The evolution of esports can be likened to a riveting narrative, weaving through various technological advances and cultural shifts. As we trace its history, it becomes evident that esports, though a relatively young phenomenon in the grand timeline of sports, possesses deep-rooted origins.
To comprehend the meteoric rise of esports tournaments today, one must journey back to a time when video games were nascent, local multiplayer sessions were the norm, and the idea of global online tournaments was a distant dream.
In the earliest days, competitive gaming was an informal affair. Picture a bustling college campus in the 1970s, where students huddled around an arcade machine, each waiting for their turn to beat the reigning champion’s score. In such humble settings, the spirit of competitive gaming was kindled.
The first officially recorded esports event occurred in 1972 at Stanford University, where students competed in a game called “Spacewar!” for the coveted prize of a year’s subscription to Rolling Stone magazine.
From these modest beginnings, the 1980s and 1990s saw video game competitions becoming more structured and drawing larger audiences. Regional tournaments began to sprout, with notable ones like the Nintendo World Championships touring the United States. These events laid the foundation for what would later become a global phenomenon.
However, the real game-changer arrived at the dawn of the internet age. As the world became more connected, gamers from disparate geographies could now compete in real-time, leading to the birth of online leagues and tournaments. This transition amplified and diversified the competitive scene, giving rise to new game genres and competitive formats.
By the turn of the millennium, esports started gaining noticeable traction. South Korea emerged as a pioneer, recognizing esports as an official sport, building dedicated stadiums, and even launching two television channels dedicated solely to esports. Such advancements served as a beacon, indicating the vast potential of this burgeoning industry.
From being localized arcade challenges to now filling massive arenas and drawing millions of online viewers, the journey of esports tournaments has been nothing short of spectacular. As we delve deeper into its history, each era reveals a mosaic of technological progress, human passion, and a relentless pursuit of excellence.
The Financial Landscape of Esports: A Steady Ascent
Between 2020 and 2025, esports, in conjunction with video games, was predicted to witness a 6% CAGR, as per the insights from the global accounting firm PWC. Their Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2021–2025 spanned across 14 segments and 53 territories, highlighting virtual reality, cinema, and data consumption as other notable segments experiencing significant growth.
As the esports industry matured, its revenue models diversified. PWC forecasted the US revenue for esports to touch $516M by 2023. This income would be amassed from various streams, including ticket sales, sponsorships, streaming ads, and media rights. An interesting observation from their analysis was the substantial growth in sponsorship and media rights revenue, which grew at 14.7% and 26.8%, respectively.
With the expansion and growth of esports, many opportunities have opened up for industry stakeholders, players, and fans. Esports’ ability to attract a vast global audience means more than just entertainment; it translates into tangible financial gains and diverse revenue streams.
A testament to this improving industry is its infiltration into the online betting world. Betting platforms, previously centered around traditional sports, have now widely incorporated esports. Fans who once merely cheered for their favorite players or teams can now place bets, further intensifying their engagement with the event.
PayPal sportsbooks have revolutionized the betting process, making it seamless and accessible. Fans can conveniently place their wagers from virtually anywhere, underscoring the ease with which esports has adapted to and leveraged digital financial platforms.
Prize Money: A Look into the Earnings
Prize money has always been a significant part of the esports equation. According to the records of Esports Earnings, a staggering $1.182M has been awarded across esports tournaments. 2019 was a remarkable year, with the prize money totaling $241,354,528. Though 2020 saw a decline due to the global pandemic, the numbers rose again in 2021 with a commendable $213,288,016.
Tournaments such as The International 2021, held in Bucharest, Romania, have solidified their positions in the esports history books. This Dota 2 event had the highest team prize pool, with a record-breaking $US40,018,400. Team Spirit, the winners, took home a significant portion of this, earning $18,208,300.
Individual players, too, have had their share of the limelight. The Fortnite World Cup Finals 2019 stands out, offering a solo prize pool of $US15,287,500, where the top player, Kyle Giersdorf (known as Budha), won $3 million.
Dota 2: The Goldmine for eGamers
Amongst the many games that have become a part of the esports fabric, Dota 2 is the most rewarding. Players of Dota 2 have collectively won an astounding $280M from the game’s tournaments.
In a comparison that sheds light on the game’s dominance, Dota 2 players have secured over double the prizes of the next popular game, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, even though the latter has a broader player base and more tournaments.
Esports Titans: Players and Teams That Left a Mark
Jason Zimmerman, widely recognized as Mew2King, is a name that resonates in the esports community. Competing in a staggering 615 tournaments, he has earned $284,169.31, with Super Smash Bros. Melee being his predominant game choice.
When discussing teams, DWG Kia takes the crown for 2021, with their games in League of Legends amassing 96.31 million watch hours. They were followed by teams like NaVi, T1, and RRQ Hoshi, each racking up more than 60 million watch hours.
Esports Viewership: Breaking Records
The viewership metrics for esports events have been nothing short of spectacular. The League of Legends Worlds 2021 tournament set a historic benchmark. This event became the most-watched esports event, with individuals collectively spending over 174.8 million hours. On a specific note, during the Grand Finals between EDG and DWGK, 4,018,728 people were glued to their screens.
The widespread broadcasting of this championship on platforms like Twitch, YouTube Live, and Nimo TV, among others, played a pivotal role in these impressive numbers.
A Glimpse into the Future
Every year, esports cements its position further in the global entertainment landscape. The numbers, the players, the teams, and the events tell a story of an industry that has grown and adapted, and thrived amidst challenges. The journey of esports is not just about games; it reflects digital evolution, passion, and the endless possibilities the future holds.
Robert J. Smith is still early into his career as tech reporter but has already had his work published in many major publications including JoyStiq and Android Authority. In regards to academics, Robert earned a degree in business from Fordham University. Robert has passion for emerging technology and covers upcoming products and breakthroughs in science and tech.