The world’s first gaming chairs came out in 2006. At around the same time, pro esports began to emerge as a global entertainment juggernaut. The two industries have a symbiotic relationship that has disrupted several legacy ones. This article covers the history of gaming chairs from 2006 to 2022. Learn how the racing-style gaming chair grew from humble beginnings into a thriving direct-sales global business.
The science behind healthy sitting landed from outer space in 1973. In the early 1990s, it was ported into office chairs to serve desktop computing needs. Soon after, the birth of the esports industry necessitated a new type of seating.
This article tells the gaming chair origin story. Follow its rise from a niche curiosity to a computing essential with global appeal.
History of Ergonomics
Homo sapiens have existed for around 200,000 years. For around 90% of that time, they lived hunter-gatherer lifestyles. Sitting full-time didn’t become a thing until the late 1800s. Roughly, the history of the desk chair is only 120 or so years long.
The story of the ergonomic office chair begins in 1973. Then, NASA scientists observed astronauts aboard the Skylab Space Station. The astronauts always fell into neutral body postures while resting. Scientists learned that these positions best offload musculoskeletal stress, thereby reducing spinal pressure.
Twenty-one years later, neutral posture technology was ported into an ergonomic office chair. In 1994, the Herman Miller Aeron emerged to serve the needs of desktop computer users. During this time, a chain of economic events sparked the rise of the pro esports industry.
Early esports pros needed the same ergonomic support as office workers — minus the corporate formality. In 2006, the world’s first racing-style gaming chair arrived. As competitive esports grew, more players turned to gaming chairs for a performance edge.
Today, most of the world’s elite esports teams use gaming chairs for training, streaming, and tournament play.
History Of Gaming Chairs
The rise of the gaming chair began with a 1997 South Korean economic crash. By 2001, its shockwaves reached America. A crippling recession was soon followed by the Sept. 11 attacks.
Also in 2001, an American startup company called DXRacer began making luxury car seats. A post 9-11 stock market crash crippled the auto industry. During the 2000s, America lost 5.7 million, or 33% of its manufacturing jobs(1).
By 2005, oil prices started rising. Sales of gas-guzzling American cars plummeted. Facing dwindling returns in a shrinking market, desperate DXRacer engineers took inspiration from a rising pro esports industry
They slapped wheels onto car seats using NASA’s neutral sitting technology. That began the rise of the racing-style gaming chair.
1994: Ergonomic Office Seating Debut
NASA documented its neutral posture findings in the 1980s. This clarified the damage done by unhealthy sitting. In 1994, Herman Miller ported NASA’s tech into the Aeron, the world’s first mass-marketed ergonomic chair. Its build followed three core ergonomic principles:
- Lumbar supported recline: a 90-130° recline + a supported lumbar curve exerts the least spinal disc pressure.
- Adjustable arm support: armrests adjusted to the user offloads strain from the neck and shoulders. That reduces disc pressure even more.
- Seated movement: frequent position changes keep muscles active while boosting circulation levels. That mitigates the ill effects of sedentary behavior.
Two factors make the Aeron perfect for the office. First, it forces users to sit in near-perfect posture at all times. That ensures staff remain professional and focused while at their desks.
Second, its sharp, conservative styling slots seamlessly into any corporate setting. This formula proved a hit. Soon after a flood of Aeron clones hit the market.
Thus began the ergonomic office chair industry. These chairs provide specialized back support for desk-bound computer users.
2005: Cheap Office Seating Dominates
Despite the rise of healthy ergonomic seating, non-ergonomic office chairs remained ubiquitous. Price was a big factor. The multi-billion-dollar office chair industry focuses on B2B sales to corporations, schools, and government offices.
Most facility buyers for schools and offices focus on price, style, and durability when buying chairs in bulk(2).
As a result, ergonomic chairs remained niche items for senior executives. To best serve the bottom line, most office workers still use basic office chairs.
This formula earned the office chair industry billions in annual revenue. As a result, it completely ignored the seating needs of the emerging esports industry. That opened the door for DXRacer to fill the gap.
2006: World’s First Gaming Chair
When the auto market crashed, DXRacer engineers were stuck with thousands of luxury car seats that would never sell. Luckily, luxury car seats were on the cutting-edge of ergonomic science.
