My historical overview on the age of eSports

I have participated and followed the culture of competitive gaming for over 30 years. Looking back I've decided to create a timeline that highlights some of the most significant events which lead to the first infrastructure that gave eSports a foundation and the pioneers that added to its development, cementing its history. 

 The 1st Renaissance of eSports

  The Stone Age: The Pioneering of Competitive Gaming

This is what many would consider to be the “Genesis” of video games. As the first game was created so naturally was competitive gaming. Like “Basketball” which was created in 1891, there was a large gap in time before the game was eventually turned into a sport in 1946 when National Basketball Association (NBA) was created. Here are the most significant moments in the beginning of the video game industry which influenced a generation of pioneers yet to come, to eventually build a foundation to turn competitive gaming into a sport.

1947 - CRT Amusement Device: Created by Thomas T. Goldsmith, Jr. and Estle Ray Mann, this device is considered the first video game ever created. Despite not making it to production due to paten issues, the concept of the game was getting a dot matrix missile to certain areas of the pulse line found on the screen. Scores were kept on paper.

1952 - Noughts  And Crosses: Created by Alexander S. Douglas, Tic-Tac-Toe transformed into a video game using the tank display of a CRT pixel screen to display the game. The score was kept on paper by hand. The game was based on a thesis of human-computer interaction for the University of Cambridge. It was later discarded after it served its purpose.

1958 – Tennis for Two: Created by William Higinbotham, The game was played with two controllers that knocked a dot matrix ball over a divider. The game was displayed on an oscilloscope rather than a CRT. Scores were kept on paper. Like its predecessors the game was later dismantled after its initial release.

1972 – Space War: A game created in 1961 by Steve Russell and co. The game got its first big commercial recognition when Rolling Stones Magazine became the first to sponsor a video game tournament using the game. The competition was held at Stanford University.

1980 – Space Invaders: In 1978 Taito created one of the most recognized games in the history of the gaming industry. It wasn’t until 1980 however when Atari brought the game home for players to play through their console that the game took on its legendary status. Atari hosted a National Space Invaders tournament as a part of a major marketing campaign that turned the game into the industry’s first “Killer App” for a console system.

                                                                   Player of the Age: Todd Rogers

 The Bronze Age: The Founding of eSports

​Atari’s major event brought a lot of attention to competition in video games. All during a time when the video game industry was in its boom. This ushered in a new age for video game tournaments as competitive gaming would birth its first organization that would lay down a foundation and turn competitive video gaming into a sport. The organization created an infrastructure which is the cornerstone of eSports via rules, regulations and a adjudication system accepted by arcades all over the world. The system and organization was then accredited by video game publishers, manufacturers and Guinness World Records.

1981 – Twin Galaxies: “Oldest Videogame Adjudication Service: On the 10th of November 1981, a video game arcade called Twin Galaxies opened its doors in Ottumwa, Iowa, US. Its founder Walter Day, sought to turn gaming into an international sport by creating contests, enforcing rules, crowning champions – and measuring world records. He began by collecting high scores for games from more than 100 arcades, releasing them as the Twin Galaxies National Scoreboard.” – Guinness World Record 2016: Gamer’s Edition

1982 – LIFE Magazine: For the first time in history, competitive video game players were chronicle by the American photojournalism magazine, LIFE. This documented in history the first “Super Stars” in eSports. The shoot took place at the Twin Galaxies arcade in Ottumwa Iowa, US.  It was during same year, Mayor Jerry Parker declared the town "Video Game Capital of the World". The claim was reinforced by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, Atari and the Amusement Game Manufacturers Association at Twin Galaxies.

1983 – That’s Incredible: Twin Galaxies joins forces with ABC’s TV “That’s Incredible” to host an invitational to crown eSports first World Champion. The invitational took place at Twin Galaxies Arcade in Ottumwa Iowa. The finalist of the competition advanced on to ABC’s That’s Incredible show to square off for the world championship. There, Ben Gold was crowned the first World Champion. Later that year the United States National Video Game Team was created and Walter Day headed it as its Captain. As the first branded eSports team in history its roster consist of the greatest gamers of the 80’s and continues to function today as a legacy team in eSports.

1984 – Guinness World Record: Walter Day is hired by Guinness World Record as an assistant editor to submit records from the Twin Galaxies National Scoreboard to be published in Guinness’s book.  These records were all approved by major video game publishers and arcade manufactures.

