How has gaming become more popular than Wimbledon?

I saw in a recent article that this year’s Esports tournament champions earned more than Wimbledon & Masters winners, and I started wondering whether I got it all wrong in life. Why did my parents force me to go play outside instead of playing video games? I could be a millionaire today! Jokes on the side… I became fascinated with the Esports world, so I decided to take a deeper dive into how we got here, and the role digital transformation played in establishing Esports as a real source of income. Esports has seen increased tv coverage recently. Although gaming may seem like it came out of nowhere, this is far from the truth, as Esport’s origins date to the 1970s. Let’s take a deeper look into its history: 

The Beginning of Esports

Stanford University hosted the first video game competition on October 19, 1972. In this tournament, Stanford students competed against each other, with the winner taking home a one-year subscription to the Rolling Stone magazine. The big mainstream breakthrough came in 1980 when Atari (a third-party company for Nintendo that was the leader of the video game market from 1975 to the early 1980s) held the Space Invaders Championship that attracted over 10,000 players and brought video games out of the shadows.

In 1980 Walter Day created Twin Galaxies, the organization that would record and keep world records. This is a significant event in the early Esports development as it allowed players to keep score of games worldwide. This popularity caused video games to make their way onto popular culture through television. Still, gaming only took off in the 1990s when the internet opened up a whole new world of possibilities.

During this period, Nintendo took video games’ controls, graphics, gameplay, and accessibility to a whole new level, making gaming more accessible to people worldwide and allowing competitive gaming to grow. In 1990, Nintendo created The Nintendo World Championships. Events like this one paved the way for much larger video game tournaments towards the end of the decade. In 1990 PC gaming was on the rise, and the internet made it possible for gamers to face off against each other across the world.

The first esports leagues were created at the end of the 1990s, such as the Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL), the Professional Gamers League, and Quakecon. The Red Annihilation, part of Quake, took place in May 1997 and is considered one of the first actual esports competitions. As spectators viewed it in person and online, this was mainstream and received news coverage from newspapers and television networks. By winning the tournament, Dennis “Thresh” Fong put his name into history and earned the tournament’s grand prize, a Ferrari 328 GTS.

GAMES 2/C/03NOV97/BU/LH– Dennis Fong, 20 years old, signs on as Thresh, and is the number one champion of Quake. He won a Ferrari, playing Quake. Photo by Liz Hafalia (Photo By LIZ HAFALIA/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

During the early 2000s, video games and online gaming continued to attract people and grow in popularity. More players could use home computers that kept becoming more powerful and less expensive. Esports have hit this stratosphere in large part because of the social component of live streaming and gaming. Video gaming-specific streaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube Gaming give fans a direct connection to the players and teams. These platforms played a significant role in bringing competitive gaming to spectators worldwide. Hitting the scene in 2011, Twitch gave esports a platform to reach previously unthinkable heights. Twitch was incredibly important to the development of Esports because it gave anyone interested in the sport a chance to attend. Games like League of Legends (LoL) and Defense of the Ancients 2 (Dota 2) became widely popular, bringing millions of unique views on Twitch.

League of Legends:

In 2011 the first League of Legends World Championship was held 2011 in Sweden. The event had a $100,000 prize money, with the first-place winners taking home $50,000. These numbers continued to grow throughout the years, as in 2017, over 60 million people watched the event. These are incredible numbers as they outshine viewership totals of the United States’ most significant sports leagues such as the MLB and the NBA. The League of Legends World Championships were an essential indicator of the growing fan base of esports; however, the advent of Dota 2 and its tournament, called International, is a testament to how big the sport has become in terms of prize money.

Dota 2

The first International was held on August 1, 2011. The top 16 teams in the world were invited to the event, the first publicly streamed Dota event. The tournament was broadcast in four different languages, with a million-dollar grand prize. Since then, the prize money continued to grow to reach a staggering $10,862,683 in 2017. 

What does the future hold for Esports? Well, Esports shows no signs of slowing down. New successful leagues are being introduced, allowing Esports to grow at an exponential rate. In 2006 Google purchased YouTube for $1.65 billion, and Amazon bought Twitch in 2014 for $1 billion. These acquisitions emphasize the importance of the social component of gaming. As the game grows and new digital technologies are brought on board, Esports continues to gain respect as a real sport among more organizations worldwide. For all these reasons and the increased power of technology and digitalization, I believe Esports will continue to grow in the following years and who knows, possibly become an Olympic sport one day.



  1. cloudbasedbrett · ·

    Yana, great post. While your post was really informative, I found my “related” feed at the bottom of the blog fascinating to your theme. Two of the blogs, one from 2017 and one from 2018 are about this exact topic, meaning that other people in the past had the same inkling to look into this trend. I can confidently say that I do not think esports is a fad, rather, here to stay. Your points about Amazon and Google’s acquisitions speak to the rising popularity and stickiness of the esports arena. Great post and cool to think about your past…I would think though, that you gained a lot of intangible skills rather than just tennis, that helped you become a dominant athlete in your sport that will help you later in life! I think you chose the right path!

