[movedo_button button_text="+" button_hover_color="primary-3" button_size="small" button_shape="round" button_link="https://esc.today/our-services/"]

ESC Today

ESportsCentral

Esports Is Filling The Programming Void

Esports Is Filling The Programming Void 960 640 esctoday

The coronavirus has wreaked havoc with live sports programming and sports fans everywhere. Television networks are scrambling to fill the programming void without basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer and other live sports. To fill the programming void (but not the ad revenue void), ESPN, Fox Sports and other networks have been airing replays, sports-themed movies, documentaries and esports. Esports is competitive video gaming, usually played by professional gamers and watched by spectators.

 

Esports on TV | 

Although esports is primarily available for viewing online, televising live esports is not new. Over the past five years, a number of cable and broadcast networks have televised esports, including ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Deportes, DisneyXD. The NFL Network, TBS, CW and even CBS. In July 2017, CBS televised Candy Crush Saga in prime time and averaged four million viewers.

 

In recent weeks, more esports contests have been appearing on television. ESPN created a branded ESPN Esports Day which included 12 hours of programming on April 5. Included in the programming were televised virtual games from Madden NFL20, Formula 1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix, Rocket League (which combines soccer with rocket-powered cars) and the opening round of a 16-team NBA 2K20 tournament event. For the NBA 2K20 tournament, players included NBA stars (and video game aficionados) Kevin Durant, Donovan Mitchell (both recovering from the coronavirus), Trae Young and the tournament winner, Devin Booker. Booker won $100,000 to be donated to coronavirus relief efforts.

 

Fox Sports has also been televising esports on their networks, including a Madden 20 tournament featuring former quarterback Michael Vick and other NFL players. Derwin James, a safety on the Los Angeles Chargers, won the eight-player tournament, defeating Vick in the championship game. FS1 also televised an eNASCAR pro Invitational iRacing Series that averaged an impressive 903,000 viewers. Up next on Fox Sports is the inaugural eMLS Tournament.

 

Esports Online | 

With the coronavirus and persons quarantined, esports has been flourishing online. As reported by StreamLabs and Stream Hatchet, Twitch, YouTube and Facebook all reported significant increases with online viewing in first quarter 2020. As an example, Amazon’s Twitch reached a record high 3.1 billion hours watched, up 17% from the previous quarter. Twitch also reported a 33% growth in unique channels and record high in average concurrent viewing with 1.4 million.

 

In first quarter 2020, YouTube reported 1.1 billion hours watched, an increase of 13% when compared to fourth quarter 2019. YouTube also reported a record high 500,000 concurrent viewers during the quarter. Facebook Gaming also had a strong quarter, reaching 554 million hours. This growth in gaming was validated by Verizon, which reported that, since the quarantine, video game usage in the U.S during peak hours grew by 75%. By comparison, overall web traffic was up by 20%, video streaming usage increased by 12% and social media usage was flat. Twitter said conversations about esports grew by 71% during the second half of March (when the coronavirus pandemic impacted live TV sports), compared to the first two weeks of the month.

 

Revenue | 

Esports’ popularity has been on the upswing for years. According to NewZoo’s latest Global esports Market Report from February 2020, global revenue will reach $1.1 billion in 2020 with China the largest market ($385 million). This is an increase of 15.7% from 2019 and more than double the revenue of 2016. NewZoo projects revenue to surpass $1.5 billion in 2023. Sponsorship is the largest revenue source, contributing 58% to the total, followed by media rights at 17% and merchandise/ticket sales at 11%.

 

Audience |

Globally, the awareness of esports has also grown substantially. In 2020, 1.955 billion people were aware of esports, compare to 1.1 billion in 2016. The esports audience will reach 495 million worldwide in 2020, with 223 million defined as frequent viewers/enthusiasts and 272 million occasional viewers. This is a sizeable increase from 2016, when there were 121 million frequent viewers/enthusiasts and 160 million occasional viewers. Its projected by 2022 there will be close to 300 million frequent viewers/enthusiasts to esports.  

