The world of sports has been put in a new situation for everyone involved due to COVID-19. The world stood still as all sports were either canceled or put on hold until further notice, all but one.
Esports have continued to push on through the pandemic.
For example, ESPN has aired an NBA 2K players-only tournament featuring NBA players facing off against one another on the virtual court. The NBA is not the only league to highlight an event like this with the MLB doing a similar tournament with its video game.
Esports and streaming have been on the rise over the years with the increase in people who play video games. Now with people sheltering in place and staying home, esports is continuing to gain momentum.
Jim Strickland or JiMnM on Twitch.tv is a popular streamer with 3.8 thousand followers on the platform, and the owner of the semi-pro esports team Visionary Gaming. He is a lifelong Auburn fan who has been going to Auburn games since he was little.
During COVID-19, Strickland has received an increase in viewers per stream due to the number of people that are stuck at home. He has seen Twitch be used for more than just entertainment, as celebrities have used the platform to raise money for charities during the pandemic.
“Devin Booker, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Kyle Kuzma play Warzone together for a coronavirus charity,” Strickland said. “John Legend and Joe Jonas also did a similar charity stream on Twitch with smaller artists.”
While the pandemic has led to an increase in numbers for streamers on Twitch, just like the rest of the sports world, events have been put on hold.
Local area network tournaments where people play each other face-to-face have been canceled. While viewership on streams may be up, Strickland is disappointed that these in-person tournaments have been canceled.
“One negative is that LAN tournaments have been canceled, Strickland said. “For example, the Fortnite World Cup 2020 was canceled – it was a 30-million-dollar tournament last summer.”
Multiple million-dollar tournaments that were supposed to be streamed over Twitch and fill stadiums across the country had to be canceled. These include professional events for games such as League of Legends, Overwatch, Fortnite, Hearthstone, Counter-Strike, Apex Legends, Dota 2 and all fighting games.
One group directly connected to the competitive esports scene is Auburn University’s Auburn Esports club.
Auburn Esports offers gamers an opportunity to participate in a competitive team environment with their classmates through esports. The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically affected the club’s plans for the year.
Collegiate esports took a hit when traveling restriction and social distancing were established because esports teams travel to locations for their events. Auburn Esports’ President, Hank Link, has had to deal with the challenges that COVID-19 has placed on the club.
“The coronavirus outbreak impacted collegiate esports a lot more than most people think,” Link said. “We had to cancel plans to attend two different tournaments this spring, one in Knoxville, Tennessee, and one in Huntsville, Alabama.”
Link has seen an influx of new online tournaments, and with it comes an increase in viewership as people are at home and need something to do. While there has been a growth in viewership and events, Link is curious if this new audience is sustainable.
“It kind of feels like a bit of quantity over quality right now, with so many different online events being run by groups of people new to the space,” Link said. “Hopefully, the new people stay, and esports can keep its viewership up so that the quality of events can catch up.”
If there is anything that comes out of this pandemic in the world of sports, it is that esports are carving out a niche and broadening their fanbase. They are important during this time of limited live sports as it still gives people something to root for, whether it be a player or a team.
Sports will eventually return to normal, and crowds will roar and cheer, but fans have esports to watch until then.