A new opportunity for esports

After the cancellation of professional sports due to COVID-19, a new sport has the potential to grow.

Esports arena in Richmond, Vancouver.  Photo credit: CBC

During COVID-19, many integral parts of society have ceased to operate as they once had. This includes traditional sporting events, and in turn, traditional sports reporting.

As a result of the cancellation of major professional sports leagues, no such content is being generated by media organizations.

For CBC sports reporter Jamie Strashin, COVID-19 hasn’t changed his mindset on sports coverage. 

“The games are a nice backdrop, the trends and the things coming from these games every night were definitely fodder for a lot of the stories I’ve done, so I’ve had to get creative in telling the COVID sports story,” he said in a phone interview with The Toronto Observer.

Jamie Strashin (left) (Photo credit: Jamie Strashin).

However, one sport is still able to thrive during the pandemic, that being esports. 

Without a need for physical contact, esports tournaments have continued to be held, with players from all over the world competing from the safety of their own bedrooms. 

With platforms such as Twitch, viewers are able to watch these events for free, and interact with other fans with the chat feature. Twitch is a website where people are able to livestream any games they are currently playing, and many major esport organizations use it as their platform of choice to broadcast tournaments to their fans.  

In recent months, Twitch has seen a surge in use, with new games like Valorant peaking at 1.7 million concurrent viewers in early April, according to the Verge. 

Concept art from Valorant. (Photo credit: Riot Games).

Although esports isn’t Strashin’s area of expertise, he understands what it takes for something to gain media attraction. 

“There’s no question, it’s being taken seriously even by NBA teams, and whenever there’s numbers, there’s money,” he says. 

However, without proper knowledge of these games, the media may have difficulty gaining an older audience who are less willing to understand the complexities that these games contain. 

“The growth in audience among the traditional sports fan who is of a certain age is limited, but that’s not the coveted demographic,” says Strashin. 

Journalists covering other fields agree. 

“I would say 75 per cent of the older crowd would have no interest in watching this content,” says Jonathan Gitlin, editor at Ars Technica. 

Jonathan Gitlin, Automotive Editor at Ars Technica (Photo credit: Jonathan Gitlin).

Gitlin is an automotive editor at Ars Technica, a publication that focuses on technological news,  and has seen the sport of competitive automotive racing transition over to being an esport during the pandemic. 

“It’s one of the few real sports where the esport aspect uses a lot of the same skills,” he says. 

In games like Project Cars, the developers have crafted mechanics that mimic real physics to allow players to be immersed, and feel like they’re driving a real car. 

Project Cars in-game screenshot (Photo credits: Slightly Mad Studios).

As for the professional drivers that participate in the virtual races, Gitlin is unsure whether they will continue with esports after the pandemic has passed. 

“Whether some of the more traditional racecar drivers will stick with it, I don’t know. Some might, most of them probably won’t,” he said.

There is another point that both Gitlin and Strashin agree on, and that is the issue of demographic. If esports does not appeal to a wider age range, some mainstream media outlets may be hesitant to cover it. 

“I think the audience trends younger. I’d imagine if publications keep covering it it would be quite smart because you’ll be creating a new audience, the only issue is the age range of people who will want to read about it,” says Gitlin. 

Even though traditional sports have seen less coverage in the media, the pandemic has created the possibility for a new sport to breakout into mainstream view, that being esports. The popularity of esports depends on the media’s coverage of it, and recognition from news organizations may be exactly what pushes its audience even further. Until the return of traditional sporting events, esports are here to stay. 

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Posted: Jul 6 2020 4:16 pm
Filed under: News