The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the markets worldwide. Most of them incurred serious losses. But how do things go with esports? Is coronavirus a killing stroke for gaming or maybe, on the contrary, it is a chance caused by the problems of other industries. Nature abhors a vacuum. Can esports fill this space?
It’s hard to put in words the impact and threats caused by arguably the biggest pitfall that humanity fell into in the XXI century. It’s fair to say that there hasn’t been a place in the world, the part of our life, or the economy’s sector that didn’t feel the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis. From the things that matter the most, in other words, the danger to life or health, through taking care of basic needs, to developing hobbies. Everything’s different now and much more complicated than it used to be.
On the other hand, there are some niches that apparently do benefit from the pandemic. Such ones are streaming services, pharmaceutical companies or health, hygiene and home products corporations. While the other parts of the market seem to fade, these ones have their own boom time. Where does esports place itself in this context? On (at least temporary) winners side? Among those who hurt the most? Or maybe somewhere between both sides. This article is supposed to resolve the mystery itself.
Traditional sports lockdown
Physical contact is the main common feature of different disciplines. And it’s the main factor of COVID-19 spread. Not only the player itself but the rivals are the key to sports’ eternal meaning. With no rivals, there is no rivalry. That's the end of the case. No wonder that most professional (and amateur too) sports events have been canceled or postponed. Where there is a threat to man’s life or health, sports fade into the background.
Euro 2020 becoming Euro 2021, Tokyo Olympics postponed to the next year, Eredivisie season finished without any champion declared, Wimbledon canceled for the first time since World War II - the sports world turned upside down like maybe never before. It will take some time to reset pro athletes' rivalry to what it used to be. At the end of April, some light in the tunnel appeared with clearer plans for the comeback to training and competitions but it is a long way off for sports to get out of a hole. Especially the financial one.
How coronavirus affects esports?
You don’t need a guide to esports to know that the thing had its moment lately. The beginning of the quarantine strengthened this trend. Once humanity was forced to spend its whole time at home, it needed something to get busy with.
While sports, no matter amateur or professional, were put into limbo, competitive video gaming made a move . World went virtual even more, while esports took advantage of the situation. Chance “Maux” Moncivaez, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare player, told “Time” magazine:
Sports are out and something needs to fill that void. I think esports is perfect to fill that void because of the ability to play online competitions.
The rivalry and esports itself hit one big due to the coronavirus outbreak. Record-breaking audience of League of Legends events in March and April is one thing, but the other goes for the biggest place where you can experience gaming online. It’s no surprise that people stuck inside their homes not only play much more video games but watch much video-content about video games. Twitch, live video streaming service, broke all the possible records during a couple of first weeks of quarantine.
According to Streamlabs & Stream Hatchet report, the platform saw a historical increase in both total hours watched and streamed. In the first quarter of 2020, Twitch had 17% increase of hours watched compared to the last quarter of 2019, reaching a mouth-dropping level of 3 billion hours watched for the first time in history.
Along the way, Twitch broke the record of nearly 1,5M average concurrent viewership and hit an all-time high value of 121 million hours in total hours streamed in the first quarter of 2020. With continuing lockdowns, this number is predicted to grow further.
Virtual sports rise
Not only professional gamers of the most popular esports games have their moment with thousands of cancellations and postponements in the world of traditional sports. The audience's needs for the thrill had to be met by something else as well. This something else was virtual sports.
Lots of pro athletes, including Formula 1 drivers as well as football, tennis, or basketball players, joined the ride and spent time in front of their TVs, consoles and PCs. While the influential personas created the hype, it couldn’t miss a significant part of the audience.
The virtual sports filled the void hand in hand with esports. Brooks Pierce, the president and COO of the virtual sports supplier, told Gambling Insider:
In addition to the extensive viewership, information about Inspired Virtual Grand National was trending second worldwide on Twitter for a period of time. This is a great example of how virtual sports can plug the gap and bring people together. Virtual sports can fill the void of live sports with ultra-realistic content and with attractive betting options that sports wagering fans are used to and can easily adopt.
The title of the magazine was no coincidence. Virtual sports and esports rise went hand in hand with the next thing - their impact on betting.
Growth of esports betting
The lack of traditional sports betting offer caused esports to become the only big thing in terms of wagering. Betting opportunities for sports were cut, while new ones came out for esports. This means not only deepening the interest of present fans and bettors but finding a completely new betting audience. It is kind of self-explanatory, the growth of esports means the growth of esports betting.
Speaking to The Esports Observer, Flavien Guillocheau, CEO of esports data and odds provider Pandascore, said:
There are a lot of sports that have been discovered through the betting lane. I expect large tier esports or very easy-to-watch esports like CS: GO, for example, to get people from sports as new fans, potentially.
Since it’s good to not make betting mistakes, the bettors themselves want to get to know what is esports and why esports became so popular. There is a growing community of players looking for answers and some sources provide them with ones. Peter Ivanov from UltraPlay commented:
We believe esports could be the profitable alternative to many sportsbooks looking for a solution at the moment. And it won’t be a short-term solution; rather it will gain more power in the next following months and years. From the data we collected since mid-March, we are certain that the eSports potential will be further released.
Impact of COVID-19 on esports revenue
No matter of some big gaming events canceled or postponed, esports deals kind of well with one of the biggest crises of the modern world. But one massive question arises instantaneously. Is the eSports business immune to COVID-19? The answer is no.
Although it’s true that with social distancing and staying home new opportunities for electronic sports spring up like mushrooms, one economy sector cannot be unharmed when the others are practically bleeding. It may seem odd but global esports worth will take a hit during and post coronavirus pandemic. Analytics company Newzoo has predicted that the global esports revenue for 2020 will generate 1.06 billion dollars, which is a slight decline from the last report of the company. Market researcher’s previous estimate for esports 2020 revenue was at about $1.1 billion. Newzoo report indicates that due to many events being postponed, canceled, or moved to online formats, the impact of media rights and sponsorship will decline. What’s obvious, mostly in a financial manner. Nevertheless, compared to other markets' serious problems, a doubtful future, a significant decrease of value, a struggling economy, lower earnings, or additional printing of money, esports cannot complain. Maybe it won’t go unharmed during the crisis but probably it will avoid serious wounds.
As it seems, esports cannot hide fully from maybe the world’s biggest crisis of the last quarter-century.
We don’t know yet how the New Normality will look like neither when we’ll start to come back to our longed life but we need to #stayhome a little bit more and we’ll soon break the pandemic.
Thanks to esports, staying home can be a little less tiring and we need some kind of entertainment in this stressful and dreadful moment. After all, life goes on and we have to find not only new ways to pass the time but also to expend our sports energy. And esports, no matter if it is a real sport or not, can come at hand with that. In both gamer and fan perspective.
Remember that the most important thing, at least for now, is to stay home and stay safe. And have some fun while doing it.