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As eSports rise, look back at one of the world's first video game tournaments

As eSports rise, look back at one of the world's first video game tournaments

May 26, 2016 | By Alex Wawro




"It may seem extraordinary that you can now fill arenas with people who want to watch videogames...but it's a perfectly reasonable outcome of what you could already see in 1972."

- Writer Stewart Brand, reminiscing about the inaugural Spacewar tournament he helped organize.

As the audience (and revenues) for eSports continue to rise, now's a good time to look back on what's likely the very first time a video game was played competitively in front of a live audience for fame and fortune (or at least,a subscription to Rolling Stone magazine): the Spacewar tournament hosted at Stanford in 1972.

Spacewar was one of the very first games every developed, and the inaugural "Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics" was organized by Stewart Brand, who was serving as Rolling Stone's sports editor at the time. In a new interview published by Rolling Stone's new video game hub Glixel, Chris Baker (a longtime writer and editor who currently serves as Gamasutra's own assignment editor) catches up with Brand and gets his take on what it was like to witness the dawn of competitive computer gameplay.

"I was intrigued at the quality of game design intelligence these guys had from the very start," said Brand, referring to players who found ways (in the early 1970's, when computers [not to mention computer games] were still incredibly rare and expensive) to devise and hone Spacewar strategies. "You were balancing skill versus luck, and not only dealing with the threat of your opponents, but the threat of losing control and being slurped into the sun."

Brand goes on to fondly reminisce about the core design of Spacewar, lauding the game's hyperspace mechanic as an "astonishingly brilliant breakthrough" and speaking to the approachability and depth of the world's earliest eSport.

"They'd hand you the little button pad, and you'd get your ass handed to you," Brand recalls. "But the game had been so well-designed that a naive player could last long enough to learn to be dangerous."

For the story of how Brand came to organize the first-ever Spacewar tournament, and how it was eventually won in a final 5-player free-for-all by Spacewar ace Bruce Baumgart, check out the full interview over on Rolling Stone

Incidentally, Gamasutra caught up with Baumgart in 2005, when he was working at the Internet Archive in San Francisco, to get his take on that fateful Spacewar tournament and the ensuing growth of the game industry. A few years later we published an in-depth feature on Spacewar itself and the birth of digital game culture.



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