Ever since the first primitive computer games have been developed in the US university labs, the community behind them nurtured the idea of holding cybernetic contests – such is the competitive nature of men. With the ensuing progress of digital entertainment, and especially, the advent of the Internet, it was only a question of time when esports would establish itself as a standalone discipline, symbolizing the new age of gaming.

Over time, local enthusiast groups started organizing competitions with random prizes, ranging from a crate of beer to small sponsor gifts like online casino no deposit bonus codes. It was only at the beginning of the new millennium that cybersports went international. If you are a fan of eSports – or, maybe, an active participant thereof, we invite you to read this overview of how it all emerged and grew into the multi-billion industry we know today.


Competitive gaming derives from the first computer and arcade games. Even back then, there was stiff competition, despite the fact that there were few players. Soon the first tournaments were organized. The first well-known eSports event was held in 1972 at Stanford University. Back then, the tournament featured 24 players competing for a subscription to Rolling Stone magazine, which sponsored the event.

The Atari gaming company also had a history of hosting competitions. In 1980, more than 10,000 Space Invaders players competed in a national championship. The New York finals were won by Rebecca Heinemann, who later became a game developer as well. Formalized tournaments were not held until the ’90s, and Blockbuster and Nintendo championships were in their initial stages.

Tectonic Shifts

In the 1990s, cybersports began to grow exponentially as the seeds of today’s most popular games were planted. Many competing console games emerged then, with Doom, which became a hit, and Street Fighter 2, which is still popular today. Doom was the first first-person shooter to hold LAN tournaments.

While the events developed rather slowly at the beginning of the decade, the release of Quake in the mid-90s rejuvenated the video game community, and Jonathan “Fatal1ty” Wendell became one of the first stars of cybersports. But it wasn’t until the release of StarCraft in 1998 that cybersports first became mainstream.

The reason why StarCraft gained such popularity was the difference in style and skill required from players to succeed. First-person shooters were more about quick reflexes, while StarCraft was more like chess, requiring strategy and logical thinking. With different minions and troops unique to each race, the strategic potential was endless. At the time, South Korea became one of the main centers of cybersports and spawned the vast majority of talented players.

In 1996, California began hosting the Evolution Championship Series called Battle by the Bay. The first tournament was held in arcades, then it was attended by more than 40 people competing in different versions of Street Fighter. EVO then moved to Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Later tournaments featured competitions in eight different fighting games, from Street Fighter Super to Smash Bros.

In 1997, the Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL) was launched, becoming one of the pioneers of cybersports. Up until 2008, it hosted many events with a total prize pool of about $3 million. At the time, Quake was the league’s main game, and Jonathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel earned more than half a million dollars in prize money during his career before signing sponsorship deals. He later even created his own brand of cybersports accessories.

In 1999, the first-person shooter genre continued to evolve: Counter-Strike was released. Originally a Half-Life mod, Counter-Strike has always been at the top of cybersports, and even now the growth of the discipline continues.

Going International

The 2000s saw the massive proliferation of the Internet and personal computers in ordinary people’s homes around the world, and because of this, competition increased. WCG and ESWC began in 2000 and became annual events that set the tone for tournaments until the next decade.

In 2002, Major League Gaming (MLG) was created, one of the most successful eSports leagues. In 2006, they hosted the first television broadcast in North America, featuring a Halo 2 tournament. MLG, known for its Call of Duty tournaments, was acquired by Activision Blizzard in 2016.

At the same time, DreamHack began to grow, moving from LAN party status in Sweden to two major events held at the Elmia Exhibition Center in Jonkoping during the winter and summer. A few years later, DreamHack already held many tournaments under different names.

ESL was also founded in the 2000s, although the company had its roots in the 90s. The company went from holding local tournaments in Germany to events all over the world. In 2007, the company took it to the next level by reaching an agreement with Intel.

Cybersports also began to be promoted on television with broadcasts of the Championship Gaming Series (CGS) in 2007. The tournament featured teams named after different cities around the world. There were two seasons of the tournament, and in 2008 the player draft was held at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles.

Going Global

The following decade saw the biggest growth in cybersports. Twitch. tv was launched in 2011 and helped get many more viewers to tournaments. Previously, fans had to watch tournaments through in-game broadcasting tools. Twitch. tv, on the other hand, allowed viewers to go to the website and watch League of Legends and Dota 2 games, thus tripling the number of viewers.

Dota 2 was brought out in 2011 and managed to become one of the most well-liked games in eSports. The game’s tournament season follows a semi-open season system, with Valve managing the Dota Pro Circuit, handing out points at majors and minors. Teams with the most points will receive slots at The International. The event regularly breaks cybersports tournament prize pool records. For example, more than $34 million was raffled off at The International 2019.

StarCraft 2, released in 2010, brought the franchise back to cybersports. Tournaments in this eSports discipline became widely known for the fact that representatives from South Korea outnumbered the rest of the world. Despite its great history, StarCraft is ultimately remembered as a discipline with a very busy schedule. StarCraft 2 tournaments still take place, but the game is not in the top positions like it used to be.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive saw the world in 2012 and has become one of the greatest eSports games. After an “Arms Deal” update in 2013, CS: GO burst into cybersports. Valve has maintained an open scheme in which numerous third-party organizations hold tournaments throughout the year. Valve organizes two majors a year with a $1 million prize pool for each event, with these events being the pinnacle of the tournament calendar.

In the 2010s, the big business entered cybersports. DreamHack and ESL were bought out by Modern Times Group in 2015, and Amazon acquired Twitch in 2014. Over the past few years, businessmen have invested massively in cybersports organizations such as Fnatic, CLoud9, Envy, OpTic, Liquid, and NRG.


The battle royale genre has become popular in recent years, and PUBG was the catalyst for the genre. Fortnite and then Apex Legends were released right after that. There are major cybersports tournaments for each of these games, and the streamers of these disciplines are the most popular in the world.

No one knows for sure what the future holds for cybersports. The rapid development of cybersports is accompanied by countless games and genres, while other games are losing popularity. Event viewing figures continue to rise, and an entire subculture is already emerging around the competitions.

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