Whilst sporting events have been cancelled across the globe as players and fans alike face lock-down to slow the spread of COVID-19, people are finding solace in esports.
Hundreds of millions of people have been confined to their homes for the next few weeks. Sports fans would have hoped to have spent that time cheering on their favourite football team or passing the time watching a test cricket series, but with all sports fixtures cancelled esports are ready for their time in the spotlight.
Esports as a term covers a vast array of gaming activities that people watch both from the comfort of their home and from packed sports stadiums around the world. However, here we will focus on videogames of traditional sports, which have proved a success with “outdoor” sports fans, giving millions an outlet for their competitive streak whilst locked indoors.
Esports were already popular amongst the younger demographics, with esports stars already following in the footsteps of their traditional sports forebears by amassing armies of adoring fans and signing exclusive sponsorship deals. Some betting firms now even feature esports on their homepages, hoping to attract new customers with free online betting offers for esports leagues – and the sports industries are catching on.
Formula One racing was always going to be one of the first movers in the traditional digital crossover, with racing games consistently popular with players and the graphics and gameplay somewhat easier to control and manage than multiplayer sports like football. The games have become so advanced in recent years that F1 drivers were already using the games to practice each course before each race.
Now, with Grands Prix postponed for the next few months, F1 has launched a sim racing series, where current F1 drivers compete against professional esports players on F1 2019. And the races will be broadcast to their legion of fans over the internet, possibly with traditional broadcasts deals coming down the line as well.
Following in the footsteps of football as the world’s most popular sport, EA Sports’ FIFA has long reigned as one of the most popular gaming titles around the globe. And with all matches cancelled for the coming months, Leyton Orient social media manager Luke Lambourne came up with the idea of a charity tournament, with real-life football stars taking control of their digital avatars in a huge 128-team charity tournament.
He told Radio 1 Newsbeat: “We’ve seen the likes of Crystal Palace putting Andros Townsend forward and Brighton putting Neal Maupay up… There’s also a whole host of English clubs letting their players take control so it will be good fun.”
The NBA was one of the first leagues to react to the crisis and start work on an esports competition to keep fans entertained. The result is the NBA 2K tournament that will give fans the chance to play against NBA stars and esports professionals for the chance to win up to $25,000 (£21,000). It is not often that fans get to play against their idols, even in an online environment, and the added bonus of a cash prize means there is little doubt the tournament will be hugely popular across the US and further abroad.
Hockey may not be a massive game in Europe, but in Canada and elsewhere the game has a huge audience and the NHL league has was quick out the blocks in seeing the value of esports. The NHL Gaming World Championship is now in its third year and players have the chance to win an expanded $150,000 (£126,000) prize pool with the first matches taking place later this month. Fast-paced and exciting, with a few fights thrown in for good measure, hockey could find a wider audience in esports than even the real game.
Even in these unprecedented times, the show must go on – and esports means it can.
Photograph by Superanton