March is typically a heralded month in sports: NBA and NHL games become more intense as teams enter into the last phase of their season before spring playoffs, NCAA basketball teams compete in March Madness, the MLB starts its season, and NASCAR racing begins its 7 Cup Series. The coronavirus has put a stop to all of this. But maybe a hero will emerge to save stranded sports fans (and others quarantined with them): eSports.
eSports, or competitive video gaming, can be played from anywhere at any time with a broadband connection. People can tune in to professionals and amateurs alike via free streaming services, no cable subscription to ESPN required. Professional tournaments continue to take place as teams and leagues transition easily to a completely online format.
Professional sports athletes are even turning to video games for reprieve. Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell said he’s been playing video games to pass the time. The Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks “played” a scheduled game virtually through popular video game NBA2k. Former NFL player Chris Long joked about tuning into eSports streams to fill the void of professional sports.
Numbers from Twitch, the most popular platform for streamers to broadcast content, support the theory that eSports are a popular activity during this pandemic. The number of live streams, or people that set up cameras and broadcast the games that they’re playing to audiences on Twitch, has been significantly higher when compared to the same week from last year.
Similarly, the number of concurrent* viewers over the past seven days have increased when compared to numbers from last year.
When looking at the trends for concurrent streams in the past six months, the first three months see relatively little change, while the numbers for January jump up and continue to rise.
The number of concurrent viewers follows the same pattern: relatively flat in the last few months of 2019, and a rise in the past three months.
Related markets may experience a boost as well. eSports betting is expected to see a global rise as sports leagues around the world cancel the rest of their seasons. After the halting of soccer’s English Premier League, Luckbox (an online eSports betting platform) saw a 54% increase in new registrations.
The cancellation of professional sports, numerous people working from home, and orders to social distance/remain inside as much as possible may have an impact on these numbers. Without a deeper analysis, it’s impossible to know if the increased activity in eSports is due to the social changes that have come about from coronavirus. People in the eSports industry are hopeful that these changes are real and can be sustained once the pandemic is over. However, like everything else about this pandemic, only time will truly tell how this virus will change our day to day lives.
*Note: This data source averages how many people are streaming or watching at any point in the day, which is why this is measured in “concurrent” terms. For example, there has been an average of 1,559,269 viewers on Twitch at any time in the last seven days.