 

A McKinsey report said in the U.S., there are over 20 million esports fans, 83% are male and 84% are younger than 35. Among U.S. men under age 25, 38% are esports fans and on average watch nearly one hour of esports each day. Furthermore, 10% of esports fans report watching over 20 hours per week, although only 13% responded that esports is the only sport they watch. Among 18-34 viewers, the League of Legends is now the third most popular professional sports league after the NBA and NFL.

 

Video gamers between the ages of 18-25 spend 77% more time watching other players online than watching broadcast sports. A Nielsen analysis found over 60% of esports fans on Twitch do not watch linear TV on a weekly basis at all and half don’t have a paid TV subscription. The people in this age group are among the lightest viewers of television, are heavy users of streaming content, grew up playing video games and are a popular demographic to target among advertisers.

 

Advertisers | 

Since esports has a desirable viewing demographic and is growing in popularity, more “blue-chip” advertisers are sponsoring events. There are many opportunities and strategies for esports sponsorships. Nielsen reports sponsorships can range from on-air signage and branded content to digital overlays and apparel. Esports has evolved from experiential marketing for numerous advertisers. Many product categories targeting young males sponsor esports. The list includes soft drinks, quick service restaurants, consumer electronics, automotive, apparel, financial services, telecom and insurance companies. eMarketer projects ad revenue for eSports will reach $214 million in 2020, a 20% increase from $178 million in 2019.

 

Gambling | 

With live sports on hold, casinos, which would have booked hundreds of millions of dollars with live sporting events are looking at esports to recapture some of the lost revenue. In April,  Nevada Gaming Control permitted wagering on multiple esports events. This could popularize esports even more. Sports gambling has now been legalized in 17 states.

 

The coronavirus is expected to quicken trends already happening in the entertainment and sports industry. For example, consumers could subscribe to more streaming video content bolstered by several new launches. Cash-strapped consumers could accelerate cord-cutting. Studios could release movies in theaters and for at-home viewing simultaneously. Some newspapers may entirely forego printed editions and produce only online content. To this list you can also add broadcasters, who may add more esports to their programming lineups in order to reach a coveted younger audience”

 

eSports Volatility

eSports Volatility 1024 1024 esctoday

Are Esports Stocks Immune to the COVID-19 Crisis as They Outperform the Market?

 

“Since the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) first emerged in Wuhan, China, in December last year, it rapidly spread globally, with currently roughly 1.8M confirmed cases in 213 countries (as of April 14). In an effort to slow down the spread, most countries released policies restricting social contacts and urging people to stay home if possible. In the wake of public life grinding to a halt, esports and gaming experienced a rapid rise in popularity as many are looking for entertainment. The second half of March saw gaming conversation volume jump 71% in comparison to the first two weeks, according to numbers released by Twitter.

Nevertheless, the esports and gaming industry isn’t immune to the economic symptoms companies worldwide are currently experiencing. No previous infectious disease outbreak (including the Spanish Flu outbreak in 1918 and 1920) has impacted the stock markets as significantly as the current pandemic due to the policy responses by most governments. In this article, we’re going to look at those companies in the esports ecosystem that are publicly traded and compare them to the general market.

Up to now, the U.S. stock market index Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 34.85% at the provisional peak of the current economic crisis. While the index only represents 30 large stock exchange-listed companies, the ongoing situation is affecting all types of businesses directly or indirectly. In the esports ecosystem, three major trends emerged as companies are trying to adapt to the current circumstances.

 

Trend 1- Cutting Costs

Several esports companies announced that they took measurements to cut costs of operations to counteract the loss of revenues. Team Reciprocity, which is currently looking to perform a reverse takeover (RTO) to become publicly listed on the Canadian TSXV exchange, released all staff. Toronto Defiant and Mad Lions parent OverActive Media also let up to 13 employees go.

