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Empty stadiums and cancelled tournaments moves sports fans online

Updated: Aug 28, 2020

Will coronavirus be the final push eSports needed to become completely mainstream?

eSports viewership has been on the rise for a while; in 2019 gaming revenue was larger than music and video revenue combined. However, the cancellation and postponement of global sporting events has driven sports fans craving competition online. According to Verizon US, video game usage has increased by 75% since quarantine methods have taken place. Streaming platform Twitch, has also seen a nearly 60% increase in YOY viewership, with over 1.6m hours watched in April alone,  a 37% increase from last month.

It is a great opportunity for gaming platforms to gain the attention and interest of new fans that might not have considered eSports before.

eSports events have also been impacted

Although people are tuning into eSports, the industry has also been negatively impacted in some areas. eSports live tournaments which are usually held in massive arenas like Maddison Square Garden have had to be cancelled or postponed. Some of these tournaments have been able to move to online formats but others have been cancelled altogether.  

Mainstream sports turn to eSports

Whilst sports tournaments are postponed or cancelled, teams tap online gaming to keep fans engaged.

F1 hosted their first virtual Grand Prix last month. Each team nominated a virtual line up, some including current drivers, like Lando Norris, and others had celebrities like Liam Payne.  The virtual tournament drew over 3.2 million online viewers. They will continue to run these virtual races on the same dates their postponed grand prix events were meant to run.

EA Sports hosted the FIFA  Stay and Play Cup online with club representation from around the world and a $1M donation to GlobalGiving’s Coronavirus Relief Fund. The 5 day tournament had players from Chelsea, Liverpool and other global teams take part from home.

ESPN has been broadcasting eSports on their secondary channel ESPN2. The broadcaster hosted a 12 hour eSports marathon showcasing a variety of games from the Virtual F1 to Rocket League. ESPN has also recently announced they will be the official broadcaster of an upcoming League of Legends tournament, moving away from only showcasing traditional sports-related games such as FIFA and iRacing.  

Return to mainstream sporting competition

We may see a return of mainstream sports tournaments in 2020, however, it is unlikely that crowds will be allowed at games forcing tournaments to re-think how they can charge for attendance. Teams may need to sell digital access tickets using VR.  

In Australia, the NRL has announced their return later in May 2020 for a 20 round competition announcing strict protocols for players and staff. Yet players, have already breached social-distancing rules.

And although people may be itching to watch games, a recent survey by New Research found that 61% of respondents were against or unsure if Australian sports should return in 2020 a lot fearing it may be irresponsible.

So, will the mass interest in eSports be temporary or will it be permanent? We might just have to wait and see.

Sylvia Jahn


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