the dazzling evolution of a modern discipline… and lucrative

STORY – While the Paris-Bercy AccorArena hosted the Trackmania Cup on Sunday and Emmanuel Macron hosted French esports players last week, the discipline in France continues to grow.

Less than 800 days after the 2024 Olympics in Paris, a mystery still hangs over the enthronement of eSport as an Olympic discipline. This practice linked to video games continues to grow and attract a large number of curious people.

In early 2020, the International Olympic Committee unveiled an agenda with about fifteen recommendations with a discipline that should “encouraging the development of virtual sports and being more involved in the video game community”.

A niche concept that has become international

If professionalization has only intensified in recent years, the concept itself has been around since 1972 when students from the prestigious Stanford University already organized small competitions about the game in the computer rooms of the university. space war with an annual subscription to Rolling Stones magazine.

The real boom in the video game industry came in 1978 with the release of the mythical space invaders Developed by Tato, the first arcade game to introduce the beginnings of e-sports such as major national competitions, precise rules, detailed tactics and the importance given to skill.

In the United States, qualifiers are then organized at the regional level to win a ticket to the national grand final, as in 1980 when Atari set up the first official e-sports competition: The Space Invaders Tournament won by Rebecca Heineman (future designer and programmer) who brought together more than 10,000 American players.

The rest of the 1980s was marked by the media attention to video games and their competitions in various ways, bringing this growing industry to the spotlight worldwide. This decade has been marked by a desire to first increase the influence of the practice in the US.

In 1981, a certain Walter Day founded the Twin Galaxies organization, which lists the records to be broken in various arcade video games. In 1983, he also founded the US National Video Games Team, which travels aboard a bus across the United States to challenge the nation’s top players at arcade terminals, while promoting video games on local radios and conferences.

The Guinness World Records hosts the Video Game Masters Tournament in 1983 to devote record pages to the world of gaming in the 1984 edition of the GWR book. Magazines To live and Time start to write several articles about these players and these leagues: the expansion therefore speeds up and reaches television with the TV game “Starcade” where the candidates have to beat the other’s record over several rounds to get the cash prize. The principle of video game competitions is beginning to affect all media and channels.

Dominant licenses at the heart of development

After ten years of development, it was time for diversification in the 90s. The arrival of the Japanese giant Nintendo in the organization of official competitions marked a first turning point in history.

In 1990, the Nintendo World Championships were held in 30 US cities with the Grand Final at Universal Studios in Hollywood: a competition on the NES console divided into three age categories and organized in several rounds with regional qualifiers for the Grand Final in December.

The NWCs were played on three major licenses from the Japanese company, giving esports immediate weight Super Mario Bros., Rad Racer and tetris. Quite high cash prizes at the end of the day, around $10,000.

After the success of this first tournament, Nintendo did it again with an even bigger edition in 1994: Nintendo PowerFest ’94 hosted on their new Super NES console. The games on the program are Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Kart and Ken Griffey Jr. presents ML baseball.

The rules of the competition are more complete with a certain points calculation. The cash prize for the winner was $300,000, much higher than the previous one. More than 132 players took part in the California Grand Finals.

In the late 90s, gaming was more mainstream than ever in society: specialized programs proliferated, pubs on the subject were ubiquitous, and competitions were opened up to other countries around the world. It is the internationalization of the phenomenon.

The actors of French e-sports with Macron on the Élysée. JULIAN DE ROSA / AFP

The rise of official structures

At the dawn of the new millennium, the world of e-sports is starting to spread, even run out. It is in this perspective that the first official structures were born with the aim of framing the practice but also developing it further in order to professionalize it.

In 1997 the Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL) was founded and until its demise in 2008, individual and team professional tournaments were hosted on the most popular licenses of the time: Warcraft, CounterStrike and StarCraft

In 2000, a European structure was born under the name Electronic Sports League (ESL) in Germany – born in 1997 under the name Deutsche Clanliga – one of the largest world leagues specialized in e-sports.

With the rise of one-on-one fighting games like street fighter Where super smash bros, the Evolution Championship Series (EVO) was founded in 2002 and today is still responsible for organizing all competitions associated with these combat licenses.

Other more or less large bodies continue to join the professional framework, such as Major League Gaming (MLG) or even annual conventions such as the eSports World Convention (ESWC). The aim is therefore to improve the potential of the practice with a framework.

Clubs, teams and federations before the explosion

During the 2000s, other elements reinforced this global professional recognition: the appearance of structured teams around the world, powerful pro-gaming organizations such as Vitality, G2, Origen, Fnatic, Rogue, GamersOrigin or even SK led by a front office with a staff of players. , employees, physiotherapists, drafters, offices and sponsors.

In addition, in recent years we have benefited from the success of sports video games (FIFA andt NBA 2K in particular), sports teams have decided to launch their esports branch such as Paris Saint Germain, Manchester City, Schalke 04, or even NBA teams and Formula 1 teams.

Today, like FIFA in football, e-sport also has its own federation, founded in 2008: the International E-sport Federation (leSF), whose role is to define and actively promote the feasibility of the practice as a sport. fight for recognition and development.

Internet as a gear lever

During the 2010s, esports was able to use the strengths of the web to become a lasting part of society. VOD platforms such as YouTube or Twitch are perfect channels for broadcasting competitions and events organized around current strong licenses. The explosion of rocket league, from Fortnite or even from LOL opened its doors to a wider audience.

The creation of web TV and specialized sites such as Dexerto, MGG (formerly MilleniumTV), NetGaming or EclypsiaTV has made it possible to increase gaming streaming and thus indirectly to democratize and develop e-sports.

The significant increase in the average number of spectators attending pro gaming tournaments leads to loyalty in the interest and thus sponsors and advertisements increasing rewards that now exceed millions of dollars for certain competitions.

Trackmania Cup, race in Bercy in May 2022. DIANE FALCONER / AFP

Esports has official structures, organized teams, broadcast platforms, within a growing media landscape with sponsors, loyal fans and above all a lot of money at stake.

It is an exercise that, like many sports, requires agility, patience, precision, reflection and team coordination, without forgetting the daily training and strict life rhythm.

For all these reasons, the IOC has recognized esports as a real sport. The next step is to meet the players on the field to include them in a future edition of the Olympics, probably in 2028, in Los Angeles, where it all started…