The 90s Origins that Allow eSports to Draw Billions in Investments

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Gaming has been big business for years, decades even, but it’s only in recent years that the competitive side of the entertainment medium has caught the mainstream headlines. Formerly ignored due to a combination of the stigma surrounding gaming as well as the easily dismissed term “eSports,” now that the potential money to be made has been realized, eSports is a globally respected industry.

Now, there are several majors, multi-million gaming tournaments available to players and enthusiasts from around the world. The last couple of years have seen the eSports industry grow in audience sizes, tournament prize pools, revenue, and, most notably, in investments. Just between the years of 2017 and 2018, investments in the burgeoning scene cranked up over 800 percent, from nearly $500 million to $4.5 billion, pumping cash into organizations, operators, and broadcasters.

Many cite the origins of eSports as being close to 50 years ago, with the Space Invaders tournament of 1972. However, you can look to the events of the 1990s as being the catalyst for widespread competitive gaming and proof that people are not only happy to meet to compete but to battle in games of skill online continuously.


The 1990s: An age of competitive gaming

The advent of prevalent competitive gaming, at least in the 90s, can be traced back to the iconic and innovative Street Fighter II: The World Warrior. Released to arcades around the world in 1991, the Capcom machine saved the arcade industry and introduced one-vs-one battles to the fighting genre as well as varied characters, adding a greater degree of learning and skill to the genre. With such a tremendous amount of appeal, further helped by the game arriving on home consoles to complement the arcade versions, Capcom decided to launch sanctioned tournaments.

In California, the first Street Fighter tournament took place in the year of its release, with the grand finals in San Diego seeing the winner walk away with a Street Fighter II machine. It proved the popularity of person-vs-person competitive gaming, both for players and spectators, establishing the foundations of fighting eSports to come. Street Fighter II was major for the future of competitive gaming. Still, it was the widespread availability and adoption of the internet that brought what would later be termed as eSports to the global community.

In 1997, the colossal Red Annihilation tournament – which featured the game Quake – presented the first nationwide competition, with there being nearly 2,000 online contestants taking part. Less than a year later, in 1998, another form of online gaming launched to commence a global phenomenon, online poker. The competitive card game’s arrival online laid the foundations of the “poker boom,” with millions of players swarming online to battle on the virtual felt. Even today, the convenience and budget flexibility of online poker continues to hold it among the most-played game types on the internet. Online poker sites hold tournaments as well as cash games. The latter has been described as being the online version of your home poker competitions, showing the early roots of online poker: very similar to how eSports drew on what used to be competition between friends at home to create mass online tournaments.


Getting everyone into an online competition

With the foundations for the scene and the proof of its potential popularity presented, the 00s and 10s further progressed the accessibility and popularity of competitive online gaming. One of the earliest mainstream versions of this came with the record-selling PlayStation 2 console. Released in 2000, by June 2003, Sony had launched its console-connecting online service in all major markets.

In the middle of the decade, the Xbox 360 arrived, with many of its games either featuring or heavily leaning on online multiplayer modes. In 2006, a year after the Microsoft console launched, the PlayStation 3 followed suit, building on its online infrastructure offered by the PS2. Just before the end of the decade, in October 2009, PC gamers were introduced to the game that would define competitive gaming and become a pillar of eSports, League of Legends. In 2011, the first season of the World Championship began.

The 90s was the decade that proved the potential for the modern eSports scene, with the ensuing online-based innovations propelling it to a state where companies want to invest billions.

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