The effect of the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in 2020 on the eSports industry was significant, as people sought alternative forms of entertainment due to travel restrictions and cancelations of live entertainment events. eSports are video game competitions played online either alone or as a team, and so they are not as constrained by public safety measures as live sports. Sporting events in particular were hard hit by COVID-19, with many professional sporting events outright canceled due to the pandemic or played without fans in attendance. As people were unable to tune in normally to sporting events, eSports engagement boomed in 2020. All of the estimated major reasons for rising eSports engagement that year related to COVID-19, with the primary causes being increases in the use of online streaming platforms and social distancing measures forcing people to connect online.
Viewership and participation in eSports during COVID-19 worldwide
With younger generations growing up more and more online, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed online engagement even higher while people stayed at home. In a 2020 U.S. survey on increasing eSports interest by age, at the start of the pandemic primarily young people under the age of 24 were getting more involved with eSports. With live sports being for the most part cancelled in 2020, sports fans turned to other alternative forms of entertainment, such as eSports. According to a U.S. survey on alternative sports content engagement in 2020, nearly 20 percent of respondents engaged with eSports as an alternative to live sports, and even more respondents turned to classic games.
Europe was another hotspot for eSports during the health crisis, with many countries reporting over 50 percent increases in European eSports interest at the end of 2020. Spain topped the list, with 70 percent of respondents there reporting that they spent more time watching eSports since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The United Kingdom, Italy, and France were close behind, with each country reporting over 60 percent of respondents watching more eSports during COVID-19. Northern European countries showed the least amount of growth in eSports viewership, with most respondents in that region watching the same amount as before.
Impact of COVID-19 on eSports events worldwide
While eSports are usually played online and were not affected as strongly by social distancing measures during the pandemic, there are also a number of live eSports events played every year around the world. However, these live events are often also streamed digitally, making it easier for fans around the world to tune in to competitions without traveling in-person. In the United States alone, over half of eSports consumers between 18 and 34 have attended remote U.S. eSports events. Some live sporting events even offered digital alternatives to make up for the cancelation of live events. NASCAR did exactly this in 2020, and while live car racing events were canceled, they planned a virtual 100-lap race and built the online racing service iRacing, which attracted five thousand new users worldwide in the first month of the pandemic.
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