Many of us have seen a huge upheaval to our social lives over the last few weeks, and it’s not quite clear when the end will be in sight. Fans of sports were among the first to start feeling the social impact of the coronavirus pandemic when events began to be postponed and, eventually, cancelled around the globe. Yes, watching people kick or throw a ball around is not important in the grand scheme of a devastating pandemic. But suddenly removing sports from so many lives was something of a shock.
It is interesting, however, to see how and why video gaming has stepped into the breach. There is more to it than dusting off an old console and loading up your old NBA 2K game. New fans are flocking to streaming platforms like Twitch, perhaps looking to see what all the fuss is about, and sports authorities are also looking at ways to go virtual.
Virtual Sports Being Rolled Out
A good place to highlight what we mean is through the lens of esports. As you might expect, there isn’t a lot of virtual sports events to watch right now. Gaming companies have seen increased traffic to online game sites, where players can idle away the time on popular American roulette games. However, there has also been a lot of promotion of virtual sports. For instance, soccer clubs participated in an Ultimate Quaran-Team (quite the pun) tournament. A representative from each club played in a 128-team FIFA 20 tournament, and sports sites have been covering the event.
Another intriguing development has been the roll-out of virtual boxing. The concept is that developers will make a simulation of two legendary boxers fighting, using statistics to play out a realistic conclusion. Over half a million people tuned in for the first couple of fights, including Lennox Lewis vs Joe Frazier (Smokin’ Joe won, if you were interested to know), and a full tournament has been organised by promoters eWBSS.
Motorsports organisations have also jumped on the bandwagon, with both Nascar and F1 hosting virtual races in the last couple of weeks. You can see why racing sports would be particularly conducive to this kind of overhaul, as the action on-screen differs only very slightly from ‘real’ motor racing.
We Might See a Surge in esports Viewers
It’s probably too soon to say how esports, in general, will benefit from the lack of traditional live sports. We can point to the promotion of esports on the sites we mentioned earlier, so there will be a bump in interest in that sense. But can we really say that sports fans will move from FIFA 20 games to supporting teams in Overwatch League in this period? It’s hard to judge, but given time we could argue that more and more sports fans will gravitate towards esports in search of some exciting competition.
Indeed, as they say, “necessity is the mother of invention”, and we do not know what kind of ingenuity and innovation will come about in the coming weeks (or months). The longer we are locked inside, the more the likelihood of someone coming up with a “eureka” moment to entertain folks during sports’ shutdown. Will things go back to normal, in the sense that sports fans will go back to their old habits? Probably. But the gaming community might pick up some extra fans along the way.