Esports: The History, The Popularity and the Future!

Abby Jovanovic

Esports, Industry, Analytics

August 31, 2021

Esports Defined

Hamari and Sjöblom (2017) define esports or electronic sports as the following:

… a form of sports where the primary aspects of the sport are facilitated by electronic systems; the input of players and teams as well as the output of the esports system are mediated by human-computer interfaces. In more practical terms, esports refer[s] to competitive video gaming (broadcasted on the internet). (p. 211)[1]

History of Esports

The idea of playing video games competitively is not new. The earliest recorded video game competition took place on October 19, 1972, at Stanford University, where just over twenty competitors played the 1962 classic, Spacewar! What were they playing for, you might be wondering? A year’s subscription to Rolling Stone magazine. [2]

Just a few years later, in the late 70s to early 80s, playing video games would gain more mainstream popularity during what is known as the golden age of arcade games. In 1980, Atari, Inc. held the Space Invaders Tournament, the first significant esports competition that attracted over 10,000 competitors. [3] Throughout the 1980s, the popularity surrounding video games grew in the forms of televised game shows such as TBS-show Starcade and BBC-show First Class and film, including cult classics such as Tron (1982) and The Wizard (1989). The popularity and success of esports would continue to grow from the 1990s to the present through the development of online gaming.

Esports Today

Nowadays, sports games like the FIFA series, the NBA 2K series, and Rocket League, and battle arena/battle royale games such as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), Fortnite, League of Legends, and Dota 2 have both official and unofficial tournaments and league gaming. Most of these events are streamed on services like Twitch and YouTube Gaming. Viewership of these events has increased over time. According to Newzoo, a gaming and esports analytics and market research company, there are currently almost 500 million esports viewers worldwide as of 2021. Nearly half of those viewers are considered esports enthusiasts, while the other half are occasional viewers. Viewership is expected to increase to 577 million by 2024. [4] Last year, the 2020 League of Legends World Championships was the top event with over one billion hours watched and almost 46 million concurrent viewers. [5] The winning team received a prize of over $550,000 (USD). This event also had significant global sponsors/partners such as Mercedes-Benz, MasterCard, Spotify, and Cisco.


Some people might be wondering, why are esports so popular? Esports are just like traditional sports. Players use teamwork, discipline, and strategy. According to Lee and Schoenstedt (2011), players’ interests in esports gaming stem from competition, peer pressure, and skill-building. (p. 43)[6] Currently, there are over 160 esports programs in the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE). These NACE programs contain over 5,000 students and have awarded $16 million in scholarships and aid. [7]

Esports are also becoming more prominent in high school. PlayVS, a company that provides a platform for students to participates in esports by hosting and streaming matches, making schedules, and collecting statistics, signed a deal with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), “an organization that sanctions high school sports and activities,” after they recognized esports as an official sport. According to the founder of PlayVS, Delane Parnell, over 8,600 high schools across the country have created esports teams using the company. [8] In comparison, according to the Bleacher Report, there are almost 16,000 high schools in the United States that have football teams. [9]

Popularity among esports can also be attributed to the diversity and quality of video games. There are video games for just about anyone. There are traditional sports games like Madden, multiplayer online battle arena games like League of Legends, and first-person shooter games like Call of Duty. There are so many options to choose from. Along with this, the quality and graphics of video games have skyrocketed in from their 8-bit ancestors. Games look more realistic than ever before. This allows players to fully immerse themselves in the game and is easier to play and watch for longer periods of time. [10]

Esports gaming is also incredibly accessible. A person does not need a lot of money to get into esports. There are plenty of different consoles and platforms to play from, whether it’s an intricate PC or just a smartphone. To participate in esports, a player is not required to have the physical abilities of a traditional athlete to be successful. Gaming is for everyone.

Data Analytics in the Esports Industry

Esports is a growing industry. According to Newzoo, in 2019, the esports industry passed one billion dollars in revenue for the first time and is expected to hit $1.8 billion by 2022. [11] With the industry booming, many jobs have been created for those with expertise in data analysis, such as data scientists, data analysts, and data engineers. Data analysis is used in many different and vital ways throughout the esports and gaming environment. With gaming taking place in a virtual space, data is abundant. The data can be used by game developers, esports teams and players, and tournament organizers. Game developers can use data to improve their games and game mechanics as well as a guide for creating future games. Similar to football players watching film, matches can be recorded, rewatched, and analyzed as a way of training for esports players. Many websites and technologies also provide player, team, and match statistics such as Overwatch Tracker and Dotabuff. Mobalytics is a data analytics firm that using performance analytics to identify a player’s strengths and weaknesses to train them and improve their abilities. [12][13]

The Future in Esports

Esports is anticipated to be one of the next sports added to the Olympics in the coming future. The International Olympics Committee (IOC) added skateboarding, surfing, and sport climbing to the program for the Tokyo Olympics. Breakdancing and cheerleading are expected to join the Olympic Games in the near future. The benefits of adding these sports go both ways. All these sports have added different and younger audiences than many of the sports that are currently viewing the Olympics. It also adds exposure to these sports to a different audience. Adding esports would continue this cycle. Esports meets the criteria of an Olympic sport and would draw millions of more viewers to their television to watch this event. [14] With the esports market continuing to grow, I am excited to see how it will continue to grow and be incorporated into mainstream or traditional entertainment in the future.

[1]: Hamari, J. and Sjöblom, M. (2017), "What is esports and why do people watch it?", Internet Research, Vol. 27 No. 2, pp. 211-232.
[2]: Stewart Brand Recalls First 'Spacewar' Video Game Tournament - Rolling Stone
[3]: 5 A Comprehensive History of eSports: The Good, The Bad, and The Atari 1976 Space Invaders Tournament | LinkedIn
[4]: Newzoo Global Esports & Live Streaming Market Report
[5]: Streamlabs and Stream Hatchet Q4 Live Streaming Industry Report | by Ethan May | Streamlabs Blog
[6]: Lee, D. & Schoenstedt, L.J. (2011). Comparison of eSports and Traditional Sports Consumption Motives. ICHPER-SD Journal of Research, 6(2), 39-44. Retrieved August 27, 2021
[7]: Home - Varsity Collegiate Esports - NACE (
[8]: How This Company Is Turning High School E-Sports Into a National Phenomenon |
[9]: Breaking Down MaxPreps' Top 10 High School Football Teams | Bleacher Report | Latest News, Videos and Highlights
[10]: Why Is eSports So Popular? (What You Haven't Considered) (
[11]: Newzoo: Global Esports Economy Will Top $1 Billion for the First Time in 2019 | Newzoo
[12]: Importance of Data Analytics in eSports –
[13]: Mobalytics - The All-in-One Companion for Every Gamer
[14]: Why esports are poised to become the next new Olympic sport - Los Angeles Times (

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