The Esports Industry Wasn’t Built In a Day. We Take a Look at the Games That Laid the Foundation for a $1.65 Billion Industry.
The path to where esports is today was not a simple one. It drew on the progress made by countless developers, players, companies, and fans around the world to become one of the fastest growing parts of the entertainment industry. We've highlighted 10 releases that were instrumental in marking the path to where we are today. Of course, you could argue that this or that game should have made the list, but the impact of each and every one of the included titles can be felt to this day, and quite frankly, there isn't enough time to write about every single game that made a difference.
So without further ado, here are the 10 games that paved the way for esports.
The arcade revolution ignited the spark for the love of gaming we still feel today. Players crowded around cabinets, pumping coins into the slot for one more crack at the mystical high scoreboard. The three character limit on the board forced people to create the first gamer tags that are so popular in today's esports titles. That may be difficult for some of you out there to believe, but check out the video above featuring Walter Day, one of the “fathers of esports” alongside much maligned multi-game champion Billy Mitchell to hear what Pac-Man fever meant to first esports pioneers. There is no game more iconic from this era than the hit from the fractured yellow disk, PacMan. His insatiable appetite mirrored that of the millions of fans that would play level after level for hours on end. A thoroughly deserved entry into this list.
It’s here, in Mario’s fourth game (after Donkey Kong, Wrecking Crew, and Mario Bros.) that the beloved plumber quit his day job to take up a life of adventure that still delights millions to this day. In the wake of the near complete destruction of the home video game market Super Mario Bros. alongside its home platform, the Nintendo Entertainment System, saved the industry and built an empire. The popularity of this title and the NES was a major step toward the integration of gaming culture with the masses and crated fans that would go on to play for life, both casually and competitively.
As a template for every fighting game to follow, Street Fighter 2 was one of the first calls to arms for one of the strongest competitive gaming communities to date, the FGC or Fighting Game Community. Fighting games pit players in direct competition. If you lose, you have no one to blame but yourself. This, in no small part, lead to an incredibly diverse player base that championed the spirit of fair competition. A classic roster of fighters filled the character select screen, and a hidden depths lurked behind each and every one of them. Masters of these games have spent decades perfecting combos, movement, and setups to the point where the top players' controllers (called fight sticks) can cost as much as a console. But don't let that dissuade you from having a crack at it, as long as you want to improve, you'll fit right in.
First person shooter? It's a Doom clone. Inescapably the seminal FPS that broke down the barriers to so much more. Quake, Halo, Call of Duty, and Counter-Strike wouldn't be here without Doom. So many esports titles to this day are built on what Doom was able to achieve back in 1993. Even it's recent HD remake was regarded as an incredible game and reminded players just how far we've come in those 25 years.
RTS (Real Time Strategy) games haven't held the limelight in recent years, but they still have a thriving competitive scene and are due to rise back to the forefront on both PC and mobile with titles like WarCraft III Remastered and Clash Royale. The genre found popularity through the exciting implementation of controlling multiple units at the touch of a few buttons. While the franchise has fallen on hard times, it’s pounding techno music, cheesy cutscenes, and superior control scheme to its contemporary rivals made it a giant in its day. As a game that opened the door, Command and Conquer definitely had an impact on the gaming and esports landscape.
Valve software’s Half-Life was an instant sleeper hit when it appeared on store shelves in 1998. While the media overlooked the game during its development, choosing to focus on the now forgotten game SiN by Activition, Valve’s debut set new standards for storytelling in a first-person video game with emotive storytelling through scripted events wowing players like never before. That alone would be enough to earn a place in the history books, but Valve didn’t stop there. Following in the footsteps of their business partner id software, makers of Doom, Valve allowed players, fans, and enthusiasts to dig around in the machine and spawn their own modifications to the game, and thus Team Fortress was born, later giving rise to its long-lived sequel Team Fortress 2 which was undoubtedly an inspiration for Overwatch. But the true legacy of Half-Life likes in Counter-Strike, the esports title that lives on today as CS:GO. Half Life's reach is unquestionable and set Valve up to develop into the giant it is today.
If you're thinking of an MMO, you're most likely thinking about World of Warcraft. It is the gold standard by which all other entries to the genre are measured. With the diehard fan base millions strong, the game has moved from strength to strength with offerings in esports; being PvP (Player vs player), and Mythic PvE (Player vs environment) tournaments; as well as a complete gaming experience for the average bear.
Whilst not the first big title in its genre, Riot Games set the bar for esports MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) with League of Legends, a game that pit two teams against each other to destroy the enemy base by completing objectives and killing opponents. As one of the most popular games in the world, it has been in its stride for over six years and is still making moves in the global esports industry today. A fierce rivalry exists between LoL fans and fans of developer Valve's competing MOBA, DOTA 2.
We know what you're thinking. But yes, Farmville had an impact that can be seen across a huge section of the gaming industry. Its explosive success on social media demonstrated just how huge its business model could become and fragments of it ended up everywhere from League of Legends to Clash Royale. The game itself created retention with incredibly simple mechanics and developers have been chasing it ever since.
No surprise to see this name here and a fitting way to round out the list. Minecraft was the first truly viral hit of the digital age and a triumph of indie development. With its tranquil simplicity, it showed us our own creativity in an industry dominated by "get to objective B" style games. However, the community didn't just get creating inside the game, they also took to video and streaming platforms to show off their skills... Or lack thereof. In 2012-13, this content boom allowed some of the biggest online faces today to get their start. The popularity of gaming content online demonstrated interest and allowed a push for esports and competitive gaming ventures to hit the runways.
And so concludes this journey through esports history. Whilst it is important to look back, we must take the lessons we learn with us to the future. Esports is far from finalized so there is still work to be done and bounds to be made. Onwards and upwards! Excelsior!