When the coronavirus pandemic forced countries to impose quarantine on their citizens, live sports events like the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Euro 2020 were postponed and many national events were canceled, leaving sports fans without their favorite pastimes. Whilst the pandemic was catastrophic for many companies, the esports industry registered growth, filling the void for sports fans and offering a glimmer of hope in trying times.
Stay at home orders
By the middle of March 2020, most governments had published executive orders banning nightclubs, theatres, and concert venues, whilst also requesting individuals stay at home. Individuals became dependent on the internet and whilst those who are entertained by online casinos that accept PayPal were used to gaming online, it became a new interest for many. It is likely that e-sports will become as popular as online casinos have since the start of the pandemic.
Record numbers gaming
Within days of the lockdown orders, Steam, the world’s largest and most popular PC gaming marketplace, recorded 20 million concurrent users, the highest level ever recorded and up one million from the previous month despite no new releases.
Other online sites also recorded increased gaming within the same period, with Twitch recording all-time highs for hours watched, hours streamed and average concurrent viewership in the first quarter of 2020 and Verizon US reported a 75 per cent increase in gaming at peak hours, clearly becoming a significant part of individual’s quarantine plans.
The companies behind e-sports’ biggest leagues for games like Overwatch, League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Call of Duty had to cancel live events due to quarantine regulations. Defying several logistical technical challenges, they agreed to go fully remote. Fans of esports and those unable to enjoy traditional sports swelled numbers in the search for competitive entertainment.
Traditional sports join e-sports
With the loss of revenue from cancelled events, traditional sports looked to online alternatives to fill the void. Formula One was one of the first traditional sports to create an esports version of every race of the season, streamed live across Twitch and YouTube to include racing stars such as Max Verstappen. NASCAR also introduced the first-ever eNASCAR iRacing Pro Series Invitational which aired on Fox Sports, whilst game developer 2K and the National Basketball Players Association partnered to create the NBA 2K Players Tournament on ESPN.
Surge in social media use
Social media usage also increased massively during quarantine and more people became aware of online entertainment opportunities when real-life opportunities had been furloughed. Twitter reported a 71 per cent increase in conversation volume and a 38 per cent increase in unique authors in gaming content in the second half of March when most countries had imposed quarantine. People were more willing to engage with e-sports as a leisure activity, particularly those sponsored by companies they trusted. This lead to amateur esports tournaments, enticing more people to sign up.
With the growth of interest in e-sports, the industry is working hard to continue offering games that will encourage the new e-sports fans to continue gaming after quarantine restrictions are lifted. The esports industry is one of the few that gained from lockdown orders and did so in a way that other companies could take advantage of it. Quarantine could have a lasting effect on the way the public embraces gaming and esports. Those who explored gaming and esports while self-isolating are expected to continue. The genie is out of the bottle, and he is unlikely to go back in.