Commentary

In The Face Of Social Distancing/Shutdown, Gaming And Esports Hold Opportunity

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, March 18, 2020
As a result of the global crisis, workplaces, the economy, and interpersonal relationships are experiencing disruption.

In the world of traditional sports, the NHL, MLB, NBA, and NCAA cancellations have no real replacement events. But with the power of gaming, events such as these can take on a different form and still engage their fans online.

When the Australian Grand Prix was cancelled, McLaren driver Lando Norris jumped on Twitch to stream himself playing a racing simulation game called “iRacing.” To his shock, he hit 70,000 concurrent viewers in just an hour and a half, when he usually averages around 2,000.

Similarly, when the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns -- members of the Western NBA conference -- had their game and all other NBA games postponed they took to the video game version of basketball, the NBA 2k League, to settle the score, and 12,000+ fans tuned in to the fill in event, which both teams said was organized in a matter of “a few hours.”

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Plus, game releases during this time, or even old games that everyone still loves to play, are going to see a surge in their active player base. This past week, Activision Blizzard's "Call of Duty Warzone," a game made as a competitor to "Fortnite," drew in 15 million players in three days with its release last week, beating the record previously held by Epic Games’ "Apex Legends," which drew in 10 million over three days in the year prior.

Twitch, the largest game streaming platform, is continuing to see growth of viewership and content creators. Since the mainstream outbreak of the coronavirus in February, Twitch's average concurrent users have increased by roughly 60,000. In addition, even more channels are up -- there are around 2,000 more broadcasts on average as compared to the end of 2019.

Other content creators and advertisers outside of the traditional sports world are taking advantage of the increase in online audiences that they usually engage with.

FaZe Clan, the world's largest esports and lifestyle gaming brand, just announced a tournament that it will host in partnership with Activision Blizzard's new Call of Duty game (mentioned above) that will raise funds to help fight COVID-19, called the #FIGHT2FUND. Their first event took place already, and garnered $50,000 from various donations, including a $10,000 donation from the game’s publisher.

And, last but certainly not least, although esports tournaments are removing their physical attendee audiences due to limits on social gatherings, most of these events have had their viewers come from online, and remain able to tap into that pool. ESL, a third-party tournament organizer, in partnership with Counter-Strike, held its IEM Katowice event -- which usually brings in 170,000 people over the course of its two weekends --  entirely online this year, and the result was that IEM Katowice broke previous viewership records with over 1 million peak viewers at once on Twitch.

As people look for things to do under difficult circumstances, esports and gaming have the opportunity to gain even more traction as mainstream forms of entertainment.

Advertisers, marketers, and even sports franchises that have had cancellations or reallocations should consider turning to gaming and esports events, where the audiences are not only used to living online, but also continuing to grow.

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