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How Esports has Become the Sports Entertainment to Turn to Amidst COVID-19



It is a word we are all so familiar with now, but only two months ago it didn’t even have an official name from the World Health Organisation. Yet in that short period of time, COVID-19 has reached a global pandemic level and turned life as we know it on its head with social distancing and isolation being the new norm in a hurried bid to protect and save others.

All industries have been affected in one way or another, but one, in particular, is the sports and entertainment industry. Sport has always united people, but with this new and current way of life taking effect we’ve watched as hundreds of huge, global sporting events and fixtures have been postponed and cancelled, including the 2020 Olympics, 2020 Euros and 2020 F1 Championship to date. One genre to rise from this though - esports.

Esports, defined as a video game played on a professional level, often with huge spectatorship, has become a multi-billion pound industry within the last decade. Today some of the largest global brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Intel, Pepsi-Co, Red Bull and Ford are involved with esports; some are taking the route of sponsorship, others choosing to develop their own competitive teams, and it’s no surprise. According to NewsZoo data, in 2020 esports audience figures will hit 495 million with esports revenue reaching $1.1 billion. Player prize money at the largest tournaments often exceeds $500,000 and these staggering figures are forecast to keep growing in the coming years.

Competitive gaming began in the early 1970s when Stanford University held a small tournament for Spacewar! and in 1980 one of the most popular first-recorded competitive gaming events was Atari’s Space Invaders tournament where 10,000 players attempted to record the highest score. When the 1990s came around and delighted us with the internet it connected gamers so that competitive online gaming was made possible. From that point it has become an undeniable force to be reckoned with that includes a plethora of titles in every genre, from shooters to simulators and everything in-between.

Therefore, in a current time of uncertainty for most and with no sport to unite the masses, it’s not a surprise that traditional sports are choosing to make the move online. FIFA games are being played by Premiership teams in lieu of physical fixtures taking place (Wolverhampton Wanderers against West Ham), eBoxing matches between former Champions Lennox Lewis and Joe Frazier are taking place for online fans to enjoy, in the United States Fox streamed the first ever eNASCAR race (subsequently agreeing to air the entire eNASCAR iRacing Pro invitational Series after the first race drew in over 903,000 viewers) and recently with the 2020 F1 Australian and Bahrain Grand Prix being cancelled, different platforms hosted virtual races that saw current and ex F1 drivers including Lando Norris, Nico Hulkenburg, Stoffel Vandoorne and Max Verstappen get behind the wheel in their own homes to line up on the virtual grid against other sports personalities including Sir Chris Hoy and Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois - a move that seems to have been welcomed by many motorsport fans.

As the world continues to adapt to the COVID-19 virus and help contain the spread, it’s clear that esports is fast becoming the much-needed antidote for sports fans, allowing us all to embrace new solidarity and reality together, but this time from home.

What are your thoughts on esports? Is it a new passion, or do you miss the thrill of watching the real thing? We would love to hear your take.

Photo credit: ESL Gaming, Helena-Kristiansson

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