1990 – Nintendo World Championship: Nintendo creates the 1st world championship video game tournament based on a not for sale custom build video game. The National tournament was created to influence competitive gaming on a variety of Nintendo branded video games.  Since then Nintendo has had an active role in eSports through various branded Nintendo games and events leading up to its future Nintendo World Championships in 2015.

1994 – Blockbuster Video Game World Championship: A national video rental chain decides to jump into the eSports scene with its hand at the wheel. Blockbuster combines some of the most popular games from the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis consoles to forge their own brand of a video game world championships. Using their video rental chains as qualifying venues, the champion at each of their venues played off until they eventually led up to the best of the Nation squaring off for their world championship.

1996 – Evolution Championship Series: At the launch of Street Fighter II in 1991, fighting game competitions exploded all around the country lead by one of the US best players, Tomo Ohira. Five years later, California became the mecca for fighting game tournaments and launched the first National Fighting Game tournament “Battle at the Bay”. A few years later it evolved to what we now know as EVO: World Fighting Game Championships.

1997 US – Cyberathlete Professional League: PC (Personal Computer) gaming made its first major push in eSports through the Cyberathlete Professional League. The CPL established new genres into eSports such as FPS (First Person Shooters), RTS (Real Time Strategy) and MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena). Using Quake 2 and Counter Strike for FPS, Warcraft and Starcraft for RTS and finally Dota for MOBA’s. The CPL gave a platform to AMD and NVIDA as sponsors in eSports and even gave birth to a new  gaming super star, Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel; who set a new standard as the world's first eSports professional gamer. 

1997 EU – Electronic Sports League: During the same year CPL was created in the United States, Europe’s counterpart, ESL was launched by Ralf Reichert. The League has hosted over 50 games around the world and stands as the oldest eSports organization in Europe.

                                                                      Player of the Age: Billy Mitchell​

 The Silver Age: The Evolution of eSports

1997 played a very important year for eSports not just in the United States but in Europe as well. The two leagues triggered a massive trend in eSports league building which sparked eSports organizations from around the world, all with different genres in gaming to emerge. At the close of the Century, a very important award was given to a special player which marked the end of eSports first age. This was the sign of the times showing the passing of the torch into eSports second age. It was at this time, eSports evolution began.

1999 – Player of the Century:  On July 3rd Billy Mitchell was commercially recognized as the first player to receive a perfect score on the classic arcade game PAC-MAN. The feat was done in front of a live audience and covered by the associated press and other media affiliates around the United States. The President of Namco then awarded Billy Mitchell as the “Player of the Century” for his historic accolades as a competitive gamer. 

2000 – World Cyber Games: With the 21st Century officially in the books, Hank Jeong CEO of a South Korean international cyber marketing organization teamed up with Samsung and Microsoft to launch eSports first true Global eSports Olympics. The organization drew players representing over 20+ countries from around the world. WCG was the first organization to truly carbon copy the Olympic format and apply it to eSports globally.

2000 – Korean eSports Association: During the same year an eSports Association was formed in South Korea called KeSPA. The purpose was to manage eSports in South Korea.

2002 – Major League Gaming: Founded by Sundance DiGiovanni and Mike Sepso, MLG was North America’s premiere eSports organization headquartered in New York City. The eSports League meshed together a combination of PC and Console games and worked with sports network ESPN which featured news about their events on their website and social media networks. 

2003 JP – Super Battle Opera: With the fierce fighting game competition between Japan and United States players, Hirokazu Hamamura CEO of Enterbrain which owned a fighting game magazine called “Arcadia” hosted Japan’s very own Fighting Game Circuit. SBO would now pin international players to compete on Japanese soil against some of Japans legendary fighters including world renowned Daigo Umehara.

2003 US – MTV: True Life I’m a Gamer: Major television network Viacom was the first company to create a reality series on the lives of gamers and broadcast it out to the world. In 2005, MTV followed up with “True Life I’m a Professional Gamer” and in 2006 with "Gamer’s Week 2.0: Empire Arcadia​".

2007 – Intel Extreme Masters: Sanctioned by ESL and Sponsored by Intel, the IEM is a series of international eSports branded tournaments held around the world. The league focused exclusively on StarCraft II, Counter Strike: Global Offensive and now League of Legends.

2008 – Guinness World Record Gamers Edition: During the filming of “The King of Kong: A Fist Full of Quarters” Guinness announced that they would partner with Twin Galaxies. Not only did Guinness sanctioned a tournament for the film, they added a new book to the Guinness World Record brand titled, GWR: Gamer’s Edition. The books featured thousands of world records from Twin Galaxies and Guinness from competitors all over the world.

