The first major eSport tournament was the Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL). It was founded in June 1997, and its focus is largely First Person Shooters such as Counter Strike
The largest international eSports event is arguably the World Cyber Games, which was first hosted in South Korea in 2000. It played host to thousands of gamers pitting their skills in Starcraft
, Quake III Arena
, FIFA 2000
, Age of Empires II
, and Counter Strike. The format has since expanded to accommodate a greater variety of games.
Major League Gaming
Major League Gaming, (MLG) is the best known American eSports league. MLG hosts gaming tournaments across the country, and televises some of its events. It also maintains an active YouTube channel and a comprehensive website.
Its rise to prominence came with the advent of competitive Halo: CE
. At the time, Halo did not have online multiplayer, but did support LAN networking. MLG offered an attractive prize pool, and a setting ripe for the top players to duke it out. It made players such as Walshy, Ogre1 and Ogre2 household names overnight.
MLG has since then ventured into CounterStrike, Call of Duty, FIFA and Madden
. Its most recent market expansion is its attempts to capture a portion of the StarCraft II market with its organizing events during the beta, and hiring commentators such as DiggitySC.
MLG's success comes from its corporate sponsorships with brands such as Mountain Dew. This income provides large prizes, and a small number of Americans have become true professional eSports gamers, earning a living by playing full time. Furthermore, this funding allows consistently respectable production values that enhance the viewing experience for spectators with features such as graphic overlays and play by play commentary.
KeSPA (Korean eSports Association)
The largest eSports scene is arguably in South Korea. KeSPA is an association of 13 professional gaming teams that specialise in StarCraft: Brood War. It organises three leagues: the OSL, MSL and Proleague. These are broadcasted on niche gaming cable channels OnGameNet and MBC Game. KeSPA has considerable clout as it is backed by a good number of Korean chaebols
(MNCs or big corporate conglomerates) such as Samsung, Korea Telecom Freetel, and CJ. Its leagues are also sponsored by a myriad of respectable corporations such as Gillette, Shinhan Bank, Coca Cola, etc.
Progamers in these teams lead Spartan lives, living in dorms and practicing a minimum of 10 hours. Breaks, meal times, leisure times are typically preallocated by team management, and it would not be understatement to say it is a demanding and stressful lifestyle. A good number of rookies fade away after being on the bench for years and are never heard from again.
These factors, coupled with the problems of acclimatising and adapting to the local culture make it especially difficult for foreign talent to succeed here. Even so, players such as Guillaume Patry (Grrrr...) and Bertrand Grospellier (ElkY) enjoyed mild success in the scene's early days before moving on to other pursuits. In any case, several young Koreans such as Lee Yun Yeol (NaDa) and Im Yo Hwan (SlayerS_`BoxeR`) have thrived and become millionaires.This formula clearly produces results, as South Korea has won every WCG Gold Medal in the StarCraft event since 2000. List of teams
Airforce ACE (Korean Air Force team that was born to accommodate Im Yo Hwan's conscription) CJ EntuseSTROhite SPARKYZHwaseung OZ KT Rolster MBCGame Hero Samsung KHAN SK Telecom T1 STX Soul WeMade FOXWoongjin Stars
Starcraft II and the GSL (Global Starcraft II League)
In the second half of 2010, a new eSports phenomenon came into being, the Global Starcraft II League or GSL. Blizzard had negotiated a contract with GOM, the company behind the GSL, giving them exclusive broadcast and streaming rights for StarCraft II. GOM announced that the prize pool for these tournaments would be over half a million US dollars, with the winner receiving almost $90,000.
In short, the GSL was being positioned as the premiere worldwide Starcraft II competition.
Interest in competing in these tournaments was being fostered around the globe. One of the high profile BroodWar teams, TeamLiquid, announced it would be joining the "professional" ranks of eSports competition, which included garnering a sponsorship deal and relocating some of its team to Korea to train for and compete in the first GSL season. This included cramming into a small flat with another team, oGs. Living and training together on a rigorous schedule, such is the commitment required to compete at the highest levels. GiantBomb's Brad Shoemaker gave us insight into this world through video
High profile teams competing in the GSL have included:
- Evil Genuises (EG)
- Old Generations (oGs)
- Team Liquid
- Team SCV Life (TSL)
- WeRRA (now disbanded)
All competition events have been streaming over the Internet through the GOMTV service. Dan "Artosis" Stemkoski and Nicolas "Tasteless" Plott have been casting the games in English, complementing the Korean commentating team.
The first GSL was held between late August and early October of 2010. FruitDealer, a Zerg, was the first winner of the GSL Tournament. IntoThe Rainbow, a Terran and former BroodWar player, was the runner-up. The following two seasons were also in a tournament format.
In 2011, the GSL has moved to a divisonal style tournament. There are two divisions, Code A and Code S. Players can be promoted and relegated betwen the two divisions, depending on their performances in so-called "up-and-down" matches. Beginning with the March 2011 round, players could be seeded into the lower division without qualifying, by winning other global high-profile events.
Starcraft II is a notable game in itself for eSports because there is no LAN play mode; all game data is being transmitted through the Internet. This has created a number of headaches for competition organisers when flaky internet connections have resulted in some unfortunate losses occurring due to disconnections. It has also resulted in some substantial delays at various events. This happened most notably during the first main outing of Starcraft II on the Pro Gaming circuit, the MLG Grand Final of 2010. Such issues have become less frequent in subsequent events.
- Some of the top earners in the eSports world include FPS legend Johnathan Wendel (Fatal1ty), Warcraft 3 player Jang Jae Ho (Moon), and Im Yo Hwan (SlayerS_`BoxeR`)
- KeSPA was recently rocked by a match fixing scandal that led to a state-led investigation and inquiry. Disappointingly, CJ Entus ace player Ma Jae Yoon aka sAviOr (arguably the best player in the world in 2005-2007) was the biggest culprit and was subsequently prosecuted.
- The typical life of a Korean pro-gamer, and the phenomenon of eSports' popularity has been documented several times. Here is a link to a National Geographic documentary tailing the life of South Korea's XellOs as he tries to defend his Gold Medal in StarCraft after winning it in 2004.