There is nothing that brings the UK together like a great game.

Whether it was the exuberant scenes of summer 2018 when the entire country united to see England progress to the Semi-Finals of the World Cup, the collective high of last year’s cricket or the disappointing result of the Rugby World Cup final – we find a widespread solidarity in sports.

However, restrictions on mass gatherings and the need to protect the population brings a difficult time for sporting culture. Events all around the world are being cancelled or suspended until further notice. From local marathons to the Premier League games, Euro 2020 and now the Olympics deferred until 2021, fans around the world are being left with a void and competitors at loose ends.

As time progresses, we are collectively having to adapt to the idea of social distancing, something that is being made far easier by the use of technology. Whether you use Slack, Zoom or ‘House Party’, we are trying to work, socialise and play as well as we can from our own living rooms.

As we do so, the entertainment industry is re-adjusting to the current climate, understanding its important role in keeping the isolated population occupied for the next few months, and re-thinking how it can improve the user experience.  Extra features like Netflix Party, is just one example of ways that people can still “gather” together to watch their favourite shows from their own sofas while in different geographic locations.

Sports – however – is a different ballgame. It is an activity that is inherently based on in-person human interaction and competition. It relies on real-time communication, and the adrenaline to boost your performance. We want spectators to celebrate in the thrill of the moment, share the highs and experience the action together. As said by sporting legends LeBron James and Gary Neville “We play for our fans, they are the essence of the game”.

Esports: A much-needed antidote during the coronavirus crisis

As the world adapts, esports is fast becoming the much-needed antidote for sports fans. Technology has once again stepped up to the plate, and across the globe, players and fans are embracing the new reality, redefining the genre – and the game.

Take for example, the Wolverhampton Wanderer’s decision to take to FIFA to compete against West Ham after the Premier League was postponed. Meanwhile players in the suspended La Liga league in Spain took to FIFA in a virtual tournament to lift spirits and raise money for UNICEF.

Real Madrid goalkeeper Courtois revealed he would be taking part in a Formula 1 Virtual Racing Series at a time when the recently cancelled Grand Prix will now be an official esports event. The power of technology ensures there is an accuracy and level of skill that can still captivate an online audience.

The esports industry has been experiencing a boom for some time. The Esports Ecosystem Report 2020 launched in December found the market was on track to surpass $1.5bn by 2023.  The UK is capitalising on this growing trend. It is currently the fifth-largest market globally and is utilising its legendary sporting culture to harness its potential, evident in the launch of ePremier League and the broadcast of its final on Sky Sports.

At Here East, we have been championing the esports sector for a while. With a campus community that includes: BT Sport, Sports Interactive, creators of the world-famous Football Manager and Staffordshire University London, providers of the first undergraduate esports degree in the UK. We know well how gaming and esports can bring people together and ignite the same competitive spirit as its physical counterparts.

Changing the game

Looking at the challenges ahead, we now need to focus on how we can continue to collaborate with each other and nurture future talent through education, by providing the infrastructure to support the esports industry and the space for innovation to happen.

The current situation we find ourselves in is unprecedented but watching sports stars from across the globe throw themselves into the esports world – displaying good grace, humour and sportsmanship – has provided a dose of light-hearted entertainment in a time when it is much-needed.

At a critical time, technology has provided us with the sense of community, international friendship, and excitement that esports can harness during a time of social distancing and self-isolation.

Innovations in technology and digital infrastructure have given us the power to connect people from around the world and facilitate shared experiences.

Now is the time to appreciate how esports is changing the game, bringing people together in an online community when we most need it.


Read more: Planning digital transformation during a pandemic