By Bernd Debusmann Jr
As a result of coronavirus suspensions, many professional athletes and teams have taken their competitions online
The suspension of sporting events as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic may lead to greater interest and a boost in viewership of e-sports, according to regional industry insiders.
Around the world, e-sports has seen a dramatic spike in viewers over the last several months. Amazon’s Twitch streaming platform, saw a 60 percent jump in viewership in March compared to the previous year.
Additionally, as a result of suspensions many professional athletes and teams have taken their competitions online. In March, for example, Formula 1 announced an ‘Esports Virtual Grand Prix’ featuring a number of current F1 drivers.
Top flight football leagues have followed suit. The trend was starkly isolated on April 10 when rivals Inter Milan and AC Milan held an “e-Milan derby” on the game Pro Evolution Soccer 2020. The match was broadcast globally on Youtube and on AC Milan’s subscription TV channel. Just this week, the British Premier League began a weeklong digital tournament on FIFA, with the ‘matches’ streamed on NBCsports.com and Sky Sports Twitch and Youtube channels.
“We’re going to get a lot more of this, and we’re going to see quite a large spike in gaming to almost replace traditional sports,” Paul Collins, the general manager of Acer Middle East and Africa told Arabian Business.
“There will be a crossover of people who enjoy watching the sport in real life actually starting to pick up on those sports in a gaming environment,” he added. “This [the Covid-19 pandemic] is going to be a huge accelerator.”
While Collins said that a number of prominent e-sports events have not been held physically as a result of the coronavirus-related statistics, there has been little impact on viewership or participation.
“It’s an online consumption methodology by nature,” he said. “We’ll see an emergence of more formal e-sports. It will also move away from 15 to 25 year olds and start skewing to an older, more mature crowd consuming these products.”
In terms of the games themselves, Collins said that it is likely that an increased focus on e-sports as a spectator ‘sport’ may mean that companies such as EA games “lift their game and create products that are more lifelike and more representative of the real game.”
Collins’ thoughts were echoed by Matthew Pickering, the managing director of Dubai-based Power League Gaming, who said that he believes large-scale sporting events will be among the last events to return to the public sphere once restrictions are lifted.
“Filling that gap in demand will be ‘Covid compliant” tournaments using pro players and influencers competing with each other remotely,” he said. “Speaking more generally, the development of relevant, entertaining e-sports related content in the place of traditional sporting event broadcast will likely expose and introduce a wider audience to the sector globally.”
Ahmed Al Nasheet – a wildly popular Dubai-based gaming influencer and commentator who goes by DVLZGame – said he believes the fact that well-known professional athletes have been seen gaming during the pandemic will have a “huge” long-term impact.
“This will create a whole movement. People who are interested in watching football, for example, will also get interested in watching e-sports. It’s all related,” he said. “If professional football players are playing a game and taking it seriously, the fans will take it seriously. It breaks the boundaries.”