Spacewar: the legacy of the first ever eSport

Think eSports is a new phenomenon? Think again. The pots for tournaments may be the biggest they have ever been but video game tournaments are just shy of being 50 years old! Let’s take a nostalgic glance at the first official tourney.

The game, Spacewar

The game was almost unheard of at the time. To be fair video games weren’t really heard of either at this point. This was before the days of massive video arcades. Spacewar was its name and you could have a case for claiming it was the first ever video game. (not technically true, but few will challenge you on it)

The game was fairly simple. It had a similar look to arcade-classic Asteroids and you controlled one of two ships trying to race to the middle of the screen. Making that more complex was the impressive “space drift” mechanics and the limited weaponry, each ship only contained a few missiles to try and take their opponent out. To a 20-something gamer is probably looks like a screen with a few dots on, to a 40 something game vet, it will bring back nostalgia for days when we had to wait an hour for games to load.

The context

Although the game seems rudimentary there wasn’t much that followed before it. This was before pong, a game which seemed revolutionary by comparison (although actually was far less sophisticated.) In fact, the only game that can really make a solid claim to be older was an early electronic version of tic tac toe – or naughts and crosses for us Brits. What is certainly interesting is that the dawn of eSports seemed to happen right at the birth of video games. If you had assumed that the popularity of video games spurred the eSports movement, you could be wrong, it may well have been the other way round.

The prize

These days there are prize pools in excess of ten million dollars, with one tournament even offering a pool of close to twenty. Obviously, with the popularity of video games being non-existent back then the prize was far more humble. In fact, the first ever contest had no cash reward. The prize was a year’s subscription to the organiser of the contest: Rolling Stones magazine. Needless to say, back then you didn’t have people working towards being a pro-gamer, after all, man can not survive on Rock and Roll alone.

The winner of Spacewar

In many ways, Spacewar was ideal for a tournament. It pitted two players against each other in direct competition. There wasn’t a lot of machines that could play it, nor a lot of people that had access to them. The winner was Bruce Baumgart. Baumgart is the archetypal geek. Now into his eighties he still rocks long hair. He had an impressive career in computing and there is only one man who can really lay claim to being the first ever video game champ. What a guy.

The aftermath

It was only a couple of months after the tournament that early consoles became a thing. These were very rudimental and extremely expensive. It was far more common for kids to go to a video arcade to get their fix. It wasn’t until the late eighties where games consoles and home computers became more of a possibility for your average household.

The future

The future seems very bright indeed. While we may never see another Spacewar tournament it paved the way for bigger and better things. First, we had Pacman and Space Invaders and now we have Dota 2 and Call of Duty. It remains to see where the evolution will go next, but with eSports only gaining in popularity surely it can’t be long before it is recognised in the Olympics?

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