  2. Really interesting to think about this industry from birth to where it is now. I think the biggest adoption of esports was when Vegas and other states began to allow betting on them. I’m not a huge regular sports guy (besides your average tennis player) but I can see the appeal in esports. A while ago when wii came out with sports, a friend’s mom claimed she got tennis elbow from playing too much… I’ll just leave that one without further comment!!

  3. parkerrepko · ·

    This is a great post, Yana! Paired with @burrelco‘s presentation about Twitch, I have learned a lot about eSports. While video games have been around since the 1970s (as you mentioned), only recently have their popularity risen. What about the metaverse in this industry? Not specific to Facebook’s vision, but rather the multiple announcements from companies like Nike and Roblox to other organizations’ vision for this shared universe. Will fans converge in the metaverse to watch people play games?

  4. Great post Yana! I’ve been following eSports for a while now and can say that it doesn’t show many signs of slowing down. With more and more people playing videogames compared to the past, it is definitely an industry that is expected to continue to rise as the targeted market continues to grow.

    The only issue I have with the rise of eSports is the excess of playing time by kids to be able to be good enough to make it professionally. Compared to more physical sports, you are moving around and keeping your body healthy. A lot of eSports players will practice their designated game up to 7-9 hours a day. That is a lot of time spent sitting in front of a screen and cannot be healthy for any individual.

  5. Wow, I learned so much in your blog! I had no idea that the gaming arena really did fill…well, arenas! I wonder how eSports will grow into the future. Will they follow the traditional sports schedule and become large enough to sell jerseys, etc.? Do they have the potential to basically create their own holiday like the Super Bowl? What additional technology will come out to protect eSports players from injuries? I’m thinking of some sort of mechanical chair that promotes blood movement for people who sit too long. Or maybe utilizing intermittent pneumatic compression (IPC) devices (compression socks). @cloudbasedbrett, we need a blog from you on safety tech for eSports!

    1. cloudbasedbrett · ·

      @biancadonald5, haha love that! But in all seriousness, I think it’s worth noting that there are some negative side effects to prolonged exposure to the sitting position as well as screen time. I would also argue, with zero research, that the endorphins experienced in being outside, playing sports, and socializing in person with others could be quite different than those experienced by playing video games…but again, tough for me to say because I am not an esports person. But, I don’t think you’re wrong in raising this concern, either in jest or seriousness.

  6. bengreen123 · ·

    E sports still have a lot of room to run. The scalability and reach is ridiculous and while I imagine top streamers have significant sponsorships, many do well with minimal overhead. I see major sporting platforms getting into this more heavily and I also expect sports gambling to get involved as it inevitably becomes legalized across the board.

  7. Great overview of the history of e-sports. I’ve played a lot of video games in my many years and have even done lectures on the history of video games for some of my Northeastern class, but I had no idea that e-sports dates back to that Stanford event in 1972! Amazing…

    I think we all remember as kids, hanging out with friends and having fun even if it wasn’t your turn to play the game. Sometimes watching your friends triumph or struggle as you cheered them on was even more fun. So I think platforms like Twitch–where that kind of participatory viewing experience can happen with thousands–have really fueled the rise of e-sports.

    Your Olympics prediction is bold but probably prescient. What year do you think we’ll see that?

  8. Carlos Montero · ·

    E-sports to the game! Now you can even get scholarships for colleges as an athlete in the gaming industry. I can’t wait for this industry to keep growing and developing. Fantastic job going over the history and we got here. I love video games, but I don’t play because I can’t stop playing, but I love the culture and changing the world.

  9. Interesting to learn about the big money prizes that are being offered in ESports. I’ve never watched a Twitch stream or one of these ESport tournaments, but I understand they have global appeal. I will admit that it makes me a bit sad that tennis and golf champions are being valued less than ESport athletes, but that has much more to do with me and needing to accept that ESports are mainstream and here to stay. With Amazon, ESPN, and many others investing billions into this industry, it looks as though the prize money will continue to rise.

  10. lexgetdigital · ·

    Great post, as always, Yana! This ties nicely with Rob’s post about the digital transformation in baseball. As I mentioned how his post, digital transformation in sports is fascinating because there really is a limit. In just about any other industry, there’s at least a possibility for continued growth and the general acceptance that the work could be done by a robot. Sports, on the other hand, does not have such a possibility — there’s no way fans would go see a bunch of robots play baseball (I’d imagine there’d be no scoring?). BUT there is a way that fans would go watch PEOPLE control a bunch of robots, and that’s eSports. I hardly enjoy showing up for normal sports games, and I think eSports wouldn’t entice me. However, I suppose if there was an audience interaction component, I could be more interested.

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