The NBA, the Premier League, the UEFA European Football Championships, Formula One and now the 2020 Olympic Games. All cancelled as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, sending many fans and athletes into a period of uncertainty. It’s times like this that we appreciate the mobile and online nature of esports. Despite an unprecedented level of shutdown across the world, some of the largest esports events have found a way to go ahead despite the pandemic.
There were rumblings about how the coronavirus would affect esports back in January when the virus first began to emerge in China. The League of Legends Pro League (LPL), which had been in a one-week break for Chinese New Year, quickly suspended all future games. Then, the Overwatch League which was set to launch their
“homesteads” this season (essentially home games for teams) ended up cancelling the events set to take place in China, where four of their teams originate. However, no one had predicted the scale of the outbreak at the time and many weekly leagues and tournaments continued to run until March when many countries implemented social distancing procedures, making in-person events impossible.
The shutdown went in waves for many of these events. First, the decision was made to host the events without live crowds and test all the competitors before they entered the arena. As the situation worsened across the globe, press and other industry professionals were barred from entering venues to interview players. Finally, events were forced to stop completely in the interest of safety. For a time, no events were going ahead but esports has proved remarkably resilient in the face of this pandemic.
The League of Legends circuit is back in full swing. All competitive regions are once again operating online. Interestingly, for a period of a couple of weeks, the Chinese LPL was the only league running owing to the improving situation in China as the worldwide situation deteriorated. The production quality has been surprisingly good despite the remote nature of the production staff and the on-screen talent. The perseverance of everyone involved in the production of these weekly events is admirable considering the circumstances. The live finals that were supposed to be held for every region have been cancelled (Budapest & Houston were the known venues) and will be played online instead. This certainly represents a loss in revenue for each league but the situation could have been much worse.
Overwatch League recently restarted after a stoppage. Their plan was originally to restart the league on March 21st but after California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a state-wide shutdown on March 19th, the league’s restart was delayed a week until March 28th. It has since restarted successfully. In the Counter-Strike scene, the newly-established Flashpoint league has launched despite the coronavirus pandemic. Though the rookie league has had to cancel its live events and grand finals in Stockholm, it’s weekly games are still going ahead.
The survival of esports despite the worldwide pandemic has attracted the attention of mainstream media outlets. The Washington Post, ESPN and BBC have all written pieces on how esports is one of the few sporting industries that appears to be semi-immune to the crisis. Recently, it became legal to bet specifically on
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive in Nevada. As most sports are not currently running any matches, esports is one of the few events still available to bet on which has prompted several sportsbooks to feature the sport more prominently on their sites.
In many ways, this pandemic has thrust esports into the spotlight and the industry has responded incredibly well. With so much new venture capital invested in recent years, the industry could scarcely afford to halt completely, a privilege more traditional sports can avail of. Esports is currently booming, and so far hasn’t let the pandemic dent its momentum too significantly. New leagues are still popping up, mainstays are still running weekly and events are still planned for a post-pandemic world such as the famous Evolution Championship Series (EVO) which is still planning to go ahead at the beginning of August.
The coronavirus has disrupted sporting events, concerts, economies, governments and most importantly, everyone’s lives. The globe is facing an unprecedented challenge, and everyone is being affected to a certain extent. However, it’s comforting to know that despite all the disruption and turmoil in the world right now, esports fans can still tune into their favourite league at the end of the week for a modicum of normalcy. It’s a small comfort in these trying times.