Sanders: Quarantine is the best thing to happen for esports

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Piotr Drabik from Poland / CC BY

As live in-person sports are being canceled across the world, many are turning to the world of e-sports.

By Henry Sanders, The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science

The new competitive look for the 2020 season takes place in a chair and on a monitor. The world of esports is rising to the top, despite its already popular presence. Due to the spread of COVID-19, league play and major competitive events across just about all sports have left fans without a team to rally behind. This has caused a severe economic downturn for franchises of all kinds, and yet one major category that is often overlooked in the world of competitive sports is slowly bubbling to the surface in a time of tragedy. 

Esports’ biggest advantage isn’t what it’s bringing to the table; it’s what other sports aren’t capable of doing: presenting a competitive atmosphere online. The ball was already rolling for the online gaming genre in the first place, with an increase in viewership per year, but with a pandemic like COVID-19 forcing everyone inside, “physical” sports just can’t compete. In fact, quarantine is the best thing to happen to the competitive gaming scene.

The most profitable sport is football, which made $14 billion in 2018. Compared to the global profit of esports all around the world, competitive gaming’s projected annual revenue of $1 billion is a little over the most popular franchise in football’s worth, the Dallas Cowboys. Japanese baseball is worth more than competitive gaming worldwide.

However, you would be wrong to doubt esports’ worst just yet. Despite the statistics, even while competing with the top franchises of sports, esports had a 26.7 percent increase in revenue from 2018 to 2019. How much did the top sport in the world increase by? Only an estimated 6 percent.

It’s clear the value of e-sports is increasing at an exponential rate compared to the top competitive sports around the world, but why will it do better during a pandemic? Because the main difference between gaming and the top 10 sports around the world is that it only takes 38 muscles to text on a phone while it takes 137 to play golf. 

In short, gaming doesn’t require an outdoor environment with a crowd of people within six feet of one another to be played. This one factor changes not only the competitive capabilities of esports in a pandemic, but also how people spend their time while quarantined. 

The world has gone on lockdown. No one is watching football, basketball or soccer. No one is getting together with their friends to shoot hoops. People–teenagers especially–are spending their time and money on gaming.

“Call Of Duty,” a major gaming franchise popular for its first-person shooter mechanics, released its new game Warzone on March 10 and was welcomed with 30 million players in only 10 days. Nintendo, responsible for the iconic plumber Mario, recorded 1.8 million sales of “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” in Japan alone. According to CNBC, Andrew Little, a research analyst at Global X, sales for video games rose by 65 percent since this time last year. 

The pressure to stay indoors has only increased interest in video games, causing more and more sports enthusiasts and everyday gamers to be exposed to esports. There is no better time to boost the audience of esports. 

This increased time spent playing video games impacts esports’ largest platform: Twitch, a platform dominated by gamers who stream themselves playing games towards an audience. Twitch contains the most streamed content of esports on any website and is arguably the most popular streaming service, outranking even live broadcasts from YouTube.

Twitch has received an average of 1.3 million viewers in January of this year. However, this month of April, where the pandemic is expected to peak in most states, has an average of 2 million.

Many popular streamers are like celebrities, some carrying millions of subscribers and building a career in which their content is viewed by their own huge fanbase every day. For every sport, there are players that are the top celebrities of their sport. For basketball that might be LeBron James who was expected to make around $39 million this season. For esports that person might be Tyler Belvins, otherwise known as Ninja, who signed a contract with mixer for somewhere between $20 million to $30 million to stream Fortnite competitively every day.

Streamers like Ninja, who compete competitively in video games, rack up the most views on streaming platforms. Esports is just like any other sport when it comes to people watching it, everyone wants to see amazing plays being made and crazy wins happen. Humans are spectators and sports in proof of that. 

People want to see their favorite player do astounding things. As Twitch gains more viewers everyday, esports streamers are gaining popularity, and with their popularity comes interest in their game’s competitive state and interest in the competitor themselves. When it comes to esports, streaming platforms are a gold mine. 

And let’s face it, no one is going back to sitting in a stadium anytime soon. Even with the eventual return to society doesn’t mean a return to normalcy. People won’t be too quick to enter their favorites sports arena to spectate in person. Behind a screen, esports will be the more desirable option.

The factors to esports’ success are clear. More video games are being purchased, more people are watching streamers, and more people are not leaving the house. Even after the pandemic is over, esports will fill the role of safe sports entertainment.

Despite the boost in favor for gaming, esports isn’t here to take the throne in sports. Yes, it could become more popular than the big leagues sometime in the future. It is in a very good spot considering the postponement of its competitors, but it’s very nature is to entertain, and with the outside world off limits, esports is here to fill that void of intense competition by providing a safe online setting.

This story was originally published on The Vision MSMS on April 10, 2020.