 

Trend 2- Going Online

While the games played at esports competitions are natively played online, most large competitions are usually taking place at a physical location such as an arena or a studio. Due to the COVID-19 policies and to protect everyone typically involved in the production of leagues and tournaments, most of those formats have been transformed into online events.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive developer Valve and esports organizer ESL announced an online competition called “ESL One: Road to Rio,” which will be the official qualifier for the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Rio de Janeiro Major in November. Another Counter-Strike: Global Offensive format that was moved to an online format is the DreamHack Masters, which was scheduled to take place in Jönköping, Sweden.

Furthermore, most long-format esports leagues such as the Overwatch League, Call of Duty League, and all League of Legends regional championships such as the League of Legends European Championship (LEC), League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK), and League of Legends Pro League (LPL) have adapted an online format as well. 

 

Trend 3 – Sports Joining In

Just as most esports competitions went online for the time being, they were joined by several sports organizations, which turned to gaming competitions and exhibitions to fill the void of sports events.

NBA organization Phoenix Suns decided to continue its regular season schedule by simulating the games in Take-Two Interactive’s NBA 2K game, which the team streams on Twitch. The motorsports organizer Formula 1 established a racing simulation series in place of its regular schedule in which a number of F1 and other motorsports drivers are participating. Additionally, a large number of different sim-racing competitions emerged in recent weeks seeing the participation of racing drivers, athletes, and celebrities, including a multirace exhibition by NASCAR, which is broadcasted on linear TV station FOX Sports.

In general, many entities in the esports ecosystem proved to be capable of adjusting their business operations to the new situation as several of the industry’s niches outperformed the overall market since the end of January when the first cases of COVID-19 started spreading into the western world.

The esports industry is not benefitting from the situation across the board as companies have to deal with the repercussions such as establishing remote work, lack of live-events, fewer sponsorships and media rights sales opportunities, and more. The recent weeks showed that the esports industry is one of the few that by the nature of its infrastructure and product has the possibility to adjust to the current situation, which led to a few players within the industry being able to profit from the current global situation and off certain developments in other industries, especially the sports and entertainment industry.

Nevertheless, certain categories within the esports ecosystem are facing massive struggles such as tournament organizers and esports venue operators as they performed significantly worse than the general market in recent weeks. In addition, many not publicly-traded esports companies, especially startups, are facing existential threats, including a lack of available risk capital.

 

The Outperformers – Lockdowns Boosting Gaming

Following the widespread establishment of governmental guidelines and rules enforcing social distancing, the stop of culture and sports events, the closure of restaurants, retail stores, etc., the demand for gaming as a form of entertainment vastly increased. Reportedly, people are spending 39% more on their gaming hobby currently. Additionally, game developers also profited from a significant increase in media interest in gaming since policies restricted public life.
Several game developers, such as Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts, and Ubisoft Entertainment, announced in their annual earnings report that they are expecting increased player numbers and revenues due to the COVID-19 situation.

The stocks considered for the game developers category are Activision Blizzard (ATVI), Take-Two Interactive Software (TTWO), Electronic Arts (EA), Capcom (9697.T), Konami Holdings (9766.T), Ubisoft Entertainment (UBI.PA), and Nexon (3659.T).

Another category within the esports ecosystem that is benefitting from the effects of COVID-19 policies is live streaming. As people are trying to entertain themselves with few options available, many turned to watching live streams.

According to the quarterly live-streaming industry report from StreamLabs and Stream Hatchet, Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook all saw Q1 2020 quarter-over-quarter lifts in viewership, with Twitch surpassing 3B hours watched in a single quarter for the first time.

After factoring in the full impact of COVID-19, Chinese live streaming platform Huya expects its revenues for the first quarter of 2020 to increase by 45% to 47% year-over-year and representatives stating that the lockdowns and winter vacation in China boosted engagement rates on its platform.

The stocks considered for the live-streaming category are Huya (HUYA), DouYu International Holdings (DOYU), and AfreecaTV (067160).

The current changes in lifestyle caused by COVID-19 policies resulted in short-term increased demand for gaming-related products such as PC components and peripherals. Gaming hardware manufacturer Razer reported that it expects to see more opportunities and growth for its gaming ecosystem due to the “stay-at-home” situation.

