The spread of the coronavirus has led to many seeking out an alternative form of entertainment as traditional sporting events have been postponed or cancelled, but as we move forward through the crisis there are many that worry about the infrastructure around these events continuing without fans in attendance as the barrier to view many fall behind a paywall. Our developing tech has already offered a benefit to many fans across the world, as betting services close due to events being cancelled, many have been able to turn to casinos not on gamstop as operators outside of the UK continue to provide entertainment during the lockdown, but there is a market in which betting has continued to perform well despite slowing in every other area – esports.
The growth of esports has been phenomenal – from an extremely niche market just a decade ago it now boasts almost 500 million viewers per year, which only seems to be increasing. Tournaments held throughout the year across the world and across multiple games pull in viewership from many different demographics and have provided a strong alternative for many during the global crisis which only serves to increase numbers, but what has helped it become the phenomenon it has? In large part, streaming services have become the base from which these events have been able to grow in a way that traditional sports have yet to be able to rival, and what to many seems to be the future for them.
Popular live streaming services such as Twitch and more recently to some degree YouTube have been able to provide a platform for fans to tune in to these events for free wherever they are in the world – this first step removes one of the many barriers of cost and exclusivity that are still seen within other sports. Another factor that has also been a big benefit on these platforms can be found within the social interaction – a live chat system so viewers can comment and talk about what is happening within the games has become a large part of why these platforms have found success – twitch chat and twitch memes have become a sensation and a huge part of why many tune in, not just to watch the games but to also engage in the social aspect that is missed when simply viewing a game of the television.
This is also extended to the players within esports, and now also being seen within other sports, as for example F1 driver Lando Norris has been able to extend his fanbase largely thanks to streaming services – by streaming these players are able to directly interact with their audience, showing a personality that may typically not be seen but also offering fans an opportunity to directly interact with their favourite stars – often times the most popular players for different games can draw in ten to twenty thousand viewers per day during their streaming times. Esports are beginning to catch more traditional sports in viewership very quickly, and projections show it may not be long before the numbers surpass them entirely – streaming is starting to cross over to these other sports, but without the interaction that adds social engagement for many, esports may continue to shine where the others don’t.