Racing seat developer Recaro launched their first ergonomic racing seat in 1967. That broke new ground with a body-hugging seat shell, adjustment options, and foam upholstery. In 2005, Recaro revolutionized luxury upholstery with a new lightweight PU leather shell.
In 2006, DXRacer released the world’s first gaming chair. According to DXRacer company lore, it was “inspiration and curiosity” that brought a groundbreaking idea to life. This became the blueprint for all gaming chairs to follow:
The high backrest with curved edges supported the shoulders. Removable neck and lumbar cushions kept the spine aligned. Caster wheels attached to a 5-pointed base with adjustable height.
Adjustable armrests and backrest recline let users change position without standing up. Finally, thick padding and faux leather tied the whole thing together.
The result was very well received. These new chairs allowed users to sit better, work harder, and game longer. The modern gaming chair had arrived.
Over the next two years since the DXRacer launch, the esports industry hummed along. Annual prize revenues jumped from $4.6 million in 2006 to $6.4 million in 2008. But the player ergonomics were still very basic.
Also in 2008, AKRacing launched as the second big gaming chair company in the industry. Like DXRacer, this Taiwanese outfit made luxury car seats in a crumbling auto market.
Seeing the success of DXRacer and the growth of the esports market, it was a no-brainer. They started making their own versions of DXRacer’s blueprint. They also jumped into esports promotion. Over the years, AKRacing has sponsored the World Cyber Games and partnered with major teams like Ninjas in Pyjamas and Team Dignitas.
Circa 2022, AKRacing chairs continue to follow the original DXRacer blueprint. All models feature a tall padded backrest, adjustable arms, and adjustable support pillows.
2009: DXRacer Esports Partnerships
In response to AKRacing’s challenge, DXRacer stepped up their game.
At the 2009 World Cyber Games in Chengdu, China, they provided chairs to all players.
That began an active run of DXRacer partnerships. They went on to sponsor many other major tournaments and teams.
2012: Cheap Knockoffs
As the esports scene heated up, DXRacer and AKRacing remained the only two gaming brands on the market. But several cheap DXRacer knockoffs started flooding Chinese websites.
These looked like DXRacer gaming chairs, but only on the outside. Inside, they used cheap plywood stuffed with surplus foam. It was the same build as a cheap office chair, but with flashy DXRacer-inspired styling.
For most people, DXRacer’s concept was too new and too expensive (around $300 per chair). Those who tried cheap knockoffs were disappointed. As a result, gaming chairs remained a niche product only of interest to hard-core gamers.
That kept gaming chairs out of reach of the masses – until Homall showed up in 2012.
In 2012, Chinese furniture company Homall launched a gaming chair division. Their mission was to reverse-engineer the best features of DXRacer chairs to sell cheap but solid products.
Instead of cheap plywood, they used a cheap steel frame. In place of cheap foam, they used high-density foam blocks. The result was a hit, bringing the concept of gaming chairs to the masses.
Today, Homall’s Classic Series is Amazon’s best-selling gaming chair of all time.
As Homall chairs began selling like hotcakes, another aspiring Chinese brand watched from the sidelines. A year after Homall’s launch, a Chinese furniture manufacturer called GTRacing joined the fray.
After two years of R&D, they released the GTRacing Classic in 2013. That model copied Homall’s low-cost formula and improved on it.
The result was a chair with better features and a slightly higher price. Today, the GTRacing Classic is also one of Amazon’s all-time best-selling gaming chairs.
2014: Secretlab and Maxnomic
2014 was a massive year for both esports and gaming chairs. In esports, a Dota 2 tournament prize pool equaled that of a PGA tour. Also that year, more people tuned in to watch esports finals than the NBA finals.
The gaming chair scene also took a huge leap forward with the launch of Maxnomic and Secretlab. Both companies introduced high-quality chairs optimized for pro esports players. New features introduced by both brands:
- Integrated lumbar support: internal lumbar like a pneumatic luxury car seat.
- Cold foam padding: a superior form of padding with greater resistance and durability.
- Larger sizes: wider, deeper seats to fit bigger and taller users.
In the early days, Maxnomic aggressively pursued high-profile partnerships. By 2018, Secretlab started to pull ahead.
In 2016, a group of German designers came together to launch Noblechairs. Unsatisfied with what the gaming chair market had to offer, they released their own. Noblechairs offered upmarket seats with subtle styling.
