We Don’t Talk Anymore: A Comparative Timeline of Esports and Online Dating


Don’t listen to your parents; people have been doing their best to avoid interacting with each other since the dawn of time. Technology is just the latest way to do it. Admittedly a remarkably successful method, but no more revolutionary an anti-social development than the newspaper, or the toilet cubicle. I’m not going to try and explain this odd quirk of Human Nature. We were originally tribal creatures, usually choosing to live in packs instead of going it alone. Maybe somewhere along the trail we decided most people aren’t worth the trouble, so we invented things instead.

Surprisingly, or perhaps obviously, there is nowhere this need to limit how many people we have to meet is more prevalent than in two of our most intrinsically social endeavors: Gaming and Dating.

From a few angles, the two pursuits are identical. You’re looking for someone who meets specific criteria, to form a bond with that will result in success going forward. Ideally this won’t be an arduous process, and you’ll be able to find this person (or persons) without kissing too many frogs, or visiting too many servers.

The relationship between these two and technology is long and colorful, technology being something people have always turned to for help improving their lives. So if you’ll let me tear you away from Tinder/Fortnite/both for a few moments, let’s look at the journey taken to get here.

Acceptable in the 80’s

November 1980: The first ever video game tournament is held in New York: The National Space Invaders Championship. Held by Atari to bolster promotion for the game being released on the Atari 2600 console. No small event, the tournament had regional qualifiers and 10,000 participants overall, with the grand prize eventually going to Bill Heinemann. Competitive esports tournaments were born!

The 1980 Space Invaders National Championship - source: https://redd.it/3f5e5e

The 1980 Space Invaders National Championship – source: https://redd.it/3f5e5e

It may seem unlikely, but dating through technology was in an advanced stage by the 1980’s. Much further on, say, than when Helen Morrison used the latest innovations to try and get a date. Posting an advert in a newspaper in 1727 seeking a partner, she was promptly caught and committed to an insane asylum for a month. On the contrary to poor Helen, the 1980’s saw the beginnings of how dating would take shape over the coming decades: the appearances of the first online chat rooms, bulletin boards and dating shows. Not quite swiping yet, but for the first time you could find the love of your life through a screen.

90’s Baby

Jan 1st 1990: Never one to be outdone, Nintendo opens up the decade with the Nintendo Challenge Championship in Texas, partially to celebrate the company’s 100th anniversary. I didn’t know they were that old either. Finalists had 6 minutes to score as high as they could in a set of mini games modeled after Super Mario Bros, Tetris and Red Racer. Top prizes given were $10,000, a state of the art rear-projection television, and a Geo Metro convertible car. Other games companies followed suit, with Red Annihilation, a Quake tournament, running in 1997. Gaming events were few, far between, but clearly very popular.

Also, a little game called StarCraft was released in 1998. I could list the achievements of this game all day, but to be succinct: Online Multiplayer was here, and it worked. You could find and bond with people online who shared your interests. Gaming could finally bring people together by moving from something you did alone to a shared experience.

1995: Match.com launched, and the world was never the same. No, that’s not a really cheap ad, that’s what websites used to look like. Next time you’re considering giving up your seat for an old person on the bus, just do it. They’ve been through enough.

Match.com original website design. Source: Match.com

Match.com original website design. Source: Match.com

Match was massive on launch, and it’s still running to this day, claiming to be responsible for the births of over 1 million children. For better or worse. At the time, it was a truly bizarre thing to do, the experience was described by some as ‘magical’. It was an early foray into using the internet for personal reasons. For many, this was the first non-business related thing they’d ever done on a computer. For many more, this was a reason to buy one.

Despite much trepidation from early users, Match became a mainstream hit, prompting competitors to pour online in an attempt to replicate the success. The classified ad had been brought into the 21st Century.

Naughty Naughties

The previous 20 years of flirting with esports tournaments resulted in a breakthrough in 2002, with the founding of esports broadcasting leviathan MLG.

Also to come in this decade were League of Legends, Counter Strike, DOTA and StarCraft 2. Essentially, the foundations of the current landscape were laid: Tournaments gained popularity and began running more frequently than ever before. Added to this, MOBAs gained recognition for the strategic maelstroms they are, and shooters like CoD started dominating game sales.

Marketing Image from Counter Strike 1 - Source: Counter Strike Steam Page

Marketing Image from Counter Strike 1 – Source: Counter Strike Steam Page

Diversity was rampant on the E-Dating scene. Now that the platform was established and trusted by most, more niche communities were able to represent themselves online. Eharmony, Ashley Madison, OKCupid and Grindr appeared to allow everyone, even married people, to find dates. Similarly, the way that online dating would grow is clear from looking at the early organisations. Even then the culture was leaning towards mobility, convenience and efficiency in searching through potential matches. It was only ever a matter of time before people started getting swiped.

Back to the Present

So, what have we learned? Did our two pet industries leap on all innovations as they came? Were they were fearless, leading the charge into an unknown future, seeing possibilities in technology that no-one else did? Did they witness a chance to solve the problems they faced, and were bold enough to seize them, no matter the risk?

Or, did the gamers just do what they’ve always done; use what’s available to them to indulge in and share their passions with their friends & community, with potential for sharing growing with every passing year?

And was everyone else just trying to get laid?

We may never know. However what can be gleaned is the speed of evolution that technology brings with it. Taking the breathtaking speed that esports is growing, and predictions like this one from eHarmony that over half of relationships will start online by 2031, it’s taking less and less time for the world to undergo radical changes in the ways we’ve been living for thousands of years.

That being said, I still can’t get any matches on Bumble. I wonder if those chat rooms are still online…

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