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  • Writer's pictureTaavi Salm

Esports success in the wake of COVID-19

During this time of self-quarantine and social distancing there are no sports on TV. This is perfect moment for esports to shine as players do not need to be physically together to play. Esports had already a billion dollar presence in the sport scene before the pandemic but the audience was quite young and older generations did not take it seriously. Now with being almost the only competition played currently, esports is experiencing an exponentially growth.

Firstly, we cannot say that that the esports scene has not been touched at all. All major tournaments in physical locations have also been cancelled until further notice. The beauty of digital sports however is that you can adapt and have tournament with players gaming from home.

So how exactly are esports gaining from the current social distancing?

Huge growth of viewership

More and more tournaments are being held because malls, movie theaters, and popular hangout options shut down temporarily in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, so online gaming is picking up as a popular option for home entertainment. Both gaming and streaming are gaining traction.

Tournaments are being organised everywhere, by organisations not previously known for esports. The biggest newspaper in Estonia Postimees is organising an FIFA 20 tournament although previously only a few article were ever written about topics such as esports and FIFA 20.

As for streaming, Twitch for example has seen its average concurrent viewers nearly double from about 1.3 million in January to 2.5 million in April, according to TwitchTracker

Esports is gaining traction on network TV

The best way for gaming companies to promote their games has always been to include the real sportsmen into the marketing. Now is the best time for that because the lack of physical sports gives it a chance to be broadcast on TV as an alternative to the real games.

NBA 2K20 basketball tournament with actual NBA players was shown on ESPN. The player list included one of the best basketball player in the world Kevin Durant, superstars Trae Young, Donovan Mitchel, Devin Booker and many more.

The tournament was broadcast on:

  • ESPN

  • NBA 2K Twitch

  • NBA Twitch

  • NBA 2K YouTube

  • NBA YouTube

  • ESPN app

  • NBA 2K Twitter

  • NBA Twitter

  • NBA 2K Facebook

  • NBA Facebook

Through partnerships with major television networks, a market leader in esports streaming, Torque Esports Corp has taken racing games to another level. Fans were able to watch live on the Discovery channel and Eurosport's social media channels via YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter Jenson Button (former formula 1 world champion) win the third All-Star Series Legends Trophy event with many more professional drivers competing (Jan Magnussen, Juan Pablo Montoya, Petter Solberg...)

According to Nielsen, the inaugural eNASCAR racing event on March 22 generated 903,000 viewers on FOX and FS1, making it the highest-rated esports TV program in history. The second eNASCAR race a week later broke that record, achieving 1.3 million viewers across FOX and FS1.

England football Premier League players will compete in a e-soccer tournament. The event, the ePremier League Invitational tournament, will include celebrities and pro players from all 20 current Premier League clubs facing off in FIFA 20. Many major football leagues have done similar tournaments like MLS or the Danish Superliga.

In the wake of the cancellation of the tennis Masters 1000 in Madrid, the creation of the Mutua Madrid Open Virtual Pro tournament was announced. It will be played on Tennis Word Tour video game. It will feature pro tennis players like Thiem, Pliskova, Nishikori and Andreescu among many others.

Most are organizing these tournaments to donate to the fight against the pandemic.

Gaining sponsors when others are losing them

Esports’ popularity has been on the rise for years. According to NewZoo’s Global esports Market Report from February 2020, global revenue will reach $1.1 billion in 2020 with China the largest market ($385 million). This is an increase of 15.7% from 2019 and more than double the revenue of 2016. NewZoo projects revenue to surpass $1.5 billion in 2023. Sponsorship is the largest revenue source, contributing 58% to the total, followed by media rights at 17% and merchandise/ticket sales at 11%.

Companies like BMW, Nissan and Verizon are moving forward with sponsoring the competitive video-gaming sector. BMW announced its largest esports play to date. The German automaker is partnering with five top esports organizations around the world: Cloud 9 (U.S.), Fnatic (U.K.), FunPlus Phoenix (China), G2 Sports (Germany) and T1 (South Korea). The multi-year partnership includes sponsored content creation, social media campaigns, BMW’s logo on jerseys and BMW vehicles to transport players to future tournaments.

In another case Swiss luxury watchmaker TAG Heuer has joined the Porsche Esports Supercup as its title sponsor. The total prize pool for the Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup has been doubled from $100,000 (£84,132) to $200,000 (£168,342).

Stéphane Bianchi, CEO of TAG Heuer commented the decision: “As an avant-garde watchmaker with historic ties to the track, esports is a fantastic new platform for us to showcase our values and support another dynamic and passionate community in the world of motor racing, where competitiveness comes alive in the digital age. We are looking forward to providing an unmatched Esports experience together with Porsche and iRacing and seeing the world’s elite road simracers push their limits.“

Many big corporations are pushing into to esport market as more traditional sports might be in a difficult situation in the foreseeable future.

Sport events are digitized

Physical sport events are also digitizing as larger gatherings are prohibited. Many marathons are being held as e-marathons. Participants are invited to run individually and submit their times to the organizers. It is not same as a competitive event but gives a chance to people to still participate.

One example is the 39th Tartu Bike Rally, that usually gathers thousands of racers among the Baltic states. It wont take place in the traditional manner as it will be a digital race. The participants will have the choice between 3 race lengths 25, 58 and 128 km. They will have 2 weeks to complete these distances and submit them to the organizers. Cycling clubs will help participants to find a safe course to cycle individually for their chosen distance.

All kinds of training's, yoga's and health practices have also moved to the internet. This will probably the way to go in the near future as we will have e-trainings next to esports.

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