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The Electronic Sports League (later shortened to simply ESL) launched in the year 2000 as the successor of the Deutsche Clanliga, which was founded in 1997. The company began with an online gaming league and a gaming magazine. It also rented out servers for game competitions.
ESL annual productions more than doubled from 2012 to 2014. In 2015, ESL's Intel Extreme Masters Katowice became the most watched esports event of all time.The event had more than 100,000 in attendance and Twitch viewership was over one million.
In July 2015, Modern Times Group (MTG) bought a 74 percent stake in ESL from its parent company, Turtle Entertainment, for $86 million. That same month, ESL announced its participation in "esports in Cinema," which would broadcast live esports events to over 1,500 movie theaters across the globe. Esports in Cinemaincluded Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive coverage from ESL One Cologne 2015 and ESL One New York,as well as a documentary, "All Work All Play," which follows the rise of esports and highlights pro gamers as they work toward the Intel Extreme Masters World Championship.
After a player publicly admitted Adderall use following ESL One Katowice 2015, ESL worked with the National Anti-Doping Agency and the World Anti-Doping Agency to institute an anti-drug policy. It was the first international esports company to enforce anti-doping regulations. Random tests for the drugs prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency were implemented for its events. Punishments for the use of performance-enhancing drugs range from reduced prize money and tournament points to disqualification and a maximum two-year ban from ESL events.
ESL worked with publisher Valve Corporation in August 2015 for ESL One Cologne 2015 at the Lanxess Arena where 16 teams competed in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. ESL implemented randomized drug testing at the event. All tests came back negative.The tournament had over 27 million viewers,making it the largest and most-watched CS:GO tournament at that time.
In October 2015, ESL held a Dota 2 championship at Madison Square Garden Theater. That same month, ESL partnered with ArenaNet to produce ESL Guild Wars 2Pro League, which is one of seven official ESL Pro Leagues.
ESL held its 10th arena event in November 2015 at the SAP Center in San Jose, California. The event had over 10 million viewers through Twitch.tv and was the largest Counter-Strike event in America at that time. ESL partnered with Activision for the 2016 Call of Duty World League for the World League's Pro Division.
In November 2015, ESL announced its acquisition of the E-Sports Entertainment Association (ESEA), promoters of the ESEA League, after previous collaborations: ESL uses the ESEA anti-cheat system for the ESL CS:GO Pro League. The ESEA platform is used for ESL events as well as offline finals. As of July 2016, ESL is a member of the Esports Integrity Coalition (ESIC), a non-profit members' association to maintain integrity in professional esports..In 2017 , ESL partnered with Mercedes-Benz for Hamburg DOTA 2 Major.