Like Secretlab and Maxnomic, Noblechairs made high-quality, pro-caliber chairs. But they banked on a demand for sophisticated designs that never materialized. As a fallback, Noblechairs plunged into esports, offering custom designs for partners.
Today, Noblechairs partners include top German teams like SK Gaming and Mousesports.
2018: Secretlab Rises To The Top
In Singapore, a pair of Starcraft players saw a quality gap in the gaming chair industry. In 2014, Alaric Choo and Ian Alexander Ang decided to form a startup and do something about it. By 2017, the company was generating $15 million in chair sales.
In 2019, Secretlab ascended to a higher level. First, the company secured a round of venture capital from Heliconia Capital Management. Next, they released 2020 Series chair upgrades. These offered big improvements over previous models.
After that, the company focused on high-profile partnerships and new chair designs. Circa 2022, Secretlab partners with most of the world’s elite teams. These include 100 Thieves, Team Liquid, Cloud9, G2, OG, and many others.
Beyond esports, Secretlab has also penetrated into mainstream entertainment markets. Via an HBO partnership, Secretlab offers three Game of Thrones gaming chairs. A Warner Bros. deal resulted in a Batman, Joker, and Harley Quinn chair.
In 2022, no gaming chair brand enjoys such a massive level of exposure. This has resulted in benefits for all gaming chair brands as demand has surged industry-wide.
2018-2019: Consistent Industry Growth
In 2019, market research experts predicted a 5% annual growth rate for the gaming chair industry. Google trends in 2018-2019 show a low level of interest in gaming chairs throughout most of the year. Then, during the end-of-year holiday season, interest spikes.
The trends suggested that gaming chairs remained a niche item mainly for gamers. Moving into 2020, the continuation of that trend seemed logical. After the Xmas sales peak, gaming chair interest would hibernate again until the next sales season.
But then, a pandemic hit, a work-from-home trend became necessary. As a result, consumer demand for gaming chairs skyrocketed.
2020: Gaming Chairs Go Mainstream
The global switch to working from home brought mainstream attention to the gaming chair industry. In late February, chair sales spiked and never let up. By early spring, many top brands were out of stock and struggling to keep up with demand.
Throughout the year, demands for chairs remained high. Some brands (DXRacer Noblechairs, Opseat) struggled, going long periods without restocking. Others (like Secretlab, GTRacing, and Akracing) thrived. Those brands able to keep up with demand have enjoyed three times more sales than expected throughout the year. As a result, 2020 also saw many big brands expanding their global operations.
As gaming chair sales spiked in the pandemic era, office sale sales plummeted. Herman Miller and Steelcase were reporting sharp losses. Mid-year, Herman Miller released its own line of gaming chairs. Shortly after, Ikea announced that they would be making gaming chairs as well.
For a more detailed look these 2020 developments, check out this feature:
2021: Price Hikes + Innovation
Three significant events highlighted 2021 in the gaming chair industry. First, a massive surge in shipping and materials costs saw price hikes industry-wide. Many brands raised prices by 10%. High-end brands like Secretlab and Herman Miller jacked prices by over 20%!
The second big shift was an ergonomic one. The Handbook of Human Factors And Ergonomics documents the latest standards in workplace design. Its 2012 edition listed back support as the primary concern for healthy deskwork.
Its 2021 update shifts priorities. To better serve the coming tech age, multi-device computing is the new ergonomic priority. In 2021, the gaming chair industry responded with a flurry of innovations. Highlights:
- Streamlined ergonomics: Secretlab’s 2022 Series introduced 4-way lumbar support and strapless magnetic headrests.
- Modular functionality: DXRacer introduced the concept of extending a chair with modular functionality.
- Deskless lapboard: Anda Seat debuts a gaming chair accessory to replace the need for a desk.
- Seat Slider: Noblechairs introduces the world’s first depth-adjustable gaming chair seat.
- Magnetic arms: Secretlab’s magnetic armrest system lets you mix and match different top caps.
Get a closer look at the golden age of gaming chair development:
History of esports
The rise of the gaming chair wouldn’t have been possible without the emergence of pro esports. Here are some key parts of esports history that necessitated a new type of seating.
1980: First Major Esports Tournament
The pro esports story begins in 1980. That year, Atari released Space Invaders for the Atari 2600. To promote the game, the company held a national championship. Over 10,000 people turned up to the New York finals, making it the first large-scale esports tournament(3).
