A month ago the COVID-19 pandemic caused professional sports leagues to push the pause button or cancel their seasons. Even as politicians talk about the possibility of re-opening the country, there will be a bit of paranoia about gathering in crowds when we come back out to play.
In our world of social distancing, eSports has gained increased attention.
What are eSports?
These are basically video games which are organized in some league or tournament format. The most common video games associated with esports are multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA), first-person shooter (FPS), fighting, card games, battle royales, and real-time strategy (RTS). Popular esport franchises include League of Legends, Dota, Counter-Strike, Overwatch, Super Smash Bros., and StarCraft, among many others. Tournaments such as the League of Legends World Championship, Dota 2’s International, the fighting game-specific Evolution Championship Series (EVO) and Intel Extreme Masters are among the most popular in esports. Many other competitions use a series of league play with sponsored teams, such as the Overwatch League.
Even some high school athletic associations are sanctioning eSports as a sport. Georgia, which is one of five states to officially recognize eSports, recently crowned its state champions. With on-campus classes and sports being cancelled, eSports have emerged as the only safe competition for high schools right now.
Even the Nashville Predators have laced up their virtual skates as they are streaming their first round playoff series with the Vegas Golden Knights. The series is currently tied at 1-1.
Could this be the pandemic-proof sport of the future?
Although not technically in the category of eSports, the Professional Rapid Online Chess League is an online sport with teams from around the world.
Verizon reported that US domestic peak-hour usage was up 75% in the first week of quarantine – but gaming as a spectator sport is also through the roof. Twitch: Livestream Multiplayer Games & Esports, one the world’s biggest streaming platforms for gamers, is estimated to have grown its audience by up to a third in March alone which attributes the increase to gamers being confined to their homes.
The Simulation Football League (SFL) has had their games televised on Stadium and other cable channels. The SFL features 20 teams from around the world competing in online stadiums. The Alaska Storm recently won their third straight title as the league finished its 12th season.
With sports fans suffering withdrawals due to the pandemic, eSports have an opportunity to capitalize on the current void. It’s difficult to be a spectator of a video game instead of playing it but eSports could use this opportunity to evolve the sport.