“Sport” has existed nearly as long as there have been people on this planet. This should be no surprise – competitive interaction, cooperation, and the opportunity to achieve greatness are all thematic characteristics of any sport, and many would argue that rivalry and sportsmanship is instinctive in all of humanity. The sociocultural and economic development of competitive activities has seen the emergence of new sports that entirely redefine the parameters of competition. This is achieved by taking a prominent facet of everyday human life and transforming it into an instrument of competition through innovation. Perhaps the greatest example of this “competitive revolution” is the dominance of technology in the 21st Century, and the subsequent rise of electronically-based competitive sports, or E-Sports.
Beginning as early as the 1970’s, e-sports introduce a fresh field of competition to the world through technology. Though programming, mechanical engineering and various other computer-based team competitions do exist, “E-Sports” is a term primarily used encompass the realm of competitive video-gaming. Videogames by themselves are easily a source of competitive interaction between people, and early releases have even mirrored traits belonging to real world sports, whilst simultaneously embodying an original idea (this had held true since the introduction of Atari’s Pong in 1972). By 2015, videogames have come a long way since 2 white paddles and a dot bouncing around the screen. Some game systems like the Nintendo Wii and the Xbox Kinect have pioneered interactive motion technology, making videogame sports like bowling, golf, and even the Olympic Games more than just buttons on a controller. Users are expected to move and mimic, if only with a fraction of real-world accuracy, the actions that are depicted virtually onscreen. Endeavors from these consoles’ developers have been to enhance the experience of playing a virtual reality game and, for the most part, they have been successful. Virtual sports like Wiisports and Kinect Sports are not the core of E-Sports, however.
So how can one distinguish, then, what is an E-Sport in the video gaming world? The answer lies in the following or reputation of a certain game, and how it alone has revolutionized sport-related competition in gaming culture. In 2001, a game was released for the Nintendo GameCube (1999) that bounded E-Sports into the eyes of the public. That game was Super Smash Brothers Melee, a Nintendo All-Stars fighting game that pitted revitalized renditions of people’s favorite characters of the 1980’s and 90’s against each other. For the first 4 years of its existence, Melee did not get a lot of major coverage – instead, it thrived within an enclosed, competitive player community. The competitive rules to SSBM would be slowly discovered in this time period, but its public popularity would spike early on, courtesy of Major-League Gaming (something of an E-Sport equivalent of MLB or the NFL) which was founded in 2002. By 2015, Super Smash Bros. Melee has a massive community following and all the momentum it needs to stay dominant in the world of competitive gaming – a revolutionary feat almost unheard of, considering the game itself is approaching its 14-year old anniversary. With a following of thousands and many more flocking in to acquire new interest in the game’s legacy, SSBM is the paragon of all that an E-Sport should be.
Since Super Smash Bros. Melee, Major-League Gaming has been an umbrella organization dedicated to promoting competitive online sports. Many modern games, including StarCraft II, DOTA, and even large-scale bestsellers like Call of Duty have formulated their own competitive niches and become major sources of E-Sports coverage. With the direction the future is headed, Sports and E-Sports will soon rival each other as technology continues to accumulate global dominance, and fans of traditional sports cling to their legacy. It is sometimes difficult to imagine that a trend that did not exist competitively over 2 decades ago could rise so dramatically as to threaten a tradition that has existed for over a century. It certainly says something about what everyone thought of computers when they were first discovered.