The March 31 TIME.com headline said it all: “As Stadiums Go Quiet, Esports Are Having a Moment.”
With national and regional television sports networks rerunning “classic” games because there are no live ones to air during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s no surprise viewers are seeking to quench their thirst for competition wherever they can. And for many, that means turning to esports.
“Viewership on Twitch, the go-to site for game streamers, was up 31 percent in March, by one estimate,” Time.com reports. “People stuck inside are playing more video games, no doubt. But they’re also watching the world’s best gamers take one another on, too.”
In-person esports events held in large venues like Madison Square Garden and Esports Stadium Arlingtonin Texas, like everything else, have been canceled. (ESPN compiled a detailed list.) But leading leagues — including the Overwatch League and the League of Legends Championship Series — moved their seasons online.
“This is a time where our fans need something to watch, need something to entertain them, need something to distract them from the things that are going on around them, even if it’s just for a short time,” League of Legends Championship Series Commissioner Christopher Greeley told Time.com. “With the complete absence of conventional sports, and only a handful of esports able to deliver remotely, it was important for us to deliver for the fans.”
As the future of traditional sports remain uncertain and leaves an ever-widening void, even non-fans of esports might give them a try.
“I believe you’ll run out of things to watch on Netflix … so people will surf the Web trying to find stuff to entertain themselves,” Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities monitoring the video gaming market, told The Washington Post. “There is an opportunity to expand their audience. It won’t expand by 50 percent, but it could possibly expand to 20 percent.”
In Japan, government leaders are banking on esports to help revitalize the economy. According to blooloop.com, a news website for the attractions business, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry “will work with companies and legal experts to draw up guidelines for promoting the esports industry in Japan. The country currently lacks expertise in organizing large tournaments and dealing with intellectual property rights and other legal issues related to game developers.”
Expectations are that esports will generate at least $2.6 billion (or 285 billion yen) in ticket sales, online viewing fees and advertising revenue by 2025, blooloop.com reports. Japanese officials also are counting on economic benefits from tournament hosting and corporate equipment supply.
Sponsorship is also up, says The Washington Post. Some examples included Zenni, a direct-to-consumer eyewear company that has a patch on the Chicago Bulls’ jersey and sponsors the San Francisco 49ers.
“Currently esports seem to be on a safer ground just by their digitally native existence, and we’re obviously excited by that,” said Sean Pate, Zenni’s brand communications officer. Pate said Zenni is planning to announce more esports team sponsorships, which he called the “most sustainable” during this uncertain period. “If there was ever a time in sports history that digitally native forms of entertainment would be top of mind," he said, “it’s now.”