A brief history of esports

A brief history of esports

9 min read | 21 Oct 2021

Over the years, the esports industry has boomed into what we know it as today. But, how did we get here? 

We run through a brief history of how esports started, all the way through to the present day!

Although the term ‘esports’ wasn’t officially brought to light until the early 2000s, there were several key events prior to this that built up the esports infrastructure. 

Esports tournaments:

Discussions are always happening about what event was the first esports tournament. However, the majority of people agree upon the ‘National Space Invaders Championships’ in 1980 as the first major-scale competitive tournament. 

The event attracted around 10,000 people, and established competitive gaming as a genuine hobby.

Whilst this is considered to be the worlds’ first step into the industry, there were several other events around the globe that contributed to the definitive birth of esports. 

Stanford Universitys’ ‘Spacewar’ tournament in 1972 was an important step in competitive video gaming, and allowed for other people to follow suit with their own events.

Although these may seem quite small in comparison to esports tournaments in the present, they were incredibly impactful at the time to allow for the development of esports in general. 

One of the first major tournaments to occur was ‘Battle by the Bay’ – a Street Fighter LAN in California. 40 people competed in the first event, and the tournament developed into what is now known as EVO.

Today, every esports title (of which there are many) has its own set of tournaments and events, and the industry continues to grow.

Esports titles:

Video games, from as early as the 1950s, have always had a competitive element to them – so it was inevitable that esports was going to make an appearance at one point or another.

Things like ‘Tennis for Two’ and ‘Pong’ involved two players facing off to try and win – which essentially was the starting point for competitive video gaming.

In the 90s, further games started to emerge – including the likes of ‘Super Street Fighter II’ and ‘Doom’. This meant that there was more variety in the genre of games available to play, thus revolutionising the competitive scene.

From here, more and more games started to come out and form the basics of the esports industry.

1999 saw the release of the original Counter-Strike, which has gone on to become one of the biggest esports titles in the world. However, in terms of esports titles, the 2000s brought so many new games into the competitive limelight. Call of Duty, Halo, and Starcraft boomed early on, and have only continued to develop.

Moving closer to the 2010s, MOBAs became a big hit in the world of esports – bringing League of Legends and Dota 2 up into the forefront of the competitive scene.

Now, there are over 40 esports titles that have individuals from across the world competing in them regularly. Compared to when gaming was just coming into the mainstream, there has been a huge development within the industry to get to this point.

From here, the only way is up for the overall number of esports titles. More development and adaptations are being made in various different genres to widen the esports industry even further.


Back in the 80s, the thought of gaming outside of a recreational space was completely unheard of. So, the introduction of esports and gaming into educational sectors shows the extreme developments the industry has taken over the last few decades.

Esports really began to pick up speed in UK educational settings around 2010, with the introduction of the NUEL.

University students would get together as a team to play, and eventually compete against other universities in tournaments. This was really the start of seeing the positive impact that esports has on young people, and bringing new ideas to the forefront of student involvement.

On top of having esports tournaments at university level, there have been several developments at grassroot levels in schools and colleges – especially with the British Esports Student Champs.

Students from schools and colleges across the UK compete against one another for a spot at the grand finals event – which takes place at the end of the academic year. This all started initially as a pilot tournament back in 2018, but British Esports have managed to expand this into a trademark tournament for students nationwide. 

Fast forward to the present, and esports courses have been rolled out across the world for anyone to take part in.

Just this year alone, there are 160 educational institutions across the UK delivering the esports BTEC qualification. As well as this, some universities also offer esports degrees and enrichments to get students involved in the sector.

The industry is booming in the education sphere, with plans to expand courses even further across the whole world.

Becoming mainstream:

Back when competitive gaming was just an idea, there was the impression that playing video games was bad for you.

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘gaming makes you violent’ repeated, but this just isn’t the case. This saying is something that tries to deter people from playing games, and even the concept of making a career out of gaming was looked down upon. 

But what happened when video games started getting popular?

Women became excluded from playing as the ideologies around gaming shifted from it being bad, to it not being suitable for anyone other than a man. This has since changed, and the esports industry has opened doors for people with a variety of different backgrounds.

Nowadays, esports is incredibly inclusive to all; mainly because of its presence in the mainstream media.

The popularity of gaming skyrocketed as more people got involved with playing – and then small tournaments and events began to develop from there. Take the Space Invaders Championship – it attracted over 10,000 people to spectate competitive gaming solely because of the prominence of the game at that time. Whereas, The International 2021 in Dota 2 broke records and had 2.7million concurrent viewers on the stream. 

As consoles developed (and the world went through the infamous console-wars), gaming was taking place in more households. The introduction of online services like XBOX Live then allowed players to become more sociable in their gaming – and thus play competitively.

The more society began to accept these events and tournaments, the more people began to see the benefits of esports. Today, the list is endless on the amount of benefits that esports has, and the positive futures it can provide for people who want to pursue it.

On top of that, the integration of esports into education really shows its developments into the mainstream. 

Esports as we know it today is a positive development of what gaming has become over the years, and it is only set to get bigger from here.

This is only a brief overview of how esports has developed so far over the years, but keep your eyes peeled to see how the industry evolves in the future.

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