COVID-19 Impact: A Mixed Bag For esports

While the vast majority of sports have taken a major hit from the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, esports have seen some good and some bad as a result of shutdowns caused by restrictions implemented due to the outbreak.

An example of the unfortunate side to this situation – the League of Legends European championship was forced to reduce from a live event to an online competition due to COVID-19 lockdown. However, the positive spin was that they were still able to conduct the championship. Regular sports such as the NCAA men’s basketball championship and the Wimbledon tennis tournament were left with no alternative but to cancel the 2020 editions of their events.

Long-term, could this prove to be a boon for esports, a window of opportunity to gain more of a foothold with mainstream sports fans? Evidence suggests that this reality just might be on.

According to gaming marketing insight and analytics experts Newzoo, the global gaming market is displaying an overall upswing despite the impact of COVID-19. Projections are that the industry will generate revenue of $159.3 billion US during 2020. If so, that would prove to be a 9.3% increase over 2019 numbers.

Not many sports are going to be bragging about an uptick in revenue when 2020 is said and done. Could these projections provide an indication that not only is the popularity of esports continuing to grow but that professional gaming competitions are carving out a place among curious sports-starved fans who are giving it a look for the first time and are liking what they see?

Mainstream Sports Meet esports

One of the interesting developments during this COVID-19 shutdown was the number of crossover events held that created a marriage between so-called traditional sports and their esports cousins.

The NFL staged a Madden tournament with actual NFL players at the gaming controls. The NBA and Major League Baseball also followed with similar tournaments, pairing their players with NBA 2K and MLB: The Show respectively for competitions.

NASCAR and Formula One took this entry into the virtual realm one step further. Both racing circuits contested virtual races in place of regularly-scheduled race days that were postponed. Each driver was placed at the controls of the virtual version of their race car.

NASCAR even contested Saturday qualifying races with fans competing for a spot in the Sunday video-game race and the chance to virtually run alongside their driving heroes.

Several of these events were carried live on major networks such as ESPN and Fox, further exposing mainstream sports spectators to the wonders of virtual competition.

All esports Seeing Uptick In Viewership

According to a report published by strategic business and legal consultants McCarthy Tetreault, online viewership of virtually all major esports competition has been on a steady upward climb since the COVID-19 restrictions first gripped most of the world in March.

The industry has witnessed increased viewership in all of the major traditional esports titles. In April, Twitch, Amazon’s video game streaming service which occupies approximately 70% of the market share of all gaming viewers, showed an increase in viewership over April 2019 of approximately 45% for Dota 2. League of Legends viewership was up 32%. The eyes on Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) jumped an astonishing 282% from a year ago.

Many more people are also playing online games. The online gaming platform Stream counted 24 million users in March and 24.5 million in April. February activity on the site peaked at 18 million users.

Betting On esports

The COVID-19 downturn has also proven to be a challenge for online sportsbooks. Many of them were just dipping their toes into the esports betting pool. However, with the shuttering of so many sports that created the bulk of revenue for these sites, ramping up their esports betting markets is proving to be a boon to their bottom line.

With esports gaining more prominence in the sports betting industry, developing more effective methods for establishing odds within these betting markets is a challenge that is being accepted by industry insiders.

Just this week, Oddin.gg, an esports betting technology provider based in the Czech Republic, and Malta-based sports betting technology experts BOA Gaming announced a partnership to develop improved esports wagering solutions. Their objective is to develop a plug and play program dedicated 100% to esports that will quickly determine the sharpest pricing, risk management, and analytical tools for wagering on the world of gaming.

Any aspect of technology that will help enable bookmakers to quickly establish betting lines on esports, especially for live betting during game play, is likely to be welcomed by an industry that is moving into the esports betting realm at warp speed.

Will Esports Uptick Be A Lasting Affair?

As the world of sports slowly gets back to what it once was, with the NHL, NBA and MLB all on the verge of restarting, and European soccer in full swing, will esports be able to maintain its COVID-19 level of growth, or will it slip back into niche sport status?

In fact, it could be that the world people were forced to live in during the pandemic will only serve to help the general public further embrace the concept of esports. From Zoom meetings with work associates to FaceTime with family members, people have grown accustomed to living within a virtual world.

The pandemic required many folks to become more comfortable with technology that perhaps they’d never utilized before. It also taught society that no matter what, esports will always be there for them.

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