A brief history of Nintendo and the NWC

Nintendo of America hosted the famous Nintendo World Championships for the first time in 1990 as part of the Power Fest Tour, which paraded across 30 American cities in search for the best Nintendo players in the world.

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Everyone has heard of Nintendo, whether you are a gamer or not, that is just a fact. As the oldest and most popular video game company in the world, Nintendo has served generation after generation, consistently delivering a fun and unique gaming experience to all kinds of users.

The company is a staple of the industry and a pioneer, responsible for creating some of the most iconic franchises in video game history. After all, where would the gaming world be without Super Mario, Pokémon and even the Legend of Zelda?

Pikachu of Pokémon, Mario of Super Mario and Link from The Legend of Zelda. (Image Credit: Netivist)

In terms of revenue, both Super Mario and Pokémon are the best selling franchises in history. It is fair to say that Nintendo paved the way for the industry that we now have today.

The Nintendo World Championships (NWC) was arguably what should be considered as Nintendo’s first link with esports.

(Image Credit: Nintendo Times)

Whilst the competition was not on the same commercial scale that esports tournaments are held at nowadays, back then it was still pretty impressive.

It was hugely popular and the custom game cartridge that was used for the competition is historically revered as one of the most valuable and rare cartridges of the NES; the holy grail of Nintendo items.

The holy grail of Nintendo collectibles, the iconic cartridge from the Nintendo World Championships in 1990. (Image Credit: The TechReader)

But where did it all start? Let’s do some virtual time travelling and look back to Nintendo’s humble beginnings, all the way back in late 19th Century Japan.

Founded in 1889 by Japanese craftsman Fusajiro Yamauchi, the company originally manufactured and sold handmade playing cards known as Hanafuda. 

 

The original Hanafuda playing cards, designed by creator of Nintendo, Fusajiro Yamauchi. (Image Credit: Wired)

The Japanese word translates to “flower cards” and the cards were meticulously designed by Yamauchi himself. They were expertly crafted and decorated with vibrant colours, using pictures instead of the numbers we see on traditional Western playing cards.

They were influenced by traditional Japanese games, but also by the Western style of 52 playing cards in a deck. Nintendo’s Hanafuda became so popular that Yamauchi had to expand his business and he recruited more staff to aid him in production.

For the next 60-70 years, Nintendo’s playing cards provided entertainment for the whole of Japan, becoming the most popular playing cards company in the country.

Nintendo even managed to strike a deal with Disney in 1959, which allowed them to use Disney characters on the cards. At this point, the company had been passed down to Hiroshi Yamauchi, who was the grandson of Fusajiro Yamauchi’s adopted son-in-law, Sekiryo Kaneda.

Based upon Japan’s adult adoption rules and the tradition of passing on your business to your eldest son, Nintendo’s original founder Fusajiro legally adopted Kaneda, as he did not have a son of his own to take over the family business.

Hiroshi Yamauchi was responsible for turning Nintendo from a Hanafuda producing playing cards company to the multibillion-dollar video game publisher and global conglomerate it is today. (Image Credit: IGN)

Ultimately, it became Kaneda’s grandson and Nintendo’s third president Hiroshi, who took the company to unbelievable heights, as he transformed the Hanfadua business into a multibillion-dollar video game publisher and global conglomerate.

In 1956, Hiroshi had visited the US to engage in talks with the United States Playing Card Company (USPCC), the dominant playing card manufacturer in the country. He was shocked to find that the world's biggest company in his business was operating from a small office.

This was a turning point for Hiroshi, who then realised the limitations of the playing card business. They ventured into toys, mechanical carnival games and eventually into arcade games.

Nintendo’s arcade games were extremely popular in Japan, but Hiroshi had his sights on the US which, at the time, was already the world’s leading commercial market and just seemed to be getting bigger by the day.

Their great American dream was pinned on an arcade game called Radar Scope, which bore resemblance to the massively successful Space Invaders.

One of the highest-grossing video game franchises in history, Japanese company Taito's Space Invaders (1978). (Image Credit: Space Invaders Wiki)

Despite some fortune, thousands of cabinets, which were delivered from Japan across to the US at their newly minted Nintendo of America headquarters, sat and collected dust in a warehouse.