The stocks considered for the manufacturers category are Logitech International (LOGI), Turtle Beach (HEAR), RAZER (1337.HK), ACER (2353.TW), ASUSTEK Computer (2357.TW), Micro-Star International (2377.TW), NVIDIA (NVDA), and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD).

Some of the most prominent players in the esports industry are broad portfolio companies such as Tencent, which is invested in several game developers, esports tournament organizers, and live streaming platforms. Those companies outperformed the general market significantly since late January. 

In March, Tencent stated that it expects revenues from its gaming business to help weather the COVID-19 situation as the millions of people in China self-isolating at home spent an increasing portion of their time on the company’s gaming, music, and online reading services.

The stocks considered for this category are Tencent Holdings (TCEHY), NetEase (NTES), and Sea (SE). 

 

The Underperformers – Imploding Revenues

While several publicly-traded esports and gaming companies outperformed the general market, publicly-traded esports organizations mostly suffer from COVID-19 policies as monetization opportunities became scarce.

Astralis, Origen, and Future FC parent Astralis Group had to reduce operational costs to secure liquidity. The company announced that its management, employees, and most players entered a voluntary agreement to reduce salaries by up to 30% based on salary size.

Unlike the other two companies considered for the teams category, Astralis’ sole business purpose is owning and managing esports teams. Enthusiast Gaming and Simplicity Esports and Gaming have several products aside from the teams they own. Consequently, Astralis experienced the worst stock performance out of the three companies.

Enthusiast Gaming CEO Adrian Montgomery said that his company ended 2019 with $9.24M in cash, which could serve as short-term liquidity in case the company experiences negative impacts from the current global health crisis.

The stocks considered for the teams category are Astralis Group (ASTGRP.CO), Simplicity Esports and Gaming (WINR), and Enthusiast Gaming Holdings (EGLX.TO).

Esports competition stocks took the most direct hit from COVID-19 policies. Allied Esports Entertainment’s HyperX Esports Arena Las Vegas was shut down for the time being and Torque Esports’ esports racing arena in Miami, which was initially scheduled to open in Spring, will likely not be opened anytime soon.

All current significant esports tournaments with live audiences have either been canceled, postponed, or moved to an online format. Therefore, organizers are missing out on ticketing, concessions, media rights, and sponsorship revenues.

ESL and DreamHack parent MTG expects its revenues in the esports vertical, which accounted for 40% of the group’s 2019 2019 revenues, to decrease by 35% to 45% in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period of 2019. The company primarily sees the cause for this decline in a variety of government policies to contain the global outbreak), which had a significant impact on its esports vertical as it is built around live events revenues from media rights, brand partnerships, ticketing, and merchandise sales.

The stocks considered for this category are Allied Esports Entertainment (AESE), Modern Times Group MTG (MTG-B.ST), Gfinity (GFIN.L), and Torque Esports (GAME.V).

 

A Brief Look at Esports ETFs

As industry-focused exchange-traded funds (ETFs) often represent the general development of an industry, we briefly looked into the two ETFs focusing on esports and gaming. Since the beginning of the effects of COVID-19 rendering themselves noticeable on the stock markets, the esports and gaming industry, as represented by the ETFs, outperformed the general market. Especially in the initial recovery phase since March 16, the industry seems to have a significant advantage over the general market.

The ETFs considered for this category are the Roundhill BITKRAFT Esports & Digital Entertainment ETF (NERD) and the VanEck Vectors Video Gaming and eSports ETF (ESPO).”

 

 

Riots Valorant

Riots Valorant 877 493 esctoday

Isn’t even out yet, but it’s already looking like an eSports sensation

 

“The tactical shooter is breaking Twitch records, and it’s still in closed beta.

Riot’s new video game, Valorant, is both a breath of fresh air and completely unoriginal at the same time. The first-person shooter opened its closed beta on Tuesday to gargantuan Twitch viewership, thanks in part to Riot’s deal with the platform that let popular streamers gift access keys to its beta while they played the game live.

