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SPORT REPORT: Esports grow as pandemic continues

It’s been a little over a month now since we’ve been able to watch a live sporting event. With the likelihood that this trend will continue even longer, sporting leagues and businesses have been pioneering new ways to stay sane. Whether it’s playing countless hours of the new MLB video game or watching old clips of UW football games, the world of Esports has seen exponential growth.

For those who are not familiar with the term, Esports are video games that are played competitively online. For obvious reasons, the world of Esports has grown over the past month and I have found myself drawn to the games — and I know I am not the only one. According to a study by Streamlabs, the gaming streaming service Twitch reached all-time highs for hours watched, hours streamed and average concurrent viewership. 

The popularity of Esports began with games such as “Call of Duty” and “League of Legends” but has seen an increase of play in sports simulation games such as “Madden,” “NBA 2K,” and many others since the beginning of stay at home orders. 

Without live events, professional sports leagues are losing large amounts of revenue from ticket sales due to the COVID-19 virus, television contracts, concessions, and several other aspects as well. However, a few leagues have begun to find new ways to entertain their fans through Esports. 

They have started player leagues — where the athlete of their respected sport plays as their team or themselves inside a video game. Most recently, the MLB has partnered with Sony’s MLB “The Show” video game to bring fans a player’s league with one player from all 30 teams. Each player will play each other and eventually lead to a championship at the end of the month. These games are broadcasted live on Twitch and Youtube. 

ESPN has also been struggling for content since the pandemic, and since then, they have reached the point where they decided to create an “ESPN Esports Day” — a day totaling 12 hours of consistently aired Esports events. The day concluded with the “NBA 2K” players tournament championship between NBA stars Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. 

NASCAR was one of the first leagues to begin broadcasting simulated events, and since this advancement, F1 drivers Esports league series have even raised over $33,000 for COVID-19 relief funds. Every Sunday, fans would be able to watch the race that was originally planned for the day on the official video game of NASCAR “Heat.” Drivers have become invested in the league and NASCAR now plans for them to take control of their own cars. 

It is clear the drivers will still be held to the same standards as they would be if they were actually racing. In one of these virtual races, NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace was upset after a crash knocked him back to last place which led him to quit the game prematurely, thus ending his time in the race. As something gamers everywhere can recognize as a “rage quit,” this one had consequences for Wallace and he ended up losing one of his sponsors following the race.

“Bubba’s actions were disrespectful to iRacing, NASCAR and especially their fans. That’s why Blue Emu discontinued his sponsorship,” Blue EMU VP for Marketing Benjamin Blessing said in an interview with TechCrunch. 

Esports has been on the rise but this pandemic has, and is likely, to continue to lift it up to new levels of popularity. The traditional sports fan may not have previously tuned in to an Esports event but now it seems as if they may have no other choice. My father — who is just as sports deprived as me and had never watched Esports before — found himself watching the “NBA 2K” tournament. 

If these leagues can keep the traditional fan as a regular, then Esports will be able to keep growing even after the pandemic and we may find ourselves watching more Esports events than live ones.