The History of eSports 1: From Humble Beginnings (70s and 80s)

This week, we’re going to be taking a look at some of the earliest eSports moments, before Faker was a god, before League was even a thing, even before Starcraft was even conceived of. A time of arcade machines, the Red Scare, and the aftermath of the Civil Right’s movement. Enter 1972, a time of the American dream, the Vietnam War/conscientious objectors, and Disco. Video games are becoming a new form of entertainment, much to the chagrin of the conservative populace. Video games were primarily played as university or corporate side projects, and consumer video games were quite a ways away. Home consoles had only just started showing up on the market earlier this year. 45 years, 2 weeks, and 3 days ago, on October 19th, the first recorded/known eSports tournament took place.

The earliest known eSports tournament took place at Stanford University, 1972, in what was called an “Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics”, with a year’s subscription for Rolling Stone as the grand prize. The game played was Spacewar!, one of the earliest games along with pong. Bruce Baumgart won the five man ffa, and Tovar/Robert E. Maas won the team competition. It wouldn’t be until much later, in 1980, when Atari would sponsor their Space Invaders Championship as one of the first large scale video game competitions. More than 10,000 participants showed up at the tournament from all aspects of life in the US, establishing compettitive gaming as a semi-mainstream hobby.

But perhaps the biggest impact on the fledgling eSports scene was a record keeping organization called Twin Galaxies, founded by Walter Day. Twin galaxies promoted video gamers through it’s publications, often getting them into the Guinness Book of World Records, and later creating the US National Video Game team. The US was in a haze of gaming-fever around this time, often having a line of people waiting to play pong on the old Atari machines. Early tournaments popped up all over the US, most notably the Video Game Masters Tournament for the Guinness World Records.

That’s not to say only Twin Galaxies was the only publication for gaming. Video games had become such a phenomenon, that even Life and Time magazines started picking up and advertising for them. Whole articles were made for the sake of famous players who set record highs on old arcade games like Donkey Kong and Pac-Man. Billy Mitchell is often quoted as one of the most well known players from that time period (and kind of a jerk at that, according to some). He had records for several games, but is most famous for his Pac-Man and Donkey Kong scores. Even amongst other media, shows like Starcade(1982-1984), dedicated to the arcade craze in 133 episodes started popping up, where contestant would compete for high scores (which might get pretty tedious if they were good). Other shows included That’s Incredible for a few episodes of high tier players, and localized tournaments at the arcades were a common occurrence. Even the original Tron was inspired by video games during this time.

 

Next time we’ll take a look at the next, brief chapter of eSports, when multiplayer gaming was just becoming big.

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