The gaming ergonomics of the time were horrendous. Players sat on steel chairs while craning their necks to see TVs positioned too high. This type of gamer seating was the norm until the early 2000s in South Korea.
1997: South Korean Economic Collapse
The birth of pro esports was the result of a South Korean economic crash. From the 1960s and 1990s, four “Tiger economies” arose in Asia. Hong Kong and Singapore became international financial centers. South Korea and Taiwan developed into high-tech electronics hubs.
In Korea, power corrupted. Prosperity led to cronyism and corruption between chaebols (Korean mega-corporations like Samsung) and the government(5).
Chaebols wasted huge sums on wasteful projects like luxury hobby cars and feature-length films. They also maintained bloated rosters of overpaid, unionized employees.
In late 1997, several chaebols were unable to pay off their loans. Staff cuts began, and protests broke out. Then, the stock market crashed, halving the value of the Korean currency(6).
The South Korean government got an emergency $58 billion loan from the IMF, but it wasn’t enough. Japan, America, and others also lent cash to save the Korean economy from collapsing.
1998: Starcraft in South Korea
A year after the financial crash, Blizzard Entertainment released Starcraft, a complex strategy game. Gameplay involves tactical thinking and crisp resource management.
Success demands a high level of manual dexterity. The best Starcraft players can execute hundreds of discrete actions per minute.
This proved a perfect fit for hordes of overeducated, underemployed Korean youth. Before the economic crash, Seoul had hundreds of stock trading cafes. After the crash, many trading cafes converted into “PC bangs” (gaming rooms).(7) Across hundreds of back-alley Seoul cafes, the modern concept of competitive esports was born.
Starcraft exploded in popularity. Big business interests got involved. In 2002, Samsung and SK Telecom started putting money into pro esports teams. Korean TV channels Ongamenet and MBCGame started running Starcraft tournaments(8).
Players competed for cash prizes, with games broadcast live on each channel. Record audiences tuned in as their idols played their favorite games for high stakes. Despite all the buzz, player ergonomics remained an afterthought.
Early Esports Ergonomics
As the South Korean Starcraft frenzy took esports to new highs, ergonomics were brutal. Pictured below is the setup for the 2005 Cyber Games, with white plastic chairs for the players.
In 2003, Call of Duty arrived and quickly became an esports classic. A year later, COD esports tournaments offered $2.8 million in cash prizes(9). In 2005, COD tourneys offered $4.3 million in prizes. But despite growing prize pools, player ergonomics remained crude.
In 2005, a study of UK internet users found that the average time spent online had increased to around 10 hours(10). As seated computing time went up, so did back pain cases.
That’s because as esports grew in popularity, gamers spent longer periods sitting at computers. With the crude seating of the era, back pain was inevitable.
Despite the growing need for healthier seating, it wasn’t until 2006 that someone stepped up to fill it.
2011: Twitch Streaming
This year was a major turning point for the esports industry. Before the arrival of streaming services, esports were only broadcast on TV. Market penetration hit another level when the streaming service Twitch launched in 2011.
Twitch began broadcasting tournaments online. That gave casual gamers easy access to a new spectator sport based on their favorite video games.
Over the next few years, games like League of Legends, Overwatch, and Dota 2 exploded in popularity. Millions began tuning in.
Twitch Sitting Disease
A year after it launched, Twitch averaged 6 billion minutes of content(11) watched every month. Aspiring pros would spend full-time hours sitting to build an audience. Any time they left their computers, they’d risk losing viewers to another channel.
Former streamer Joe Marino nearly died pursuing a streaming career(12). His advice: “Find that balance. Get up, move around — do something other than sit. Standing desks help but it won’t fix it. You have to move.”
In 2012, a 23-year old Taiwanese gamer ignored that advice. Chen Jung-yu paid for 23 hours at a Taipei Internet cafe. At the end of his 23 hours, the clerk noticed him sitting rigidly with a blackened face — stone-cold dead(13).
With sedentary behavior on the rise, DXRacer proved to have excellent foresight. For two big reasons, their models proved the perfect solution for the era. First, gaming chairs promote good posture. Second, good posture yields physical and mental benefits that help gamers perform at a higher level.