After watching many hours of the game and playing quite a few myself, it’s clear that Valorant is a hyper-competitive game catering to perhaps a small slice of the overall gaming community. (Right now, it’s only on PC, with no plans for a console release.) But that doesn’t matter, because it already seems quite likely to be the next big esports sensation, despite its hardcore nature and the fact that it borrows almost every single component of its design from previous competitive titles.

That’s partly because Valorant, even in its beta form, is arriving at a crucial moment for the competitive gaming scene. Much of the esports world revolves around multiplayer online battle arenas, or MOBAs, like Valve’s Dota 2 and Riot’s own megahit League of Legends. There are peripheral esports communities, like the fighting game community and those that surround individual games like Psyonix’s Rocket League, that exist as niche subcultures within the broader esports field, but MOBAs reign supreme.

Only games made by companies with immense resources like Activision Blizzard with the Call of Duty League and Overwatch League and Epic Games with Fortnite have dared to try to buy a seat at the table through unique league structures, high-production values, and massive prize pools.

‘Valorant’ combines ‘Overwatch’ superpowers with a ‘Countrer-Strike’ structure

There is, however, one big exception: Counter-Strike. Arguably the tactical team-based shooter from which Valorant borrows almost all of its structure, Counter-Strike has remained the one competitive FPS resilient to the ever-changing industry and still inexplicably popular all around the world. Counter-Strike has a global fan base that Call of Duty lacks, and it still ranks it as among the top-played games on Steam and the most-watched titles on Twitch, despite its release nearly eight years ago. Right now, more than 1 million people are playing the game on Steam, making it almost as popular on PC than the next four top games combined.

That’s precisely why Valorant seems primed for success. Simply put, the game combines character-specific superpowers heavily influenced by Overwatch with a tense, high-intensity tactical shooter model more or less carbon-copied from Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Riot is attempting to build a modern Counter-Strike, one that appeals to a generation of MOBA fans that grew up on the idea of honing your skill as a specific hero with unique powers and an ultimate ability to use in crucial, match-defining moments.

Going from the early reception on Twitch, Valorant is getting that recipe right in a way that might pull big streamers and pro players away from other games. The game broke Twitch’s record for most-watched game in a single day, with 34 million hours watched. And the game’s peak concurrent viewership of 1.7 million people was second only to the 2019 League of Legends World Championship.

There’s another factor that could contribute to the game’s success: Valorant is not a battle royale game. Riot is bucking the trend that’s taken the gaming industry by storm for the last three years or so by releasing a tactical shooter. Since the release of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds in early 2017, BR games have consumed the shooter market. Fortnite is one of the most dominant games on the planet across all platforms, while a number of competitors have popped up to try to capitalize on Epic’s moneymaking potential, like Respawn’s Apex Legends and Activision’s Call of Duty: Warzone. But we’re also experiencing a bit of BR fatigue, as the initial excitement of the genre fades and its esports potential has proved hit-or-miss.

Valorant is stepping in to offer an alternative, one with a more traditional, team-based and skill-based approach that hardcore shooter fans seem receptive to because it removes all of the luck and randomness of the BR genre. In the handful of games I played in the beta yesterday, I was shocked at how meticulous and slow-moving the game is. Each match demands one team plant a bomb and protect it, while the other tries to defuse it. You have just one life per round. When one team wipes the other completely, which happens often, the round ends early — unless the bomb was planted, and then it must be defused.

‘Valorant’ plays almost identically to ‘Counter-Strike’ where good aim and reflexes are paramount

The team that wins 13 rounds first wins the entire match. And in my experience, that can take upward of 30 to 40 minutes if you’re going up against a squad well-matched with yours. The hero abilities, while they’ve earned Valorant a lot of comparisons to Overwatch, are not as critical as I thought. Having superhuman aim and reflexes, combined with the ability to predict the opponent’s actions and communicate and collaborate with your teammates will largely determine your level of success. Learning how to use the various weapons you can buy at the start of each round — also a feature borrowed from Counter-Strike — will determine how deadly you can be.

