In the first part of this series, we dove into the groovy 70's, an era of excess, success, and failure. In our second part, we dove into the golden era of the 80's and the eventual decline of competitive gaming in the face of a global gaming crash. As the 80's came to a close, the very nature of gaming was set to change - the relatively young eSports arena was about to explode, fundamentally altering how the mass populace saw electronic sports - and gaming - forever.
As arcade lights began to lit up, limping along via life support in Japan and in a veritable miasma in North America, the world was changing at its most basic level - what was once a world of unconnected countries, peoples, and cultures was blossoming into a interconnected, global community via the extremely technical and relatively new commercial internet. Though the internet had been in development as far back as the 1960s as a stable, robust, and fault tolerant communications network, the 90's brought forth a decade of commercial availability that was once delegated to either the incredibly rich or the incredibly dedicated. What was once a realm of BBS operators and SysOp administrators became a realm of gamers, consumers, and content creators.
Perhaps one of the best known examples of early internet gaming came in the form of Netrek, released in 1988 and culminating in popularity in the early years of the decade. Developed as a successor to 1986's Xtrek, the game is historically the third internet game ever created (coming after NASA's Maze War and Silicon Graphics' SGI Dogfight). More important however is the fact that it was the first team-based game to take advantage of the relatively new Ethernet standards which utilized the Wide Area Network ARPANET and is officially considered to have "birthed" the internet on January 1st, 1983. The game proved so engaging that tournaments began to sprout in the online space, with brackets, prizes, and staples of the classic competitive scene present in nearly every iteration. The game still remains an active title for competitive play, making it one of the oldest actively played title at 25 years). The title has been so influential that Wired Magazine credited it as "the first online sports game" in 1993, and its longevity and fans are a testament to that accolade.
PC gaming was on the rise, and as the juggernaut that would be the PC gaming market rose from the relative ashes of the arcade crashes, a new, looming beast broke the horizon - Nintendo.
The World Championships
The Nintendo Entertainment System, considered by many to be what brought the video game market out of the depths of despair as it gained traction through the mid to late 90s, only exploded in popularity in the early 90s; Nintendo itself was a juggernaut of epic proportions, claiming both console and mobile markets with their uniquely designed systems. Exploding out of the gate in 1990, Nintendo launched the now famous Nintendo World Championships, a massive touring eSports loosely based on the hit blockbuster movie The Wizard, whose finals were held at Universal Studios in Hollywood, California. After the massive success of this touring contest, Nintendo held another competition for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System known as Nintendo PowerFest '94; the finals, which boasted 132 finalists from all over North America, was one of the largest contests of the era, and lives on in many people's memories as the most dazzling video game spectacle of their youth.
Success was not just to be found on the contest circuit, however - as the mass media became aware of the growing frenzy over gaming, television joined the scene, launching several large-network shows for video game competition. British shows GamesMaster and Bad Influence! often rocked the ratings for the night, making entire time-blocks dead-zones for any other show, and Australian game show A*mazing was so popular that it ran for an unprecedented 9 seasons, from 1993 to 1998.
The New Frontier
As the decade came to a close, two gods of the online competitive scene arose to prominence. The first, Ultima Online, was released on September 24th, 1997, capitalizing on the fervent support and mass-market appeal of the Ultima line of games authored by Lord British, an eccentric and charming developer and writer. The game was explosive, and was the first MMORPG to reach the 100,000 subscriber count, which spawned either expansion packs, a booster pack, and dozens of content updates. The second, Everquest, exploded onto the scene on March 16th, 1999. The title, heavily based upon the multiplayer online dungeons of the 80s (most notably DikuMUD), proved to be a grand success, spawning such absolute devotion that the title was often referred to as "EverCrack" for its addictive nature.
Though MMORPGS would exist as 24/7, anarchic PVP killfests, as the new century neared, gamer tastes would become refined, and the demands of the market would become more complex, more intricate, and more community oriented. Check back with us next time as we continue our historical foray into the world of eSports! If you liked this, please let us know in the comments, and as always, thanks for reading!