E-sports fills gap left by suspended global leagues


Convictus DOTA2 Esports tournament, Melbourne. Photo: a.canvas.of.light / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Unless you’re into marble racing or Belarusian hockey you’re probably having a hard time finding any sports to watch right now. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the NBA and NHL seasons into limbo, MLB’s opening day came and went with barely a knuckleball or bat flip, and the Olympics are being put off until 2021. Let’s not forget about Australian sporting leagues too.

But one form of sporting event lives on in the age of social distancing: E-sports, or competitive video gaming, is on the rise, with people tuning in to everything from Counter-Strike to League of Legends. Viewership on Twitch – the go-to site for game streamers – is up 31% in March, by one estimate. 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.

For players such as Raphael Davis, who competes with the Sacramento Kings’ eSports team Kings Guard Gaming, training and games are still fairly easy to accomplish amidst this challenging time.

“With Esports you play remotely from home so you still engage with your teammates,” he said in an interview with KCRA News.

Over the past few weeks, almost every major esports league in the world — including the CDL, Overwatch League, ESL Pro League, Flashpoint, and multiple League of Legends competitions — has shifted to an online format. Typically, these games are played offline in a studio or arena environment. Players take the stage, fans go wild, and casters keep up the energy with infectious commentary.

Re-creating that when everyone, from the players to the event’s producers, is working from home creates its own unique set of challenges. However, Chris Park, CEO of Gen. G (who are a top esports management company of teams around the world) believes there are opportunities as well.

“The really interesting crossover with traditional sports is that really traditional athletes and fans around the world all love games… we obviously have a more malleable, a more flexible circuit and community though because so much of our content as well as our competition happens online,” he told KCRA News.

“I think eSports is in this kind of unique moment across broader unfortunate situation, especially now that we’re spending more time with family and needing to find other ways to virtually connect with our friends, games are in many ways the best way to do that.”

For Davis though, it’ll be business as usual as Kings Guard gaming prepare to play a special cup tournament in the coming days.

“We get better everyday and show the people of Sacramento what all this hard work is going in to,” he said.

If you’re unfamiliar with the world of esports, the advice is to just give it a watch.

If you just want to replace traditional sports, Motorsport fans are best positioned here. Formula 1 has launched a Virtual Grand Prix Series to replace the races that have been postponed due to the coronavirus. Current F1 drivers will play the F1 2019 PC game on the same tracks as the cancelled races. The events will run on the same weekends the real-life Grand Prix were due, and they’ll be broadcast on the official Formula One Twitch and Youtube channels. NASCAR is also taking a similar move, and has launched a multi-week series that will be played in iRacing.

If you want something a little different, but a little familiar, look no further than Rocket League. It’s like football, but the players are cars. Rocket League is simple to pick-up but much more in-depth than it appears. If you’ve ever watched a game of football, you’ll be comfortable watching a game of Rocket League. Players score goals. The most goals wins. An added bonus is that Rocket League is rated G. No guns or violence to be found, so it’s a good one for the family to watch. And despite coronavirus interrupting some live events, Rocket League’s North American, European, Oceanic and South American Championship Series are continuing online.