The powers are just there to shake things up and, in my estimation, give people moments of glory that they can brag about online and share on social media, similar to how a well-timed Overwatch ultimate activation can earn you the coveted play of the game highlight in Blizzard’s team shooter. Some are quite fun to use, like Jett’s updraft jump and tailwind dash abilities. And Sova, the Hanzo-like bowman Riot uses for the game’s tutorial, has some fantastic benefits, like allowing you to see enemies through walls and even strike them down with his hunter’s fury ultimate.

But at the end of the day, any other player can take you down with a headshot at basically any moment, rendering any powers pretty much moot. In my Valorant matches, I found myself getting punished routinely for stupid mistakes, like peeking around a corner when I was unsure if an enemy was already doing so or forgetting to walk quietly while using the shift key to dampen the sound of my footsteps. Charging into a situation alone will get you killed almost immediately nine times out of 10. Forgetting to play the objective and getting caught up in small firefights will also put your team at a disadvantage as the timer starts ticking down closer to zero.

Valorant is, above all else, a tactical game that requires you to communicate with your teammates to succeed and demands you practice your aim to have any hope of winning a one-on-one bout. That level of skill requirement and dedication may mean it doesn’t hit mainstream levels of popularity like Fortnite or Overwatch, but the game’s design does position Valorant as a more accessible esport than a BR title or something as chaotic as Overwatch or a MOBA. As Counter-Strike has proved over the years, some games, especially easy-to-understand tactical shooters, don’t need 100 million active players to become popular esports; you just need a community of very dedicated fans willing to tune in and keep up with it.

Tactical shooters move slow enough and have clear enough objectives that they are easy to watch and digest, even for viewers who don’t play the game regularly. I can already see the appeal of watching a big Valorant tournament or keeping some favorite streamers playing it casually on in the background while I do something else.

Valorant’ is much more accessible than more chaotic esports like ‘Dota 2’ and ‘Overwatch’

Each round has a coherent start, middle, and end, and there’s a great momentum that builds toward the halfway point when teams switch sides and then the end of a match that makes tuning in at any moment worthwhile. There are opportunities for highlight plays using a well-timed ultimate ability, and one player can, against all odds, take on an entire team alone if they’re skilled enough. There’s a lot of potential for lasting entertainment with Valorant, even if it’s not really the kind of game you enjoy playing yourself.

Valorant has a long road ahead to release. We don’t know exactly when it’s coming out besides a summer to potentially early fall release window, whether it will even come out on consoles, and what exactly Riot’s esports ambitions are. But the game’s early success and the surprisingly effective combination of elements Riot has polled off set up Valorant as the most exciting new game to hit the competitive scene in years. It has the potential to become the company’s next League of Legends, but that will depend on whether the sum of its parts can give it more staying power than all the games it’s borrowing from”

 

 

Social Distancing is Pushing eSports into The Mainstream

Social Distancing is Pushing eSports into The Mainstream 1175 603 esctoday

The trick is turning this temporary boom into long-term growth.

“Industries around the globe have ground to a halt amid the coronavirus pandemic. Bars, restaurants, stadiums and factories have shuttered, and entire countries are on lockdown as citizens are ordered to stay home for weeks at a time in an attempt to control the disease’s spread.

With the streets empty, people are turning to their screens more than ever before. Viewership of streaming services like Netflix, YouTube, Twitch, Mixer and Hulu has risen weekly since shelter-in-place orders began rolling out, and people are on the hunt for new forms of entertainment, ideally with a social twist. Something with a chat room, or dozens of forum posts to read through, or an active Twitter and Instagram presence. Something with stats and high stakes. Something live.

Enter: Esports. As economic activity spirals downward around the world, the esports industry has been spun into overdrive. Leagues are ditching plans for in-person tournaments and pivoting to online-only matches, where they’re finding a hungry audience.

