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Much has been written about esports becoming more and more buoyant during the Covid-19 pandemic. That is a wide ranging statement, which does have a substantial degree of truth to it. However, esports, like many industries, has been affected by Covid-19. Just in the way that traditional sporting events have been suspended, esports tournaments and leagues have also been impacted. Travel restrictions initially led to some events taking place without a live audience, whilst others were postponed or cancelled entirely. As a result a large number of freelance workers, such as castors, event organisers and hosts, have found themselves out of work. Furthermore, due to the nature of their commercial contracts, some organisations and teams face uncertain futures if they are unable to compete in certain tournaments.
The last couple of months have equally demonstrated that esports is uniquely placed to handle the challenges of the pandemic compared to traditional sports which in turn has led to new opportunities for esports, some of which are considered below. Additionally everyone now claims to be an esports consultant!!! (If they spell it eSports, you can quickly disregard them!)
Increased number of gamers and viewers
Covid-19 has arguably forced esports to take a step backwards; events, such as the ESL Pro League Season 11, have been forced online with teams playing on dedicated servers, whilst the finals may have to be played without a live audience, leading to suggestions that esports has returned to where it was 5 years ago. What is the fundamental difference between where the esports industry was 5 years ago and where it is now? The advent of technology has increased the number of people who are engaging and consuming the content…and it only looks set to grow further.
With traditional sports on an enforced hiatus, esports has seized the opportunity to engage with a new audience. When we speak to Twitch, they are always talking about how busy they are, fielding queries from those who probably hadn’t even heard of Twitch at the start of the year. Statistics indicate that streaming on Twitch alone has jumped by about 20 percent compared to the final quarter of 2019, whilst other live streaming platforms like Mixer, YouTube Gaming, and Facebook Gaming have also experienced a major surge in growth. Notably, these statistics do not include the launch of Riot Games new title Valorant in April; Valorant has already broken numerous streaming and viewing records, and it has not even been released yet. We are still trying to get a beta code!
The lockdown has also led to an increase in the number of gamers. In March alone, Steam – Valve’s PC gaming marketplace – saw a record 24,535,923 concurrent users; up from the previous high of 22 million a couple of weeks before. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) remains the platform’s most played game, topping out at a record-breaking 1.1 million players on Sunday 22 March, whilst other titles such as DOTA 2 have also seen an increased number of players. With other new titles such as Call of Duty: Warzone also launching during the pandemic, and available for free, it’s very likely we could see some new esports stars emerging in the near future.
The challenge for esports organisations and streamers will be encouraging the new fans and gamers to continue to engage with their content post coronavirus when traditional sports return. If organisations and streamers can convert fans newfound interest in to merchandise sales and consistent engagement, the future of the esports industry could be even brighter than previously anticipated.
Crossover with traditional sports
Another reason for the increased interest in esports is due to traditional sports teams now trying to utilise esports in order to find new and unique ways to maintain fan engagement; for example:
There is obvious value for traditional sports teams and players in partnering with an esports team or streaming personality (as evidenced by the number of professional football players who have established or invested in esports) as it provides a new way to help build their brand and engage with a new set of fans. Consequently, we could see more traditional sports teams begin to utilise esports as part of a match day experience such as organising tournaments or working with organisations to host live streams with current players. The possibilities are varied and exciting, and will likely lead to new partnerships in the future.
Where does LDN UTD fit it into this eco-system? We are still determined to work with the grassroots gaming community to discover talent but create opportunities for them, whilst aligning with our values on societal benefits and social purpose. Last year we hosted a number of physical events. Next week we have an online competition #ROADTOYANA to find the best FIFA PlayStation gamer to compete in YANA and will be live streaming the finals from 3pm on 25th on Twitch.tv/ldnutd. We will be announcing our charity and brand partners throughout the week.
YANA is a 12 hour charity stream of gaming, music and connecting to raise awareness that YOU ARE NOT ALONE in isolation on 2nd May, being supported by Barclays, Codemasters, Ubisoft and others, and again traditional sports will be involved alongside traditional esports. (see www.yana.gg)
This is our view, and we welcome feedback, questions or any future blog topics.
In our next blog, we will discuss new brand engagement opportunities.