2018: Esports Becomes Big Business
In 2019, esports revenue rose to $957 million(14). Big business interests started getting involved during this period. According to Deloitte, investors put $490 million into esports in 2017. In 2018, that number rose to a staggering $4.5 billion(15).
League of Legends is one of the leading esports titles. Corporate sponsors for its 2019 Finals included Mastercard, Alienware, Louis Vuitton, Red Bull, State Farm, and Secretlab.
The average audience per minute during the LOL finals was 21.8 million viewers. To put that in context against other 2019 events:
- Stanley Cup 2019 finals: averaged 3 million viewers over seven games.
- Wimbledon men’s final: 3.3 million viewers.
- MLB 2019 All-Star game: 8.14 million viewers.
- Super Bowl 2019: 98 million.
As tens of millions tuned in to watch the 2019 LOL Finals, they saw their esports heroes using custom Secretlab chairs.
Gaming Chair History Recap
In 2020, the gaming chair industry turns fourteen years old. Once dismissed as gimmicks for nerds, gaming chairs have become essential to esports.
Here’s a summary of the whole story:
- 1997: South Korean financial crisis.
- 1998: Blizzard releases Starcraft. Jobless Korean youth make the game a huge hit that marks the birth of pro esports.
- 2000: American recession.
- 2001: DXRacer launches as a maker of luxury car seats.
- 2001: the American auto industry crashes. DXRacer’s luxury car seat market evaporates.
2006-2022 bullet points
- 2006: DXRacer launches the world’s first gaming chair with an industry-defining blueprint.
- 2008: AKRacing expands on the DXRacer blueprint with their own brand of gaming chairs.
- 2009: DXRacer responds to the challenge by developing pro esports partnerships.
- 2012: Homall and GTRacing release cheap but sturdy versions of DXRacer’s blueprint. These models introduced gaming chairs to the masses.
- 2014: esports enjoyed one of its biggest years to date. Two new major players emerged. Secretlab and Maxnomic took gaming chairs to the next level with new pro features.
- 2015: Vertagear and Noblechairs launch as rivals to Secretlab, Maxnomic and DXRacer.
- 2019: the pro esports industry generates $1 billion in revenue. Viewership numbers break records. Secretlab steps forward as a dominant brand, forging powerful global partnerships.
- 2020: the global lockdown resulted in a massive spike in demand for gaming chairs. This marks the end of gaming chairs as a niche item for gamers — and the start of mainstream industry appeal.
- 2021: prices go up industry-wide. A surge of evolution breaks out in response to multi-device ergonomic challenges.
In March 1998, Blizzard Entertainment released StarCraft, a science fiction video game. Success required strategic thinking and clever execution. This provided the perfect means for jobless, over-educated Korean youth to spend their time.
As a result, many flocked to the game. Big business began to take notice. At the same time in America, the auto industry was imploding.
Three seemingly unrelated factors brought the gaming chair into being. First, Starcraft-crazed Korean marathon gamers. Second, an auto industry crash in America. Third, a DXRacer warehouse full of unsold luxury car seats.
The gaming chair origin story resembles a classic story plotline. It begins with the introduction of a problem (poor seating). The climax comes during the 2020 lockdown, when gaming chairs reached mainstream acceptance as viable ergonomic seating.
What comes next is already laid clear. The world is shifting towards a multi-device, perpetual-computing era. The gaming chair and esports industries are already rising to the challenge.
For a closer look, check out our Ergonomic Trends page. It explains how gaming chairs have become a part of a healthy deskwork routine.
Esports technology adds the rest: fitness, nutrition, and sound sleep. Paired with a gaming chair, it’s the ultimate formula to perform at a computer like a pro.
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- EsportsEarnings. ‘StarCraft in esports’ updated March 28, 2022. https://www.esportsearnings.com/history/2004/games/356-call-of-duty, (accessed 8 April 2022).
- ‘Time spent online doubles in a decade’. Media Releases, 11 May, 2016. https://www.ofcom.org.uk/about-ofcom/latest/media/media-releases/2015/time-spent-online-doubles-in-a-decade, (accessed 8 April 2022).
- ‘Twitch Statistics And Charts’. https://twitchtracker.com/statistics, (accessed 8 April 2022).
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- Cheng Shu-ting. ‘Gamers ignore corpse in Internet cafe’ February 4 2012. http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2012/02/04/2003524636, (accessed 8 April 2022).
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