1. Business
  2. The future of sport
May 12, 2020updated 13 May 2020 10:47am

Esports: a refreshing alternative to traditional sports?

By Dahwood Ahmed

Coronavirus has significantly affected how we use our free time. With most countries encouraging social distancing, many of us are finding that our usual routines are disrupted.

For instance, the rescheduling of many traditional sports fixtures such as the Champions League or European Championship has left some gaps in the sports calendar.

Across the UK, stadiums are sitting empty as traditional sporting events are cancelled or postponed. While this is unfortunate, it presents a great opportunity for many of us to find new interests that we may have never discovered under other circumstances.

Esports, in particular, is really coming into its own right now. While live sports programming is becoming increasingly scarce, we are seeing an uptick in viewership for streamers and content creators broadcasting themselves playing video games. Once a small subsection of gaming culture, esports has rapidly grown in popularity and is now able to host events, such as the Fortnite cup, which sell out traditional venues and reach viewerships of over 80 million people.

We have even seen athletes from other sports making the move to online as their fixtures are cancelled, such as F1 driver Lando Norris and footballer Thibaut Courtois who competed in a virtual Australian Grand Prix. The competition provided fans with an online alternative to the event and demonstrated that race competition isn’t just confined to the track.

A step up for esports

Over the years, esports has slowly but steadily gained in popularity. Nowadays, esports events are capable of filling out venues like the London Excel, SSE Arena Wembley and Twickenham Stadium. Traditionally, only top-level tournaments have been hosted in stadiums with live audiences and these make up only a small proportion of fixtures. More commonly, we see regular season matches held in small studios with an audience on stream. Given that esports fixtures require fewer staff, players can be more effectively distanced, and there is no requirement for a live audience, which means that these events are less affected by social distancing measures.

Unlike traditional sports that are reliant on the physical presence of their athletes and ticket sales, esports can therefore work just as well in a purely online environment. We’ve seen the success of this model in recent events such as the IEM Katowice 2020 Counter Strike quarter final in Poland which, due to government-mandated quarantine, hosted the match without a live audience yet still received over a million viewers online.

Although COVID-19 has spelled the end of many of this year’s anticipated events, it has allowed esports to move back to its online origins through streaming matches via sites like Twitch and YouTube. In light of the hiatus for most traditional sports fixtures, esports could therefore be a real alternative for those stuck at home during quarantine.

Little disruption for esport in education

In response to the coronavirus, most of the UK’s universities have shut down significant parts of their courses. With lectures ended, exams cancelled and classes called off, universities are seeming close to shutting down. In response to this, many universities’ clubs are finding ways to allow students to keep up their hobbies. Although some clubs may find this transition harder than others, The Nuel, the UK’s leading esports organisation is still continuing its schedule of regular matches. This allows university students across the country to compete in their favourite games from home with the same benefits as if in person. They can still communicate with teammates in real time, coordinate practice sessions, and view each other’s play history.

With most real-life interactions moving to an online world, esports has a unique opportunity to show a completely new audience on its virtual home turf, what a refreshing alternative to traditional sports it presents. And, in the future, this crisis might be seen as the catalyst that has finally catapulted esports firmly into the limelight for mass audiences.

Read More: Esports moving online due to coronavirus pandemic.