Ever since the NBA suspended its season on March 11, there has been a palpable hunger for entertainment as the masses sit in wait in their homes hoping that our social distancing helps to flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases..
With no games to cover in either the NBA or the NHL, along with the MLB having their opening day postponed indefinitely, sports networks like ESPN have had to resort to showing reruns of classic games from previous seasons. This led to a population that has been either sent home from work or school only to have no current sports to pass the time during self-isolation.
Nothing current besides esports, that is.
While all traditional sports leagues in the U.S. have shut down, esports leagues have not. By moving their competitions from the typical LAN setups usually used for professional esports to an all-online format, every major esports league has been able to continue their seasons despite the disruptions COVID-19 has caused to society.
Events ranging from the Call of Duty League, Overwatch League and the League of Legends Championship Series have announced the complete transition of their seasons to online for the foreseeable future. Upstart leagues such as the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive league called “Flashpoint” played only one week before being forced online.
The flexibility that comes with hosting online competition has piqued the interest of traditional sports leagues as well as it is seen as an opportunity to keep their fans entertained while also keeping them safe. For example, the North America-based professional rugby league known as Major League Rugby has used their season hiatus to play a league-wide video game tournament centered around the latest rugby video game, Rugby 20 with all stream proceeds going to charity.
Most notably from the crown of sports being esport-ified is NASCAR. On March 22, Fox Sports One broadcasted a virtual NASCAR race called iRacing. The invitational event allowed the most popular drivers of the past and present to compete against each other in a virtual atmosphere.
The event was a huge success, with a total viewership of over 900,000 people making it the most-viewed esports broadcast in television history. This number would be tremendously impressive for any esport, let alone a less popular one like racing. The event was so successful that just two days after the first eNASCAR iRacing event, Fox announced that they would broadcast the rest of the series as well.
Esports isn’t going anywhere. The athletes who push themselves daily to get better at their craft will still be able to play despite the restrictions being placed on our daily lives by COVID-19, so major sports networks should broadcast major esports events as a way to at least attempt a return to normalcy. Who knows, it could create a whole new generation of fans who respect and admire esports, not from the children who are at home during this crisis, but the boomers who previously would never have given esports a chance.