COVID-19 has changed eSports forever

For almost two years now, the world has been forced to spend more time at home than ever before.

Fortunately for us, we have had plenty of modern forms of entertained to keep us busy.

While many have binged streaming services and others have taken up new hobbies, the world of eSports has flourished.

In such a way, the conditions brought about by the pandemic have, in many ways, supercharged the eSports industry.

More than games

While many have turned to gaming as a way to relax or socialise with friends, eSports continues to push the narrative that video gaming is far more than just a form of entertainment.

Since the very early days of gaming, competitions helped to develop the competitive side of gaming.

While these initial competitions were often secluded affairs—taking place in local arcades, bars or conventions—thanks to the internet modern competitions have gone global.

And with COVID giving everyone that much extra time, that global reach has extended far beyond those looking to play.

This has seen the global eSports market bloat to around $950 million, with its revenue projected to reach $1.6 billion at least in the next three years.

Much of this comes from the incredible explosion of eSports viewership, which has driven the demand for more competitions and bigger prize pools.

Such an explosion in viewership over the last few years can also be attributed to the general uptake of stream viewership, with platforms such as Twitch creating countless streaming stars on a weekly basis.

All of this combined has meant that eSports viewership has shot up almost 50% when compared to pre-pandemic levels.

With so much viewer attention comes sponsors, and it is these sponsors which continue to help expand the eSports industry, bringing in large sums of money to support competition hosts, event co-ordinators, eSports teams and independent streamers alike.

Not all wins

That said, the ongoing pandemic has impacted every industry in at least one negative way, and the eSports industry is no exception.

With a restriction on physical events, eSports organisers have needed to stay savvy to keep their events alive.

Without the revenue from ticket and merchandise sales, eSports organisations have needed to scale back their operations.

This has, of course, trickled down from the top to then effect teams themselves, putting both players and organisations at risk of losing revenue streams and becoming financially unviable.

While these conditions certainly have hit the lesser-known teams and aspiring pros the hardest, many have managed to power on through thanks to one industry-wide change in focus.

From global to regional

Immortals Gaming Club are incredibly well known on the eSports scene, with teams located all over the world.

However, instead of trying to unify their global presence under one singular banner, they have created different identities for each of their regional teams.

This shows a clear embrace of the regional nature of sports competition.

While Immortals Gaming Club may be an exception when it comes to eSports conglomerates, it does point to something larger: the fact that many eSports competitions focus on regional competition rather than global.

Like traditional sports, it is almost certain that large world championship-like events will continue to draw the biggest crowds as not only does the phrase “world championship” hold the most clout, but many of these events are officially organised by the game’s IP holder.

But, also like traditional sports, it may well be the case that most of the money in eSports will locate itself in smaller regional competitions.

If traditional sports are anything to go off, this may see different regions begin to hold the prime tournaments for eSports.

For example, with the US region housing key Fortnite events while Asia hosts Overwatch.

Of course, in a perfect world perhaps we would see eSports go totally global, with teams battling it out from their home nation via high-speed internet connection.

But, at least for now, unfortunately internet connection is not reliable enough to connect two—let alone more—sides of the globe in a lag-less environment.

The future of competitive gaming

It’s hard to dispute that eSports have played a huge role in building, maintaining and strengthening large portions of the gaming community.

From the initial success of the Overwatch League to the cutthroat matches of CS:GO, eSports has proved that it is a cornerstone of the modern gaming landscape.

While many would have expected the pandemic to pop this bubble, fortunately we witnessed eSports continue to thrive, growing to incredible new hights amid these challenging times.

As venues continue to open up and physical events return, we’re looking forward to being able to experience the buzz of eSports in person once again.

But the next time we do pile into a stadium for a match, we can do so knowing that eSports is stronger than it ever has been.

Proving that the only way continues to be up for this too often misunderstood form.

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Featured image credit: a.canvas.of.light via Flickr under CC BY 2.0 license

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