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Pandemic Hands Golden Opportunity to Esports Industry

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Photo: WXYZ Detroit

By Nancy Gillen |

With around a quarter of the world’s population currently in some form of lockdown, new sources of entertainment now have to be found.

This especially rings true for sport fans, who are now devoid of any kind of competition. People have resorted to the delights of the Belarusian Premier League or the Tajikistan Higher League to occupy their time.

Fans and athletes alike have also turned to esports. My colleague Michael Pavitt wrote last week about the televised virtual Grand National that took place in Britain, offering horse racing enthusiasts the adrenaline rush that they would normally experience at the event itself.

He also mentioned the rise of Zwift, a programme which allows players to ride their bicycles on stationary trainers in a virtual world. Elite cyclists have been participating in events, with a virtual Tour of Flanders even broadcast live on Eurosport.

The examples continue. Formula One have taken their Grand Prix season online, with the Bahrain GP contested virtually last month. Earlier this week, an eclectic mix of young Formula One talent such as Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, cricketer Ben Stokes and two YouTube personalities took on 28 laps of the Australian GP.

These events, of course, had no bearing on driver standings, but were organized to offer some light relief. 

Meanwhile, it was decided to complete the Finnish Hockey League playoffs on the EA Sports video game NHL 20. Each one of the ten qualifying teams selected a representative, with some clubs going for a player and others picking ice hockey fans. The matches are even being broadcast on Finnish television, with MTV3, the country’s biggest commercial broadcaster, set to host the final.

Another EA game, FIFA 20, is also being put to good use. The Stay and Play Cup has been launched, a tournament which aims to raise money for coronavirus charities. Starting next week, 20 professional footballers representing the biggest teams in Europe will battle it out virtually.

Over in Mexico, the entire 17-match Liga MX season is being played on FIFA and broadcast by TUDN.

Basketball is another sport to enter the virtual realm, with an NBA 2K Players Tournament organised and broadcast on ESPN at the start of the month.

The range of examples show the extent to which esports has filled the void left behind by postponed or cancelled competitions.  Indeed, the pandemic has given the esports industry the chance to put down stakes in the sporting world which will be hard to pull up again.

Esports has been knocking on the door of the traditional sporting world for years now, featuring as a demonstration sport at competitions such as the Asian Games. It is touted to be present at the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago and is also set to be a side event at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

Even the International Olympic Committee has made it clear it wants to accommodate esports in some way in the future, setting up an esports and gaming liaison group in 2018.

Esports is still something that is sneered upon by some, however. It is deemed to not be active enough, to not require the same amount of sacrifice, determination and physical ability as is demonstrated by elite athletes.  

This is largely true, but during the pandemic, esports has shown itself to have advantages which traditional sport can not match. Esports can be played by anyone, with competitors from around the world able to join in on an event. Plane travel is not a necessity, and neither is a packed-out arena of spectators.

Esports has been affected by the pandemic, of course. The biggest events do take place in stadiums, in front of thousands of people, and these have subsequently been cancelled. It is possible to hold these virtually, however, which is why esports has boomed while traditional sport has come to a standstill.

No-one is sure what the post-pandemic world is going to look like, but it is possible that traditional sport will not be back to normal for quite a long time. The esports industry is better equipped to remain prominent throughout this period, and so may maintain that influence when the pandemic is over.

Cash-strapped federations may even turn to their esports counterparts as they look to resuscitate depleted budgets. Esports events make money, that is for sure, and they could suddenly look much more attractive to an industry financially ravaged by the pandemic. 

As such, esports has been given an unexpected route into the traditional sporting world. The prominence of virtual and online events over the past month has shown the industry is fully taking advantage of it.  

Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.

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