eSports Benefits From Coronavirus Sports Shutdown But Will It Last?
The manner in which the Coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, has swept across the globe has been as surprising as it has been alarming. Countries across every continent have taken their own approach to dealing with the pandemic, with many going into complete lockdown as a result of it. That has meant that live sport has all but ground to a halt the world over.
Whilst some football leagues, such as the one in Belarus, are carrying on as if nothing has happened and there is an occasional bit of sport to watch, most people are having to turn to new avenues to get their sporting fix. One such thing is the world of eSports, which is suddenly seeing a boom in popularity, so will the Coronavirus pandemic see it move into the mainstream?
What Are eSports?
First and foremost, what are eSports? Those of you that prefer to stick to the mainstream when it comes to your sporting preferences might have seen this particular phenomenon pass you by entirely. Whilst that’s entirely understandable, you’re missing out on the new wave of betting that is extremely popular in Asia and is growing in popularity in the west all the time.
It is estimated to be worth in the region of $1.5 billion, so it’s fair to say that this is no flash in the pan. The best way to define eSports is to say that it is competitive gaming played at a professional level. Pretty much any computer game can fit into the world of eSports, though there are some that are more popular and commonly played than others.
The most popular eSports are ones that are played over team-based games, so the likes of League of Legends, Defence Of The Ancients 2 and Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare are high on the list. In more recent times, however, the likes of FIFA, and Formula One games have also grown in popularity. There is a desire for people to see games they know in real life played out.
Real-World Sports Have Embraced The Digital Format
Part of the reason for the sudden growth in eSports is that some real life sports have been quick to embrace them. That was true even before the Coronavirus became a very real concern, but it has become even more relevant in recent times. As an example, the National Basketball Association launched the NBA 2K League in 2018.
That saw numerous NBA teams launch their own eGaming squads, bringing in some of the best players in the world and paying them well for their efforts. It wasn’t just basketball eSports that teams were getting involved in, either. The Golden State Warriors created their own League Of Legends team, whilst Orlandina Basket in Italy teamed up with an eSports player development company.
When the Coronavirus pandemic became a serious issue, Leyton Orient announced that they were launching a competition that would see football clubs pitched against each other on FIFA. The Ultimate Quaran-team tournament was designed to entertain people as well as raise money for clubs that will struggle financially as a result of football being postponed indefinitely.
Clubs from around the world began to sign up to the tournament, which initially drew criticism from some quarters because of its association with a particular tabloid newspaper. Numerous teams dropped out of the competition because of it. Nevertheless, the tournament proved popular with clubs from around the world, requiring an extension to include 128 teams.
Professional eSports players were brought in to represent the different clubs, with games being played on FIFA 20 over the PlayStation 4. As many as sixteen different countries were represented by teams. In Spain, La Liga launched a similar charity eSports tournament that saw over one million people tune in to watch matches via YouTube, Twitch and other mediums.
Virtual Grand Prix Series
In the wake of many countries being locked down thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, Formula One decided to launch its own F1 eSports Virtual Grand Prix series. The idea behind the decision was to allow fans of the sport to keep watching their favourite drivers take part in races, even if only virtually. It came after grand prix were cancelled in Australia, Bahrain, Vietnam, China, the Netherlands and Spain.
As things currently stand, the season is meant to run until May but it’s possible that it will be expanded beyond that if the crisis continues. Formula One drivers will be joined on the virtual grid by stars from other sports and walks of life to add to the interest, with exhibition races run on non-race weekends that will allow fans to get involved and give them a chance to go up against actual F1 drivers.
Will eSports Now Move Into The Mainstream?
The biggest question is whether these various competitions and tournaments involving real sports stars and clubs will see the world of eSports move into the mainstream. It’s not as if it wasn’t already popular in certain quarters, given that it boasted around 160 million viewers in 2016 and predicted to grow to 307 million by 2021.
There’s a difference between enthusiasts and casual viewers, though, and it is the former that eSports will need to convert more of if the industry is hoping to truly break into the mainstream. How many people will keep watching eSports once the Coronavirus crisis is over and traditional sports return to the forefront of people’s minds?
It’s an impossible question to answer, of course. We won’t know for another couple of years how many people have enjoyed watching eSports enough during this isolation period to make the jump over to watching it on a regular basis, given that it will take that long for the numbers to level out. It all depends on whether people find it to be a good experience or not.
Will Everything Just Go Back To How It Was?
Whenever something new comes along, there will always be a percentage of people that enjoy it enough to stick with it. It’s possible that, in a perverse way, the Covid-19 pandemic might have come along at exactly the right time for eSports as an industry. Rather than happening during its infancy, when many people might be put off, it’s taking place when the sport is well-established.
It is only established in certain countries, however, and within particular demographics. Younger people have been far more likely to watch and get involved with eSports up until now, for example. The current circumstances might well see people of all ages make the switch over to the world of eSports, however, so it’s possible that the industry’s growth will not be short-lived.
The fact that people are able to bet on eSports tournaments will also be a big help. Whilst the likes of virtual sports have seen an increase in interest over the past few weeks, there will still be many that crave something that sees people compete against each other rather than have the result of a particular event decided by an algorithm and a Random Number Generator.