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For more than a century, competitive sports have brought athletes from across the globe together. However, few sports have managed to unify every culture. That was before esports, of course. Transcending the cultural obstacles posed by more conventional sports, video games have a universal appeal that’s led esports to become a global phenomenon in recent years. Far from being a passing fad, esports have mass appeal. In 2022, more than 532 million people tuned in to watch esports events. By 2025, viewing figures are expected to soar beyond 640 million. 

The Earliest Days of Esports 

Competitive gaming is by no means a modern invention. To find the first esports tournament that we’d recognize today, we’d have to go back all the way to the 1970s. The first small-scale esports tournament was held in 1972, when 24 competitors came together to play Spacewar!, a rudimentary space combat game. Although this title might seem prehistoric compared to games from today, its multiplayer capability was revolutionary considering the era. The lucky winner walked away with little more than a Rolling Stone subscription, a far cry from the $40 million prize pool that was up for grabs at The International 2021. 

For many years, competitive gaming would be largely confined to the arcade and LAN parties. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1990s that any real traction toward globalization set in. Finally, actual tournaments were being organized, with South Korea being one of the first countries to truly embrace esports. Noticing a real appetite for competitive gaming, the government even advocated the establishment of internet cafes to encourage more citizens to take up gaming professionally. Why was South Korea so ahead of the pack when it came to esports? It didn’t hurt that the country enjoyed a domestic broadband network that would put many nations to shame, even today. 

The First Major International Esports Tournaments 

It would be in South Korea that the first major international esports tournament was held. In 2000, Seoul played host to the inaugural World Cyber Games, with games like StarCraft: Brood War, Unreal Tournament, and FIFA 2000 all being played. It would return every year until 2013 when the World Cyber Games took an extended hiatus. However, it returned once more in 2019, with an inflated prize pool and a broader selection of games. Along with most other tournaments, the games went online in 2020, before coming home in 2023 when South Korea once again resumed hosting duties. 

Another early esports event was the Electronic Sports World Cup (ESWC). While European clans were still few and far between at this point, there was surging interest in the idea of competitive gaming. The first edition of the ESWC was largely focused on PC titles, although console titles would eventually be brought into the mix. Halo 2 was one such game, with the franchise becoming central to international esports competitions in the years since. Keen to see which Halo teams are currently coming out on top? Find everything you need at

Esports Becomes a Truly Global Enterprise 

With local leagues growing in number, it was only a matter of time before international events became the standard, rather than the rare exception. The following decade would see games like Counter-Strike and Call of Duty emerge as esports favorites. However, it’s arguably MOBA games that helped transform competitive gaming into a true spectator sport. Titles like DOTA 2 and League of Legends meant that strategy and teamwork became central to the makeup of major league esports. In more recent years, the likes of Valorant and Fortnite have emerged as modern-day MOBA classics. 

It’s not just independent tournament organizers that are driving interest in esports. For years, fans have been crying out for esports to be recognized as a genuine competitive sport. These prayers were finally answered in 2022 when the International Olympics Committee (IOC) announced the inaugural Olympics Esports Series. Bringing together players from Europe, North America, Africa, Oceania, and Asia, few tournaments have been able to match the global scope of the first edition of the Olympics Esports Series.

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