Image credit: ‘Starcraft Ecology’, Jeff Warren, https://flic.kr/p/5AjRgC, Creative Commons 2.0
Aussie Rules Football will celebrate a venerable 159 years of game play this year. Old in age and rich in history, it’s the game that stops the nation (or at least the traffic in Melbourne) the last Saturday of every September.
Esport, on the other hand has barely turned of legal drinking age. Clocking in just under 20 years of esport history, even the guys from One Direction are all older. Not that we’ve memorised their birthdays or anything.
But this is great, you can grab a glimpse of esport history in under 5 minutes. Coz shit, ain’t nobody got time to write out 159 years of sporting.
So here it goes, the quickest ever, 5 minute history lesson into esport.
Castle of the Damned: Quake + Dennis “Thresh” Fong
Hellspawn and 20 years ago, PC game Doom was released onto the world and from it borne the genre of first person shooters (FPS). Its creators, notably developer John Carmack would go on to create more hugely successful FPS games such as Quake.
Gaming competitions for FPSes at this time were existent, but sporadic. And one guy – Dennis “Thresh” Fong, simply dominated the Doom and Quake competitive world. So good, he went on to popularise the now standard WASD keyboard controls for FPSes.
The legendary story goes that Carmack being a complete baller, would purchase a new Ferrari to celebrate each completed game release. At one national Quake competition, he donated his Ferrari 328 GTS as the prize. The winner? Thresh. By a landslide.
As Napoleon once proclaimed, history is written by the victors. Thresh went on to be named the world’s first professional gamer by the Guinness World Book of Records, and gets a League of Legends character named after him. And this Quake competition with its Ferrari first prize, is held up as one of the first ever esport events.
StarCraft: the meteoric rise of PC gaming in South Korea
Amidst the hype and heydey of console gaming, a youthful game development company Blizzard would launch the space drama, real time strategy (RTS) game StarCraft.
The game exploded in South Korea to become a national obsession, signalling the launch of major tournaments, 24/7 television broadcasting, serious young money and the rise of esport celebrities.
Like the perfect race towards the cultural victory in Civilisation – the socio-economic climate and infrastructure of South Korea, the incredible game design, and the coincidental timing with the founding of South Korea’s first professional gaming league – all bred the right conditions for the meteoric rise of PC gaming and StarCraft as the poster child for esport.
StarCraft remained one of the most popular games for the next decade, and its dedicated fans still play the 1998 version today.
PC Baangs – or South Korean computer cafes became the breeding ground for the top esport players. The South Korean rigorous 10 hour training days would set the global gold standards of what it took to become an elite video games competitor.
Screenshot of Twitch livestream, 10 March 2016
League of Legends + Twitch: The Freemium Business Model
As popular as StarCraft was (and is), its barrier to entry was restricted by the price of purchasing the game.
Enter: League of Legends (LOL), a free to play, epic to watch and highly addictive Multi-player Online Battle Arena game (MOBA).
The perfect storm of accessible and wildly fun games, and a global audience who could interact and game with each other. Epic, accessible, participatory and skirmishly fun – this is the esport community as we know it today.
The Compendium: DOTA 2’s epic prize money
However, in 2013, Valve introduced the ingenious Compendium, an interactive booklet that could be purchased within the game by players. Proceeds of the Compendium sales would go back into funding the prize pool of The International.
As players increased on DOTA 2, the sales figures and therefore prize pools snowballed. From 2013’s $2.8 million prize pool, 2015 saw an insane $18.4 million of cash cash money flood in for it’s competition winners.
Out of the bedroom stereotype and into stadium arenas, cable television and corporate sponsorship. The huge, crowd funded prize pools grabbed news headlines around the world and began to legitimise professional gaming as a popular, mainstream sport.
GG – and that’s just the beginning of esport – what’s next?