l'évolution fulgurante d'une discipline moderne... et lucrative

l’évolution fulgurante d’une discipline moderne… et lucrative

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

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

At the start of 2020, the International Olympic Committee unveiled an agenda comprising around fifteen recommendations featuring a discipline supposed to “to encourage the development of virtual sports and to engage more with the video game community”.

A niche concept that has become international

If professionalization has only intensified in recent years, the concept itself has existed since 1972 when students from the prestigious Stanford University were already organizing small competitions on the game in the computer rooms of the university. space war with an annual subscription to Rolling Stones magazine to be won.

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 that introduces the beginnings of e-sport such as major national competitions, precise rules, detailed tactics and the importance devoted to dexterity.

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

The rest of the 80s was marked by the media coverage of video games and their competitions through several means, putting global spotlights on this growing sector. This decade is marked by the desire to increase the influence of the practice in the USA first.

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 created the US National Video Games Team, which travels throughout the United States on board a bus to challenge the best players in the country on arcade terminals, while promoting video games in local radios and conferences.

The Guinness World Records organizes the Video Game Masters Tournament in 1983 in order to dedicate record pages on the world of gaming in the 1984 edition of the GWR book. Magazines Life and Time begin to write several articles around these players and these competitions: the expansion therefore accelerates and reaches television with the TV game “Starcade” where the candidates must beat the record of the other over several rounds to pocket the cash prize . The principle of video game competitions begins 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 thirty American cities with the grand finale at Universal Studios in Hollywood: a competition on the NES console divided into three age categories and organized in several rounds with regional qualifiers before the grand finale in December.

The NWCs were played on three major licenses from the Japanese firm, immediately giving weight to e-sport with Super Mario Bros., Rad Racer and Tetris. At the end of the day, rather high cash prizes for the time, around 10,000 dollars.

Following the success of this first tournament, Nintendo did it again with an even larger edition in 1994: Nintendo PowerFest ’94 organized 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 particular calculation of points. The cash prize for the winner was $300,000, much higher than the previous one. Over 132 players participated in the Grand Finals in California.

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

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

The emergence of official structures

At the dawn of the new millennium, the world of e-sport is beginning to spread out, even run out of steam. It is in this perspective that the first official structures were born with the aim of framing the practice but also of continuing to develop it in order to make it professional.

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

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

With the rise of one-on-one fighting games like street fighter Where super smash bros, the Evolution Championship Series (EVO) was created in 2002 and is still responsible today for organizing all the competitions linked to 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 practice with a framework.

Clubs, teams and federations for the explosion

During the 2000s, other elements reinforced this global professional recognition: the appearance of structured teams all over 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, preparers, offices and sponsors.

Moreover, in recent years, taking advantage of the success of sports video games (FIFA andt NBA 2K in particular), sports teams have decided to launch their esport 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 the feasibility of the practice. as a sport and to actively fight for its recognition and development.

Internet as a shift lever

During the 2010s, e-sport 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, of Fortnite or even of LoL opened the 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 therefore indirectly to democratize and develop e-sport.

The considerable increase in the average number of spectators present in front of pro gaming tournaments leads to loyalty in the interest and therefore sponsors and advertisements which magnify the rewards now exceeding millions of dollars for certain competitions.

Trackmania Cup, competition at 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 a practice that, like many sports, requires dexterity, patience, precision, reflection and team coordination, without forgetting daily training and the strict rhythm of life.

All these reasons have allowed the IOC to recognize esports as a real sport. The next step will be to meet the players in the field in order to include them in a future edition of the Olympic Games, probably in 2028, in Los Angeles, where it all started…

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