Coronavirus has legitimized e-sports; now there’s no going back
There are more than three billion people around the world sheltering from the coronavirus in their homes, and it’s been virtual sports events that have been providing some much-needed entertainment.
While traditional live sporting events have all been shut down and public gatherings banned, virtual horse-racing, boxing, football, and motor-racing video games have come to the sports industry’s aid.
Sport is about numbers
Organizers make money by generating advertising revenue based upon their events; the number of people who turn up at an event, for example. Or the number of people who tune in to watch it on TV.
Now, industry executives are turning to streaming virtual sports on YouTube, Facebook and Twitch – or even broadcasting them on traditional television.
The stay at home GP
Italy’s Mugello circuit generally attracts 200,000 people during its MotoGP race (which was scheduled for Sunday). It just destroyed that figure, by producing a live-streamed virtual race that was called “The stay at home GP”.
The race was held online, with each racer playing themselves during the race. Honda’s world champion Marc Marquez came fifth, while Alex Rins played with his pet dog on his knee.
Alex Marquez – younger brother to Marc – asked, “will the points count towards the championship?”
The race was streamed online and broadcast around the world, such as on BT Sport in the UK and NBC in the US.
A new type of sports event
The Formula One has taken note; it has asked some of its players to pick up game controlers and race a Virtual Bahraind Grand Prix (which was cut short due to technical difficulties).
The World Boxing Super Series has embraced e-sports, and is running a virtual competition featuring the world’s best boxers. On Friday, Muhammad Ali beat Sonny Liston (again) during a virtual bout streamed to 35,000 viewers on YouTube.
Next up, he will meet Mike Tyson (who beat George Foreman on Saturday).
UK Channel ITV has said it will show a virtual Grand National on April 4th. The race will see 400 virtual runners take to the field, while the bookies take bets as per usual.
"We use the latest CGI technology and algorithms and were ready to go ahead as a forerunner to the big race," said executive producer Rob McLoughlin.
Elsewhere, the MLB has been hosting four-player video game tournaments between professional baseball players, and there’s rumours that the NBA will soon follow suit.
It’s just a video game
While sport has come to a standstill and video games have come in to provide some semblance of a replacement, once the world returns to normal sport will obviously be back in a big way.
While video games will never replace the experience of sitting on the sidelines at a major event, self-isolation is certainly getting billions of people (who would previously turn their noses up at esports comfortable with watching virtual matches plaid out across the world.
And that will prove to be a game changer.
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