Since the spread of COVID-19 forced the world into social isolation, the gaming industry has experienced unexpected change. Unable to accommodate in-person events, many eSports tournaments have been canceled or postponed. Fortunately, there are tournaments that have moved exclusively online. Some companies, like Riot Games and Blizzard, have already announced this change.
Despite the revenue projections (originally estimated to be $1 billion before cancelations) dropping, eSports may see an increase in viewership and participation traffic. With streaming sites like Twitch and YouTube Gaming gaining more traction, eSports stands to benefit, too.
Some platforms have already attempted to take advantage of the change. Earlier this month, Facebook Gaming launched the early access of a new feature called Tournaments. It will allow hosting online tournaments to be easier, especially for smaller events. Users will be able to register participants in both single and team competitions, manage brackets, and even connect several tournaments to a single event. Facebook Gaming’s Tournaments and platforms like it allow smaller events to remain scheduled.
With tournaments moving online, many wonder how it will impact eSports. Adapting to the new system of tournaments is certain to come with growing pains.
Latency Issues and Online Competition
Among the list of primary concerns related to online tournaments, latency issues seem to be at the top. A fast and stable Internet connection is a necessity for any eSports event. Without it, the event was sure to fall apart. Tournaments moving to online platforms means having to find solutions for potential connectivity problems. In fact, this was a challenge that faced the Counter-Strike competitions as finals approached. Originally set to be held in Denver, the event eventually moved to an online platform instead. As a result, the competition was split into two divisions: the Americas and Europe. Craig Levine, the global chief strategy officer for the CS: GO ESL Pro League, explained that splitting the league was necessary to avoid latency issues.
ESL Pro League also shared on their site that the change to regional divisions would “allow players to remain in their current location and still play in a competitive online environment with minimal network restrictions.” The announcement also contains a list of other changes for Season 11’s move to online-only events.
Will Cheating be a Problem?
To be short: no.
In-person events have measures in place to reduce dishonesty among participants. However, holding events online means the hosting league has less control of the environment and participants. To counter this, some leagues have taken additional steps to keep the competition fair. On top of anti-cheating technology that has been in place for years, the League of Legends Championship Series has used controls such as screen recording and broadcast delays. ESL Pro League is also monitoring players through webcams during matches to be certain no one is competing in their place.
Challenges for Small eSports Teams
For eSports teams, social distancing has caused additional pressure. Unfortunately, the bitter reality of this pandemic means people are losing their jobs. The longer people are out of work, the more financial stress they have to deal with. eSports teams are expensive. Even without travel fees, managing a team isn’t cheap.
University-based eSports teams are at a disadvantage because of this physical separation. University shutdowns have derailed practices and forced students to return home. For many students, that means returning somewhere they have limited access to the Internet. Because of this, members may unable to continue playing with their teams.
The transition to online learning for university students also means dealing with new academic expectations. On top of new academic schedules, members that work at essential businesses may have been met with increased demands from their jobs. Ultimately, teams will have to develop strategies to overcome these challenges. Failing to do so means disbanding until further notice.
Online Charity Tournaments
As other in-person activities come to a halt, people are able to dedicate time to playing video games. This includes professional athletes, like the Boston Celtics’ Gordon Hayward. Increased participation can mean further growth in this industry. As the industry grows, so will the cultural impact of eSports. As eSports expands as an industry, we will see how it can create change, too.
In March, the Spanish football team La Liga worked alongside two broadcasting companies and eSports competitor Ibai to host a FIFA 20 tournament fundraiser for UNICEF. The event lasted three days and included players across 18 different teams.
Who ya got?
— 🎮 Major League Soccer (@eMLS) April 13, 2020
More charity events have been scheduled for the near future. Beginning April 19, Major League Soccer will be hosting a five-week-long FIFA 20 tournament. MLS players have been paired with eSports professionals and champions. Together, they will compete with other teams in a single-elimination style tournament. Funds raised from the event will go towards Feeding America and Food Banks Canada, two North American hunger relief organizations.
Despite the challenges associated with moving online, eSports events will continue to flourish. And, even with a global pandemic, eSports continues to adapt. Because of this, we can expect the changes made to the industry to remain positive.
Want to read more on eSports during a pandemic? Be sure to read Live Sports Blackout? Video Games, eSports, and Virtual Sports Here to Help. As always, thanks for reading COG!