See What the 1983 TV Video Game Tournament Looked Like
Today's Esport competitions can be followed live via streaming platforms. And while these streaming platforms are a relatively young invention, competitive video gameplay has been around for almost half a century. So the question arises: how have people watched video game tournaments before? The answer is: on television!
Of course, very few Esport competitions had their television broadcast. One of the earliest, perhaps even the first recorded TV broadcast of the video game tournament was broadcast on February 21, 1983. It was broadcast by the American TV company ABC as part of its show "That's Incredible!".
The show first had a report on a tournament called the North American Video Game Olympics, which took place on January 9, 1983, in the city of Ottumwa, Iowa. The organizers of the tournament then declared their city "the capital of video games in the world." In the tournament, players competed in five games: Frogger, Super Pac-Man, Donkey Kong Jr., Joust, and Millipede. The champion of the tournament was American Ben Gold from Dallas.
Thanks to that victory, Gold and two other contestants were invited to the
aforementioned ABC show to take part in their tournament. And that’s exactly
what became one of the earliest TV broadcasts of video game tournaments.
Thanks to Ben Gold himself, we also have a documented recording of what it
A slightly different lineup was played in the ABC tournament. There were still Donkey Kong Jr. and Millipede, but the rest of the lineup consisted of Cosmos, Burgertime, and Buck Rogers. All three contestants played all the games, and their goal was to score a certain number in the game as soon as possible so they could move on to the next one. The one who scored all the set points first was the winner.
Little to say, this competition was a little different from today’s Esport tournaments. Here the contestants ran between the arcade machines to achieve the best possible time. So you say that Esport was not a physical activity then! In any case, the competition lasted about 15 minutes, and the victory in the tournament was again taken by the aforementioned Ben Gold. He was probably the most popular guy in school after that!
Now, I said this was one of the earliest broadcasts of any tournament on
American television. Whether that is really the case depends on what you
consider under the tournament. The mentioned gentlemen who competed in the ABC
tournament definitely passed the initial initiation, so we can say that they
were not just ordinary players from the street. Therefore, we say that this
was the right format of the tournament.
However, just a few months before this broadcast, the American TV channel TBS aired the premiere episode of Starcade, which is considered the first TV show for video games, based on which similar successes later emerged.
The only reason why we do not consider this a classic tournament is that the contestants for the show were chosen on the basis of registration, ie there were no elimination rounds through which they would win their appearance in the show. In any case, it's worth mentioning, especially since we have recordings of almost all episodes - including the first, which aired on December 27, 1982. You can watch it here.
Perhaps the funniest thing about the whole Starcade was that there was no age limit among the contestants. It used to happen that adult men played against underage girls. And yes - they also ran to the arcade machines. I hope the term "crazy eighties" is a little clearer to you now.