The decision was made to keep the cabinets but change the circuitry of the game, to a new one that would be called Donkey Kong. Donkey Kong was released in 1981 and it exploded in America, indefinitely announcing Nintendo to the US.

In its first two years of release, the arcade game raked in over $280 million.

The game featured a character which was controlled by the player dubbed Jumpman, a podgy Italian plumber who was later renamed as Mario, you may have heard of him.

The first time the world was introduced to Super Mario, pictured above as the original Jumpman in the Donkey Kong video game series. (Image Credit: Donkey Kong Wiki)

The name was inspired by Mario Seagle, the landlord who rented a warehouse in Washington to Nintendo. Mario would be rebranded to become the official mascot of Nintendo who was internationally recognised, and the rest is pretty much history.

However, at the same time that saw arcade games flourishing, the home console market had experienced a huge crash in 1983.

The crash was attributed to several factors, including market saturation in the number of game consoles and available games, as well as waning interest in console games in favour of personal computers.

Revenues in the US peaked at around $3.2 billion in 1983, then fell to around $100 million by 1985 (a drop of almost 97 percent).

Once again, Nintendo seemed to have a solution. The Japanese home console market remained consistent and even saw great progress with the hugely popular “Famicom” Family Computer Console System in 1983.

Nintendo's “Famicom” Family Computer Console System of 1983. (Image Credit: Science Museum Group Collection)

The console used a cartridge system and was released alongside three ports of Nintendo's successful arcade games Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr. and Popeye.

Nintendo of America wanted to replicate the success of the Famicom and revive their home console market, but they feared the look and feel of the Famicom system was not appropriate for US consumers.

The design team at the US liaised with the Japanese to remodel the Famicom and that was when the revolutionary Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was born.

The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

The NES was launched in a single test market of New York City in 1985 with the ethos: “If you can make it in the Big Apple, then you can make it anywhere.”

Nintendo was on a roll in the US, the NES was ridiculously successful and they wanted to continue this triumph. That is when they announced the Power Fest Tour in 1990, a multi-city tour that would feature across 30 cities.

Essentially, the tour had two aims: to showcase new games for people to try and buy, and to hold a competition to find the greatest Nintendo players in the world.

An original advertisement poster for the Power Fest Tour of 1990. (Image Credit: Pinterest)

This competition was named the Nintendo World Championships and featured the chance for a trip to Universal Studios in Hollywood to compete in the final competition.

At your respected city, the tournament involved playing on a custom game cartridge that included Super Mario Bros, Rad Racer and Tetris.

Winning/achieving the highest scores at these games in a participating city would give the player the ticket to be flown to Hollywood for the grand final.

The prizes for winning the entire competition were a $10,000 savings bond, a Geo Metro convertible car, a big screen TV and a gold painted Mario trophy.

The winners of the first NWC in 1990, holding their gold painted Mario trophies. (Image Credit: Nintendolife)

Nintendo would go on to host only two more World Championships; a second one was announced in 2015, to celebrate the competition’s 25th anniversary, and a third would return in 2017.

As well as the Donkey Kong franchise, Nintendo has created the leading video game franchises in history. Super Mario, followed by Pokémon, are the best selling franchises we’ve ever seen.

Ironically, Pokémon creator Satoshi Taijiri was mentored by the creator of both the Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda franchises, Shigeru Miyamoto, citing him as both a role model and a source of inspiration.

For this reason, Tajiri honours Miyamoto in Pokémon, as the main character is named Satoshi and his rival is Shigeru.

The character's of Satoshi (right) and Shigeru (left) in Pokémon. (Image Credit: Pinterest)

The mark that these two men have left on not only the world of gaming, but the entire world itself, is absolutely astonishing.

Pokémon has since become the highest-grossing media franchise of all time, with over $100 billion in total franchise revenue. The original video game series is the second-best selling video game franchise of all time (behind Mario) with more than 368 million copies sold and one billion mobile downloads.

In addition, the brand boasts the world’s top-selling toy brand and the world’s top-selling trading card game, with over 30.4 billion cards sold. The Mario franchise has clocked equally ridiculous numbers and weighs in as the world’s ninth highest-grossing media franchise of all time ($38 billion).

But none of this would have been possible originally without Fusajiro Yamauchi, but more importantly, without Hiroshi Yamauchi for whom, we have the utmost respect.

We salute you Mr Yamauchi, and we thank you, Nintendo.

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