Chris Greeley is the commissioner of the League of Legends North America League Championship Series, one of the most prominent esports tournaments around. March marks the middle of the LCS spring playoffs, which would normally see teams compete in-person, with live spectators, at Riot Games’ venues. The Spring Finals were scheduled to be held in Dallas, Texas, at The Star, a 12,000-seat arena normally used as the Dallas Cowboys’ practice facility.

“We’re not sure how long LCS will be online-only — when it’s safe and appropriate to do so, LCS will return to a live-event competition because it’s an important, entertaining, beloved part of the league and esports in general,” Greeley told Engadget. “That being said, we’re already in a better position for when live events return because of the capabilities we’re building now. Two or three weeks ago, taking LCS online-only was unthinkable, but circumstances changed and we reconsidered options that had been off the table.”

In order to stay relevant amid the coronavirus pandemic, every esports league has accelerated its ability to host online-only matches. These are goals that most leagues were already kicking around, with plans to implement new streaming tools, revenue sources and online infrastructure over the coming years. Instead, organizations including the LCS, Overwatch League and ESL Pro League had just weeks — days, even — to put rudimentary streaming-only structures in place, in an attempt to save an entire year’s worth of work.

For the most part, they’ve succeeded. The OWL held its first weekend of online-only games on March 28th and 29th, and just days after, Blizzard Entertainment announced it would finish out the regular season this way. The LCS briefly suspended play on March 13th as Greeley and his team rushed to find a solution that would keep the league alive; four days later, they rolled out an online-only tournament schedule and matches have been running since then.

Viewership on streaming platforms is up amid global shelter-in-place orders, though most esports organizations aren’t revealing specific figures just yet.

“It’s too early to share exact numbers, but we’ve been pleased with the level of engagement and feedback we’ve gotten from our community,” Greeley said.

And then there are the advertisers. With traditional sports games and annual festivals canceled for now, major brands are taking stock of the current ecosystem and inking deals in spaces they’ve previously ignored. Esports are an obvious entry point.

Take NASCAR for example. When in-person races were canceled this year, NASCAR and Fox Sports announced the first-ever eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, a simulation-style competition featuring stars like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bobby Labonte, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin racing in digital vehicles. It was the first time many NASCAR fans — and drivers — were exposed to the magic of professional gaming.

The inaugural eNASCAR race aired on March 22nd and it was the highest-rated televised esports program to date, drawing in 903,000 viewers. It was also the most-watched sports broadcast that Sunday, and the most-watched program on its host channel, FS1, since most sports events were canceled on March 12th. The following race on March 30th clocked 1.33 million viewers, breaking the previous Sunday’s record.

Torque Esports is running The Race All-Stars Esports Battle, an online event serving Formula 1, IndyCar, Formula E, NASCAR and other audiences in the wake of mass event cancelations. This event has already attracted new advertising partners including its first corporate sponsor, Jones Soda.

“We’re in discussions with many brands at the moment who are looking at esports for the first time,” Torque Esports CEO Darren Cox said, noting this is Jones Soda’s first foray into the industry. “Our goal, and this goes for streaming numbers and fan interest as well, is that the current situation doesn’t become just a blip on the radar. We want to use this as a foundation to continue to grow the sport. Many brands remain in the discovery and education process at the moment, but they are liking what they see.”

This interest isn’t limited to the racing genre. Vice President of Overwatch Esports at Blizzard Entertainment Jon Spector said, “We are seeing an increased interest in gaming, streaming and esports overall,” while LCS head Greeley said, “We’re seeing excitement in partnership discussions.”

Greeley noted that in 2019, Nielsen ranked the LCS as the third-most popular professional sports league in the US among 18- to 34-year-olds. This is a coveted market for advertisers, and a sign that esports were already on the radar of major sponsors. The coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated their involvement.

“We see this activity more as a continuation of sponsorship trends than a big change, since the esports ecosystem and leagues like LCS have been gaining momentum for some time now in global media,” Greeley said. “Sponsors are drawn to the size and passion of the esports community, and we believe that’s only going to continue growing from here.”

