There’s something about live sports that really appeals to those who watch – experiencing the highs and the lows of the game alongside the players can be a really fun way to make any sport more exciting. Some sports have a long history of attracting fans, such as horse racing which has always been a popular choice with attendees at the racetracks, such as those participate Cheltenham betting on the races as they occur and watching the results live.
Esports are relatively new to the world of spectator appeal, with most people writing off video games as an activity purely for those playing, until recently. Although one of the very earliest computer games, Spacewar!, was the game played in the first documented esports tournament.
Unlike the events of today, the first esports contest was held in 1972 at Stanford University, in the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Dubbed the ‘Intergalactic Spacewars! Tournament’ involved twenty-four students from the university who competed to see who had best mastered this new technology.
The winner of this early contest received a year’s subscription to Rolling Stone magazine, which stands in stark contrast to the kinds of prizes on offer today. Electronic sports have gone from being the exclusive preserve of the students creating the games to a global phenomenon that is now worth billions of dollars.
The rise of eSports
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, video games became more and more widespread with consoles that could be plugged into televisions taking the idea of gaming even more mainstream. Fans were able to play games in their homes, but arcades were also becoming more popular and the idea of people watching others play computer games became more widespread.
The next couple of decades saw huge leaps in the popularity of esports and as technology advanced, more and more games were available. Nintendo began to organize the ‘Nintendo World Championships’ and when the internet became more widespread, gamers began to create networks of like-minded fans that could meet and play together online.
Games were being developed with multi-player capabilities in mind, offering the opportunity for competitors to battle it out on a completely level playing field. Team members could ‘train’ effectively, learning how to best the programming of the most popular computer games.
Some of the games that became associated with esports included:
- Super Smash Bros
- Street Fighter
- League of Legends
Games studios began following Nintendo’s lead, organizing contests that would allow fans from all over the world to challenge each other and see who has the skills to come out on top. Some competitions were fan-led, allowing enthusiasts to set their own agendas such as the Evolution Championship Series which started as a way for fans of the game Street Fighter to challenge one another.
Today’s eSports scene
While the esports industry is still very much in its infancy, the most popular esports tournaments attract millions of fans from all over the world. Some of the most popular are:
League of Legends World Championships
As one of the most-watched esports tournaments in the world, the 2021 League of Legends Championship had more than 4 million viewers at its peak and racked up more than 170 million hours of viewing time. Teams from around the world come together to compete throughout the spring and summer to determine who is the best.
This tournament is a testament to the appeal of esports as, historically, the prize money has been lower than other comparable competitions, but the League of Legends Championships consistently attracts more viewers than most of the other major contests. Organizers, Riot Games, stream all the matches on their Twitch channel, and there are dedicated League of Legends Esports channels devoted to coverage of all the matches as they take place.
Dota 2 is one of the most popular games in the esports arena, and fans can compete at The International to win one of the highest prize pools in the industry, exceeding $40 million in 2021. Every game of The International is broadcast for free on Twitch and YouTube, so fans can tune in from anywhere in the world to see how the competitors are doing.
With nearly three million viewers in 2021, The International has been responsible for six of the highest prize pools in esports.
Fortnite World Cup
Running since 2019, the Fortnite World Cup made headlines when the first solo champion, Bugha, won $3 million at the age of just sixteen. It was available to watch on YouTube and it was so popular that it immediately went into the number one spot based on viewer figures, although its record has since been surpassed.
eSports is one of the fastest-growing sectors, with more and more fans choosing to put their wits on the global stage and take each other on. New technology is making it easier than ever before for gamers to compete in events that are becoming more and more mainstream every year.