The Evolution of Video Game Championships: A Retrospective

Side view of pro streamer playing video game competition use professional gaming setup. Gamer sitting on gaming chair using professional headphones and microphone late at night at home. Cyber sport

Key Points

  • Esports leagues are no longer fringe organizations because they now have legitimate funding and reach.

  • The earliest competitions didn’t offer a lot to winners, but that is no longer the case.

  • The Halo Championship Series is the best avenue for aspiring Halo professionals. 

Video game tournaments have been around since the beginning. Professional gaming competitions are young but have earned their keep in cultural impact. Esports industry growth in the 21st century is impossible to shrug off as a fringe activity. Advertisers, investors, and audiences are taking notice. Playerbases are increasing, and the skill ceiling is rising.

This is a retrospective of video game tournaments, investment in gaming, and how professional gaming has evolved into a juggernaut of the entertainment zeitgeist. 

Game controller floats in geometric shapes

Early Competitions

Stanford University held the first video game championship in October 1972, the game Spacewar serving as the field of competition. The first-place winner received a year-long subscription to Rolling Stone magazine. 

1980 saw Atari hold the first true esports championship in the Space Invaders Championship in Los Angeles, California. The winner, Rebecca Ann Heineman, went on to develop video games like The Bard’s Tale III: Thief of Fate, Baldur’s Gate II, Alien vs. Predator, and Wolfenstein 3D

As professional gaming competitions became more commonplace, the stakes and winnings grew. Instead of time runs or high-score video games, multiplayer games like Street Fighter II changed everything. 

Emergence of Esports

Games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat brought two players into direct competition. Into the early 2000s, esports began to gain recognition as demand for video game tournaments with significant prize pools increased. Even grassroots, crowdfunded communities like Super Smash Bros. Melee began having international gaming events. Once Big Money began its investment in gaming, the bright lights began to shine on the competitive scene. 

In 2002, Major League Gaming (MLG) was formed. In 2006, televised professional gaming competitions aired for the first time ever with Halo 2. OGRE1, OGRE2, and Walshy got the spotlight on USA Network. Despite mainstream coverage, esports was still considered fringe in the early 2000s. That all changed in 2011.

Video game competitor plays online

Growth of Streaming

Live streaming gameplay and viewer interaction made Twitch an addictive destination for hardcore players. Games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), Starcraft, League of Legends, Overwatch, and Call of Duty dominated the early days. After Amazon acquired the platform in 2014, Twitch user numbers surged. In 2022 alone, Twitch generated $2.8 billion in revenue.

As of 2023, Twitch doesn’t have much competition to speak of. YouTube developed similar live streaming gameplay features, but gamers overwhelmingly visit for short-form content and guides on their favorite games. Where the medium will go next is at the behest (or doom?) of Twitch alone. 

Increased Investment

As organizations see esports industry growth, viewers drive renewed investment. MLG and Halo 2 saw players receive Red Bull sponsorships. In 2023, the biggest professional players and streamers have a net worth north in the tens of millions, a first in gaming. As such, major industries like hospitality, cellular, computer tech, and even other sports leagues are getting in on the ground floor, campaigning for customers.

With the growth of esports, there has been a significant increase in investment from sponsors and advertisers. With this amount of money coming in, a more official structure to games naturally follows.

Video gaming competitors play each other

Formation of Leagues

MLG first debuted the Halo 2 Pro Series in 2006, the first televised video game console gaming league. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Esports leagues such as the Overwatch League and League of Legends Championship Series have emerged, providing structure and stability to the competitive scene. Esports league formation gives players a path toward full-time work doing something they love. 

It isn’t just professionals getting the spotlight. The Overwatch Contenders offers aspiring pros a pathway into the game should their skills be attractive enough for current teams. The Halo Championship Series holds monthly open bracket series for teams to showcase their skills and attract potential representation. 

Esports league formation offers an official structure and organization umbrella toward compensation and competition — as well as the opportunity for players to prove their mettle. It allows the best to get paid and the passionate to work toward full-time work competing. While not every league compensates as fairly as others, the fact that leagues have started to form is a great sign for the future, especially when players have the power to negotiate their share of the earnings. 

International Competitions

In 2013, the League of Legends’ yearly tournament, the World Championship, sold out the 15,000-seat Staples Center (now Crypto Arena) in an hour. Forbes writer Paul Tassi stated at the time, “[I]t’s hard to avoid the fact that this niche pastime has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, and may continue to for years to come.”

International gaming events, such as the DotA 2's The International and the Fortnite World Cup, have attracted players from around the globe and generated significant buzz. With Halo, Microsoft has taken direct ownership and investment into the competitive scene. The Halo Championship Series has four regions of players: North America, Mexico, Australia-New Zealand, and Europe, all culminating in the World Championships.

Man plays competitive video games at home

Inclusion in Traditional Sports

With international recognition, inclusion in traditional sports is no longer rare for competitive gaming. Consider the Asian Games, the regional Olympics for the continental region. In 2022, esports made its Olympic debut, with eight games on the medal list: DotA 2, FIFA, Arena of Valor, League of Legends, Dream Three Kingdoms 2, HearthStone, Street Fighter V, and a mobile version of PlayerUnknown’s Battleground (PUBG).

This level of inclusion in traditional sports is a huge step forward for esports’ legitimacy in the public eye. As time passes, might esports be featured in the Summer or Winter Olympics? Perhaps a third, separate event is being considered by the Olympic Committee.

For now, these eight games serve as a test run on the Olympic stage.

Virtual Reality Esports

The emergence of VR and the Metaverse brings strange implications for the world as it enters the Web3 age. Until then, the virtual reality esports playerbase is small, but interest is growing. Virtual reality pairs physical movement and virtual space, resulting in a video game that brings on a lot of sweat, the actual physical kind. 

However, a cynic might struggle to grasp this meld of sports and video games. What games are there that justify the exertion of a traditional sport with the images brought on by video games? Why not pick one lane or the other? Time will reflect on whether something like an Among Us league has legs or not. (You gotta admit though, Beat Saber competitions would be sick.)

Group of competitive video gamers play together

Future Developments

As technology advances, the future of gaming championships is likely to include even more innovative and immersive experiences. The medium is unrivaled in terms of immersion capabilities, and competition in just the battle arena space — with League of Legends and DotA and first-person shooters like Fortnite, Halo, and Call of Duty — show the cultural reach and economic returns possible for a competitive format. 

The Halo Championship Series

The Halo Championship Series has entered its second season under Halo Infinite and is actively taking strides to recruit new players. Partnered teams switch around more often than some casual fans would like. However, the game is as exciting as ever, with top talent and rivalries stoking hardcore interest and piquing returning and new fans’ interest alike. 

The HCS Open Series allows any player to carve a path toward cash prizes and garner networking opportunities with organizations with substantial backing. If you’re serious about playing Halo professionally, training up and finding a squad to compete in these opens is a vital first step. Check out the 2023 Open Series calendar

Video game championships with groups of gamers

Forward Unto Dawn

Until the future of gaming championships becomes its present, you can find all the info you need with HaloHype. Subscribe to the mailing list for comprehensive guides, histories, product reviews, and gear recommendations!

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