Torque Esports’ analytics group, Stream Hatchet, says esports streaming viewership has grown more than 17 percent from January to March this year, with 1.75 billion minutes of content watched around the world in March alone. A 12-hour Stream Aid Charity Marathon on Twitch last Saturday raised $2.8 million for the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

“We’re introducing esports to a much wider audience, particularly in the motorsports genre,” Cox said. “The ‘stay at home economy’ is something that is expanding rapidly and our live-streaming data analytics team at Stream Hatchet is certainly seeing dramatic increases in all platforms at the moment.”

Of course, the global pandemic has disrupted the esports world, too. Established leagues like the LCS and OWL have the resources to quickly pivot and implement online-only tournaments, and sponsors are already knocking. However, newer leagues might find it harder to catch their footing. For instance, the Apex Legends pro scene kicked off this year and was already struggling with server issues, a lack of advertising and poor management structures before the outbreak began. Organizers announced yesterday they would move the remainder of the Apex Legends Global Series online, with the finals airing on Twitch and YouTube on April 6th. It’s a rough first year for any league.

Even established organizations are feeling the pressure: Chaos Esports Club let go its entire Dota 2 squad following the suspension of the Dota Pro Circuit this year.

“This is not a decision we made lightly, but during these uncertain times and with the DPC circuit suspended it is impossible for us to justify the cost of a Dota 2 team at this time,” Chaos Esports Club CEO Greg Laird said at the time. “The world is an unprecedented situation and it is necessary for us to focus our efforts into a few key current and upcoming projects for the long-term success of the organization.”

Compared with many other industries, esports have experienced low job loss during the global pandemic, largely because leagues are able to transition online instead of shutting down altogether. Unemployment rates in the US are expected to hit their highest point since World War II, with conservative estimates projecting 20 million Americans will lose their jobs in the next few weeks.

Esports are well-positioned to serve an audience that’s trapped at home, and organizers are doing everything they can to capitalize on this strange new market. The trick, they say, is making all of this progress stick even after the pandemic has ended.

“We’re very interested in using this as the foundation for long-term growth,” Cox said. “Esports as a whole has been growing dramatically in recent years and now we’re in a massive spike. Once traditional sport returns we’re obviously going to see a levelling off. But in five years’ time we want to look back on today as not just ‘the COVID-19 esports thing,’ but as a tipping point for when esports took its first steps into the mainstream and cemented its place alongside other professional sports.”

 

Fox Sports Is Airing An Esports Madden

Fox Sports Is Airing An Esports Madden 1280 720 esctoday

Fox Sports is airing an esports Madden NFL Invitational event today

Last week, it was revealed that NASCAR would hold an esports event in place of the actual races it had to cancel because of the coronavirus outbreaks in the US. In an announcement on Saturday, Fox Sports revealed that the NFL is similarly embracing esports during this time with its upcoming Madden NFL Invitational. This event will air on Fox Sports today, March 29, on behalf of the CDC Foundation.

Starting at 7 PM ET / 4 PM PT, Fox Sports will air a two-hour Madden NFL Invitational esports event, the first one of its kind. Fox says this event is designed to raise awareness for the CDC Foundation, specifically its efforts in combating the current outbreaks of COVID-19 in the US.

The esports event will involve a Madden NFL 20 tournament with a total of seven matches played in three rounds. Eight NFL stars are on board to participate in the Invitational, including Michael Vick, Orlando Scandrick, Ahman Green, Juju Smith-Schuster, T.J Houshmandzadeh, and others. Rachel Bonnetta and Chris Myers have been tapped to host the event.

This will be a single-elimination game shown as a telecast on Fox Sports 1 (FS1). The CDC Foundation will be highlighted throughout the two-hour event with options for viewers to lend their support to the Foundation’s response to the coronavirus. Funds will go toward helping expand lab capacity, supporting at-risk communities, boosting local responses, and more.