2009 – International Video Game Hall of Fame: Inspired by Walter Day and Billy Mitchell to create archiving projects like the Walter Day Trading Card Collection, a hand full of people from Ottumwa Iowa formed the first International Video Game Hall of Fame. Although the IVGHOF focuses on competitive gamers in eSports it also serves as a museum and honors the publishers and producers of the video game industry at large. 

2011 EU – DreamHack: Founded in 1994, it wasn’t until 2011 that the organization underwent corporate reform and started to focus on the events around eSports. The organization was recognized by Twin Galaxies and Guinness World Record as the largest LAN Party event of its time, which is what the organization was originally founded on. DreamHack was also the birth place of Riot Games first League of Legends World Championship.

2011 US – Twitch TV: After two decades of minimal network and cable television broadcasting of eSports content, Justin TV decided to create an alternative broadcasting network via the internet which housed eSports and other game play content. The online network now rivals some of the many established television networks around the world.

2011 EU – The International: 2011 was a very busy year for eSports as Value Corporation announced the first Defenders of the Ancients 2 (Dota2) tournament. The inaugural tournament held 1.6 million dollars in prizes. The International has raised the largest prize payout in eSports history. In 2015 they paid out 18 million US dollars and looks to surpass that mark in 2016. 

2012 – Valencia eSports Congress: Leaders and influential figures of the eSports industry worldwide gather together in Valencia Spain. The conference was host to the first ever eSports Congress to discuss eSports development, media opportunities, and the rise of live streaming.

2013 – Capcom Cup: Twenty two years since the launch of its blockbuster fighting game Street Fighter 2, Capcom finally decides to join the eSports industry with Street Fighter 4 and 5. Independent from the World Fighting Game Championships of Evo, Capcom networks with the global FGC to gather the best fighters of the Street Fighter franchise to compete for the Capcom Pro Tour leading to the Capcom Cup.

2014 – ESPN X-Games: eSports makes history through Call of Duty: Ghost as it became the first eSports championship to be broadcasted on ESPN’s X-Games. This open the gate for MLG the following year to host Counter Strike: Global Offensive.

                                                               Player of the Age: Johnathan Wendel

 The Golden Age: The Industrial eSports Revolution

The end of 2014 marked the close of second Age in eSports. A abundance of companies both in and outside of the eSports scene starts to invest millions of dollars into its expansion of the eSports “Industry”. New media platforms, events and services all start to emerge, fully funded, to set an industry standard to the management, production, governance and expansion of eSports internationally. During this age, the international business industry looks to revolutionize eSports and forge a network for a global eSports industry.

2015 – Azubu Invests: Despite early investments from Warhammer Gaming in 2013 of $8 million to 2014 with $10 million dollars for eSports strategies as a gaming company, a media company by the name of Azubu’s invests nearly $100 million dollars in 12 month between 2014 and 2015 into an eSports network to rival Twitch and YouTube.

2015 – Sports Team Owner Mark Cuban Invest: NBA’s Dallas Mavericks team owner Mark Cuban becomes the first NBA sports team owner to own his own eSports team. This comes after consultation with Major League Gaming earlier in the year about investing into an eSports start up.

2015 – Kraft Group and NBA Invests: Milwaukee Bucks team owner Mark Lasry and David Bonderman for Wildcat Capital Management with the Kraft Group both invest into series B funding for eSports. NBA Commissioner David Stern also participates in a $5 million dollar eSports fantasy finance. 

2015 – MTG Acquires Largest eSports Companies: Entertainment company, Modern Times Group acquires 100% of DreamHack and 74% of ESL, two of the largest eSports companies on earth.  

2015 – Former NBA Champion Rick Fox buys eSports Team: Closing out the year, Rick Fox becomes the first NBA Champion to purchase his own eSports team. Ironically name Echo Fox, Rick later hires current owner of Twin Galaxies Jace Hall as the CEO of his new acquired eSports team.

2016 – ESPN GO: One of the largest sports networks in the world creates a page on its website dedicated to covering eSports globally. ESPN is not alone in this initiative as RedBull, Yahoo, Daily Dot, SirisuXM and other outside industry brands have also created their own eSports media platforms.

2016 – Activision/Blizzard: After a decade plus of pioneering the evolution of eSports, North America’s premiere eSports League was acquired by Activision/Blizzard at the reported sum of 46 million dollars. The organization continues its function in eSports without its Co-founder and Former CEO Sundance DiGiovanni.

