The Growth of eSports During The Pandemic

If you look at eSports during the pandemic, you’ll notice that the industry’s MVP during much of 2020 has been the global COVID-19 pandemic. The eSports sector was one of few that experienced numerous benefits from the worldwide social distancing measures and lockdowns. Simultaneously, much of the entertainment industry struggled with what was arguably its worst year or record.

However, viewership on Twitch grew to 4.9 billion hours – by more than 70% – during Q2 2020. ESL also reported a “significant rise” in viewership for its events in the same period. Indeed, throughout 2020, the industry saw its audience grow by more than 38 million, according to Newzoo’s 2021 Global eSports & Live Streaming Market Report. The new viewers seem to consume eSports content regularly, and hopes are high that many will stick around even after other entertainment forms resume. Here’s what you need to know.

eSports During The Pandemic: Traditional Sport’s Struggles

One example of how adaptable the eSports sector becomes evident if you look at the numbers. Projections indicated that the global sports industry should have generated $135.3 billion in 2020 before the pandemic. However, according to “The Future of the Sports Industry” report by MediaCom, estimates fell to a “mere” $73.7 billion by April 2020 after implementing widespread lockdown measures.

Regardless, Newzoo’s approximate estimation of eSports came at around $1 billion. In other words, traditional sports still dwarf the eSports sector. However, the pandemic provided professional gaming with the opportunity to close the gap. eSports has never had to take a break or stop, unlike traditional sports. eSports during the pandemic became the most significant winners without outdoor activities to compete with. Indeed, while live sports were on pause, watching eSports and playing games was the go-to activity for millions.

The transition was evident even among traditional sporting organizations. New events spawned amid the lockdowns, including the Virtual Grand Prix and the Premier League FIFA 20 tournament. These events have helped convert new viewers to eSports and maintain fan engagement during the disruption. The swell in betting on eSports markets proved indicative of this transition.

For instance, there was a 700% increase in wagers on the eSports betting platform Luckbox between February and July 2020. Those looking for a wide range of gaming events and live matches also resorted to online gambling, and many bettors turned to operators who offered both. The popular Brazino777 Casino also recorded a massive influx of bettors during the pandemic.

However, It’s Not All Sunshine & Rainbows

The developing eSports industry’s rise to popularity hasn’t been obstacle-free. One of the most significant challenges has come from a lack of in-person events, which has also plagued traditional sports. Consequently, numerous events weren’t financially viable, resulting in postponements and cancellations.

When it comes to eSports during the pandemic, an excruciating example is The International, one of the most lucrative events in eSports history and a brainchild of Valve. Despite boasting a $30 million prize pool in 2019, the company decided to delay the event infinitely.

Regardless, numerous events took place, though without live audiences. But the challenges didn’t stop there; production companies, organizers, and teams faced just as many problems. For example, ESL had to transition to an almost entirely online production from a live event one. This change meant the company had to tackle issues with special effects, lighting, stages, and both fans and competitors present in the studio.

After countless innovations to keep competitions going, production teams had to redevelop their entire products in a matter of months. The changes saw competitors participating in events remotely thanks to ESL-provided broadcast kits. ESL also had to develop mixed reality solutions to bridge the gap between the online and in-person experience.

The Unrelenting Growth Of Sponsorships

Brands rely on continuously attracting new sponsors, but the lack of live events has thrown a wrench in most such plans. It’s almost impossible to demonstrate eSports’ production value, potential, and appeal without passionate fans and packed-out stadiums. To make matters worse, many of these sponsors are only dipping their toes in the professional gaming waters for the first time.

Yet again, the eSports industry took a softer blow from the pandemic than traditional sports. Sportcal, GlobaData’s sports market intelligence division, reported a decrease in the number of eSports sponsorship deals signed in Q1 2020. However, this number still increased more than 50% year-over-year. Compared to traditional sports sponsorship deals, the eSports industry was skyrocketing. For reference sake, the sponsorship deals in traditional sports plummeted by more than 40% since the onset of the pandemic.

Observing eSports during the pandemic also revealed an increase in viewership throughout 2020. Numerous brands were looking for innovative ways of connecting with diverse audiences, which helped the eSports community’s growth. Furthermore, projections for 2021 indicated that sponsorship revenues would grow by another 11%, making it the most significant revenue stream in the eSports sector.

Can The Industry Maintain Its Growth?

The growth of eSports viewership has slowed following the relaxation of lockdown measures and the continuation of traditional sports. ESL analysts say that the figures are generally where the company expected them to be before the pandemic. But, most live events are still on pause.

Projections indicate that this sector will not only bounce back but grow even more throughout 2021. Revenues should swell above the $1 billion marks for the first time thanks to a predicted 9% growth in global audiences, according to Newzoo. Since most 18 to 25-year-olds watch more video games than traditional sports, eSports is likely here to stay.

Overall, when looking at the growth of eSports during the pandemic, it’s evident that virtual gaming has capitalized on physical restrictions. The pandemic has changed countless lives, businesses, and industries, but the real challenge for eSports is attracting older viewers unaccustomed to seeing the entertainment aspect of virtual games. Industry analysts uniformly agree that it’s not a matter of if the sector will grow, but only a matter of at what pace.