When the first Nintendo World Championship series toured the USA in 1990, thousands of gamers competed for some moderate prizes in 3 age bands. The prizes were perhaps marginally important than the prestige of owning a championship cartridge and being recognised in the community for the level of skill and cunning required. The event was one of the first of its kind, and has since been repeated in many countries on a smaller scale.
In 2013, the winner of the 2002, 2006 and 2012 Swedish Nintendo Championships, attended a similar event. He played a series of championship games with his team and, after a thrilling final game, walked away with another digital championship. Only this time, his prize was a staggering $287,000. The tournament was The International 3, and the game was DotA 2. Huge crowds had gathered to watch the game live at the 5 day event in the Benaroya Hall, Seattle, and the games were broadcast across the nation on Swedish television. In total, it is estimated the peak viewing figures were well over a million.
So what happened in the 23 years between the two events? How did top gamers go from being well respected masters of their arts, to digital rockstars? The rise of video gaming systems is an obvious factor, and the ubiquity of PCs has certainly contributed to a culture where gaming is steadily casting off its former stigma. The digital world seems to have become a core part of everyday life and being geeky may be suddenly a bit cool. The huge popularity of smartphone apps has shown the vast appeal of gaming to the masses, as have Nintendo products since the DS. These days pretty much everyone may be a gamer.
The growth of ESports began long before the advent of Nintendogs. It was the advent of online play which may have transformed competitive gaming from something enjoyed by a select few to a worldwide phenomenon. Suddenly, one might play anyone, anywhere. It was a whole new world, and one which gamers might have lapped up with unbridled enthusiasm.
With the aid of this new technology, groundbreaking titles like Counter Strike, Starcraft and Quake seemed to become epic behemoths which may define online gaming. Their impact seems phenomenal, the highest Esports earner of all time was a Starcraft player who has so far earned more than $500,000 dollars. These games seem to changed the community’s perceptions and made people realise the sheer potential of what lays at their fingertips. Starcraft in particular, with its frequent updates to in-game balance, stood out as a shining beacon of competitive play and became something of a sensation in Korea.
It seems to have marked the beginning of serious gaming organisations, and marked a decisive step forward for the professionalism of players. Broadcast online and on Korean television, the Starcraft tournaments quickly seemed to became iconic for their scale, passion and production values. More than $4,000,000 prize money has been issued in South Korea Starcraft competitions and the scene is remarkable for the way they have brought serious money into Esports. Particularly notable was their introduction of a flat player salary: allowing the top players to concentrate solely on playing the game. This was later extended even further, with teams paying both the players’ salaries and for their accommodation: buying houses and converting them into ideal spaces for their players to train together and exist without having to think about rent or overheads.
This seems to be something which has carried into modern Esports in the East, with several huge Chinese organisations following suit by providing team houses, salaries, sponsorship deals and even uniforms for their players.
How might Esports fare in the next 20 years?