2016 – More Sports Athletes buy eSports Team: More and more Sports athletes both retired and active show their interest in eSports teams. NBA Top 50 Legend and Champion Shaquille O'Neal along with MLB World Series Champions Alex Rodriguez and Jimmy Rollins invest into eSports team NRG.

2016 – WESC: The World eSports Council is a community driven nonprofit global eSports initiative that focuses on assembling the “United Nations” for eSports. The Board of Directors looks to add eSports luminaries such as Walter Day and is in communication with organizational leaders like ESL, WESA, Twitch and more.  

                                                                     Pioneer of the Ages: Walter Day

The 2nd Renaissance of eSports

The Platinum Age: The Global Standard of eSports


The Diamond Age: The Virtual eSports Revolution


“Since the summer of 1981, I have been devoted to the belief that competitive video game players are true athletes and the competition can be a real sport. During that summer, I visited about 100 arcades around the nation and documented the high scores that I found on the arcade games of that era. Shortly thereafter, I opened the Twin Galaxies Arcade on November 10th, 1981. Inspired by the excellence of championship play that I had witnessed during my travels, I launched the Twin Galaxies National Scoreboard. This created a network of competition that reached players and arcades around the world. When I look at what eSports and its players are today, 35 years later, I can still recognize the same excellence. With today’s technology such as the internet, the network has evolved greatly and as new technology is created, eSports will continue to evolve. I am grateful to have witness this much and look forward to much more.”
- Walter Day:
Father of Competitive Gaming

This timeline is based on my personal knowledge, experience and research. It's posted for educational purposes. The quotes from Todd Rogers, Billy Mitchell, Johnathan Wendel and Walter Day were all approved and provided directly from them.

For a PDF version of this timeline for commercial use please click this link below:
TriForce's eSports Timeline PDF

"eSports has really come a long way since Walter Day first pioneered its foundation in 1981. Thanks to his vision it gave me a sense of direction as a player and for what I’ve always wanted to do in gaming competitively. I felt obligated and made it my responsibility to support his vision by being the very best of the best as a gamer so I secured 6 of the top classic arcade world records at the time. I felt that as a player, the accolades that I had achieved it would help Walter’s ambition tremendously and it did. Still to this day I continue to work with Walter behind the scene to preserve the history of eSports so that it is passed on to the next generation."
- Billy Mitchell: Player of the 20th Century

“Since the summer of 1981, I have been devoted to the belief that competitive video game players are true athletes and the competition can be a real sport. During that summer, I visited about 100 arcades around the nation and documented the high scores that I found on the arcade games of that era. Shortly thereafter, I opened the Twin Galaxies Arcade on November 10th, 1981. Inspired by the excellence of championship play that I had witnessed during my travels, I launched the Twin Galaxies National Scoreboard. This created a network of competition that reached players and arcades around the world. When I look at what eSports and its players are today, 35 years later, I can still recognize the same excellence. With today’s technology such as the internet, the network has evolved greatly and as new technology is created, eSports will continue to evolve. I am grateful to have witness this much and look forward to much more.”
- Walter Day: The Adjudicator

“Being the first full time eSports player was a huge passion of mine.  I really had a vision for where eSports could go, so I worked every day to set the bar as high as possible and set a new standard in competitive gaming.  First I had to win, and with that I was able to reach millions of people across the globe to inspire to compete and play just like I did.  During my career and even to this day I work on making products for gamers to help them achieve their highest potential as a competitor through the FATAL1TY brand.  I love to inspire people and teach them to never give up.  It’s about having that relentless pursuit of winning! Practice, practice, practice, if you’re not practicing you should be practicing.  It’s the only way you’re going to be number 1, number 1 at anything…  Practice, practice, practice.”
- Fatal1ty:
12 Time FPS World Champion

“Since the mid 70's I've earned money playing video games competitively, right into the early 80's where I've done it professionally for multiple software companies. There were a lot of bench marks that I set for others to follow so they too could be respected as professionals in a time when no infrastructure was set for us to be considered eSports athletes or professionals. The media then did not see the vision and or the potential for the future of gaming as a sport. It was up to literally a handful of gamers like myself to shape our own direction until a future infrastructure to make gaming a sport was created.”
- Mr. Activision: Longest standing video game Guinness World Record holder

CEO and Founder, Empire Arcadia »