Long before the term esport became a common word, this tournament was held at Space Invaders on Atari 2600 consoles and good old CRT TVs. Here's what it looked like and what the winner got.
At a time when you were the main face of the village in Croatia if you had black and white TV, the first major esports tournament was held in America - the National Space Invaders Championship. It was 1980, Atari organized the whole thing, playing Space Invaders on Atari 2600 consoles.
First, regional competitions were organized in several US cities, and the regional winners with the highest high scores then came to compete in the grand finals held in New York. Newspaper clippings say that over 1,000 gamers participated in each regional competition, and about 4,000 people gathered at the grand finale on the fourth floor of the Warner Building in New York. That's more players and spectators than some of the esports tournaments today.
It was won by 16-year-old Rebecca Ann Heineman, who has since been considered the first winner of a national video game tournament. Instead of the millions of money won today by the winners of the largest esports tournament, Heineman won the Missile Command game for her victory in the tournament. And eternal glory.
Prior to this victory, she participated in several small local casino tournaments, and as early as her teenage years, she learned to copy the cartdrigs of the time and created a pirate game database because she had no money for original games. She later became a respected developer in the gaming industry, working on major projects such as The Bard's Tale and Neuromancer, as well as numerous ports of well-known gaming across platforms. She also worked with Electronic Arts, assisted with Ubisoft's engine code, and helped create the kernel for Sony's PSP and PS4 consoles.
Today, she is the president of her own game development studio in California, called Olde Sküül.
Otherwise, Space Invaders was a big hit on arcade machines in casinos at the time, but with the arrival of the Atari 2600, it became a popular home interest as well. The game originated in Japan in 1978, and became so popular there that the Japanese central bank at one point had to increase the production of coins needed for Space Invaders arcade machines.