There is no mistaking that esports has taken the world by storm.
Once gamers would have to use LAN cables to compete against each other or insert a quarter into the arcade machine to show your skills in front of a group of strangers.
Now, competitive games have grown exponentially with the biggest tournaments like League of Legends Worlds having a dedicated stadium, millions of spectators and a very handsome prize pool.
To put into perspective just how popular professional esports has become, last year the League of Legends World Final amassed nearly 100 million viewers.
Compared to the Super Bowl the year before that had gained no more than 98 million.
The esports industry has grown to exceed $1 billion dollars in market revenue in 2022 and with such an array of games being played professionally from tactical shooters, to strategy to fighting games, there are no signs of it slowing down.
Rather than going to the arcade to watch your favorite players, esports is also easier than ever to watch as you can stream live matches on sites like Twitch.tv, YouTube Gaming and Facebook Gaming.
You don’t even really need a very high-end PC to get involved and hone your own skills as many games have now been optimized to run well on tablets and even smartphones as well as consoles.
But how did this industry get so popular seemingly out of nowhere?
We’re going to take a quick look into where esports started and more specifically what games were there at its birth, and if they are even still being played today at a professional level.
1970s: Where It All Started
It was in 1972 that the ‘Magnavox Odyssey’ was released. While it certainly sounds like something that would come out of the 1970s, it was actually the first home console capable of playing video games.
However, the Odyssey only had around 20 built-in games which included Tennis for Two and Space Invaders, and it stopped production after 2 years, however the step it made in competitive gaming was revolutionary.
With the introduction of the high scores in games, gaming became more than just a fascination or a simple pastime, it was actually a competition.
The best player could be recognized through their high scores and the ability to beat others would earn respect among their friends and even community as many people would come together and play around one console.
Once the 1980s began a very early form of esports as we know it was beginning to grow almost out of control with the common inclusion of scoreboards.
Also competitive games and especially fighting games that all kept gamers coming back to the arcade to prove themselves, and even championships beginning to form.
So what exactly were these early esports games?
Pong was arguably the simplest game ever created, yet it can be considered as the first true esports game because of its competitiveness.
The game was simple enough to be played by anyone and everyone, and it was this simplicity that allowed it to take off and turn into the success it did.
With no real strategy to speak of, players had to rely on skill alone to win and the fact that you could play against your friend meant that you could test yourself against someone else and see how good you really were.
While not esports as we know it today, Pong undoubtedly implanted that idea of gaming being competitive into the popular imagination, with players returning to get better and better each time.
We all have played or at least seen Space Invaders, a game where the player tests their firing and dodging skills in a shuttle while aliens rain down and try to eliminate them.
The game on the surface does look quite simple, similar to Pac-Man, however it laid the foundation of taking a simple concept, and being the most skillful at it as possible.
The Space Invader Championship held in 1980 saw over 10,000 competing to gain the highest score in the game with William Salvador Heineman being crowned the very first national video game competition winner.
He laid the foundation for turning minimalism into fierce competition that is so common in so many games today.
This would carve the path for other arcade competitors like Tetris and Super Mario Bros to also become tests of skill that would eventually form their own tournaments still seen today.
Street Fighter II And Mortal Kombat II
Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat II may have been a bit more complex, but they still took arcades by storm.
The mixture of different characters and hard to pull off movesets made it so these games were only played by those who remained consistent and learned the game.
Gamers would huddle around one player who just couldn’t be beaten in a king of the hill kind of scenario.
It was not just beating an opponent however, skilled gamers could perform combos and fatalities that would embarrass the opponent and force them to have to reflect on their mistakes.
These two games took over 80s arcades and introduced the idea of losing, but going back to learn new techniques and grow to get better at the game, which is the mindset of every esport player now regardless of game.
They also pioneered fighting games into esports stardom, with the annual EVO competition now being one of the most nail-biting and popular esport competitions on the planet.
Competitive gaming has certainly gone through quite the development, starting off as a simple pastime to enjoy with relatives and friends, or proving your skills in the arcade.
Today it’s a billion-dollar industry with millions of people playing every day, from kids to adults, and professional players who are held up by many as celebrities.
This has hopefully granted some insight into the specific games that paved the way for the industry we all enjoy watching today.