FIFA, LoL & the real NBA are enjoying the rise of esports.

20:00, 26 Apr 2020

For the past month and a half, the world has been sitting tight and hunkering down to wait out the course of this year's strain of the coronavirus, COVID-19. Sports games have been cancelled across the globe, public gatherings have been limited to ten or fewer people, grocery stores are mandating that people stand six feet apart or more, and restaurants are limited to the drive-thru or grab-and-go only. COVID-19 might have brought the real world to a screeching halt, but the world of esports has been taking off, as more and more people are sent home from work to wait out the virus.

Professional athletes, companies, and casinos are all turning to esports and esports competitions during this coronavirus quarantine. Twitch has reported audience growth of up to a third in March alone, only two weeks after the quarantine really took off. TV programs like ESPN2 have even been broadcasting hours of esports to supplement their normal sports coverage. Formula 1 hosted a virtual Grand Prix, which was live on ESPN2 for twelve hours on April 5. This global coverage has helped people turn to esports in this time of self-isolation, as even Verizon has reported an increase in game activity of 75% during peak hours. In China, Gen.G reported a growth of 18% in its PUBG and League of Legends audience. Streaming and video platforms, such as YouTube and Twitch, are expected to grow massively in 2020, as the virus reaches its peak. YouTube has seen a 21% increase in viewership in just the first few weeks of COVID-19, and is only expecting to grow from there.

Even the city of Las Vegas, which had to close casinos due to the coronavirus, is looking to esports to continue growing its economy. Online slots, gambling, and Livestream poker are all being discussed as potential options to bring the city into the era of esports. NASCAR ran its first esports racing event, called the iRacing Pro Series on March 22. Real NASCAR drivers participated and the event was broadcast on Fox Sports. Even celebrities and athletes, such as Kevin Durant, are turning to esports to fill the void left by sporting events and public gatherings. Despite the NBA 2K League being temporarily suspended due to the virus, the NBA 2K Players Tournament was hosted from April 3-11, with Devin Brooker winning the $100,000 prize pool and donating it to charity. The NBA 2K Player's Tournament was one of the 12 big events to kick off ESPN's 12 hours of esports on Esports Day on April 5.

League Championship Series LoL

This rise in esports attendance did not come without its hiccups, however. At the beginning of the pandemic, organizers such as the League Championship Series, a tournament series for League of Legends, had trouble converting their tournaments to a fully-online format. They were struggling to run the tournament at their office location, due to the increasing efforts to successfully quarantine people. After restructuring the tournament several times, organizers finally decided to suspend it on March 13. They took five days to convert the tournament to fully online and then, on March 18, the tournament started back up again. The Call of Duty and Overwatch Leagues also followed this fully-remote formula, postponing or suspending tournaments and restarting them as fully online functions a week or two later. Some esports tournaments are running on YouTube, some on Twitch, and some on their own clients. 

Esports has been filling the place of normal sports during these difficult times and as more people practice social distancing, esports audience numbers are only expected to rise. Since regular sporting events have been cancelled, people are expecting general sports fans to start experimenting with esports, as many tournaments are airing on live television now. Titles like FIFA20, NBA2k20, and Madden20 look like real sports, which is expected to help reel people in, and additionally, get them more comfortable with more stylized games like Overwatch, Fortnite, and Apex Legends. Esports fans are hoping that the competitive spirit of these games will help to keep general sports fans interested, even if the aesthetic of these games is different from more traditional esports titles, such as Madden and FIFA.


Regardless of what kinds of esports people are going to be watching during the quarantine, one thing is for certain-- audience and participation numbers are increasing as more jobs go fully remote or suspend operations until the virus runs its course. Esports had already been expected to show big gains in participation and revenue by 2023, and these numbers are expected to grow even higher with the pastime’s rise during COVID-19. Esports and tournaments regarding it have definitely helped to make this socially-distant new world feel a little bit more connected. 

Images via PAImages & LCS 

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