the industry we all know today.

You can check out the full article about League of Legends’ history at the following link:

The history of League of Legends


The announcement of StarCraft II

StarCraft II video game

StarCraft II originated a rather singular reaction even before its launch.

During 2007 and 2008 Blizzard Entertainment held the World Wide Invitational, a series of public events which took place in countries other than United States and were dedicated to the video games StarCraft and Warcraft III.

During 2007’s Invitational in Seoul, Blizzard released a video of a soldier whispering “Hell, it’s about time,” announcing the arrival of StarCraft II.

The audience went wild.

It was only a tiny sneak peek into the new video game, and its development took another three years, but players abandoned the previous chapter of the saga as well as the famous Warcraft III as soon as the beta was available, starting to organize StarCraft II tournaments and creating new competitive teams.

It was a phenomenon never seen before in the world of video games, and it revitalized the electronic sports scene.

The foundation of Twitch in 2011

We’ll be talking about Twitch more soon, but for now we’ll just say that Twitch today represents the main esports distribution channel, with more than 13 billion hours of views in 2020 (+ 59.1% from the previous year). Twitch was acquired by Jeff Bezos in 2017 for about 970 million dollars. Today the Amazon platform holds 67.6% of the market share in total hours watched, numbers far above its competitors: YouTube Gaming is in second place with 20%, followed by Facebook Gaming with 11% and Mixer with 1.4%.

Esports are always available

Esports don’t need any specific physical location to be played. They don’t need a giant yard like for football, or a track like for Formula 1. Electronic sports can be played in your own bedroom, with your own computer, and your matches stay there, recorded on Twitch, within everyone’s reach.

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