eSports and gaming industry thriving as video games provide escape from reality during coronavirus pandemic
While the sports world is at a standstill, pro athletes like Mavericks All-Star Luka Doncic and millions around the world have turned to video games.
DALLAS — WFAA’s Jonah Javad wrote this from his apartment balcony because he — like most of you — is staying home in an effort to limit the outbreak of coronavirus and to “flatten the curve.”
The COVID-19 pandemic flattened the sports world as we know it. The NBA is in timeout. The NHL put its season on ice. March Madness upset by “March Sadness.”
Almost every sport and league you can think of is on hiatus. “This is a great opportunity for more eyeballs to be attracted to eSports,” admitted Envy Gaming, Inc. CEO Mike Rufail.
The Texas native is in charge of Envy Gaming, which owns multiple eSports teams like the Dallas Fuel (Overwatch League) and Dallas Empire (Call of Duty League).
According to Forbes, Envy Gaming is the 8th most valuable eSports organization in the world.
For those unfamiliar to eSports:
“It’s competitive video gaming,” Rufail explained. “It’s as simple as that.”
In traditional pro sports, there are different leagues for different sports.
In eSports, there are different leagues for different video games.
“The gaming industry is certainly seeing a lot of growth and interest during this time,” said Rufail.
Verizon reported a 75% increase in video game activity during the first week of quarantine earlier this month.
Live streaming platforms like YouTube Gaming and Twitch saw a 10% increase in viewership.
Meanwhile, NASCAR found a way to draw eyeballs with iRacing.
Since last week’s Cup Series race was postponed, NASCAR replaced the television time slot with a virtual version as drivers competed from home.
The iRacing event drew more than 900,000 viewers on television — making it the most watched eSports TV program to date.
Keep in mind: Most views for eSports events come from the live streaming services like Twitch.
NASCAR returned to iRacing with a race from virtual Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday.
“The video game industry as a whole is probably in a very healthy state compared to other industries that had to shut down their business or other forms of sports entertainment because they cant hold live events,” said Rufail.
Live eSports events are on hold, too.
However, Overwatch League resumed play on Saturday and the Dallas Fuel expects to follow suit next weekend with players competing from their homes instead.
“During this moment, we’re going to mint more families who become fans of eSports and can sit at home and watch it together and cheer for a team,” Rufail said.
Envy Gaming is a Dallas-based company located above our WFAA studios at Victory Park.
The American Airlines Center is next door, which is normally home to the Dallas Stars and the Dallas Mavericks.
Mavs All-Star Luka Doncic knows how to use a screen, literally and literally.
Turns out, #77 is a gamer on and off the court.
Since the NBA shutdown on March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic, Luka has played a lot of video games.
“I’ll sign him to a contract right now, as long as Mr. Cuban lets me,” jokes Rufail. “Luka plays Overwatch so we’re trying to get him on to play some games.”
Now more than ever, pro athletes like Luka, along with millions of people around the world, have turned to video games to escape reality.
“Some of the most well known athletes in Dallas, right now, are definitely at home playing games and competing online,” said Rufail. “Honestly, there are benefits to them keeping their reflexes going when they can’y run around a field or a court right now.”
The eSports industry was already on the rise. The #StayHome orders will make it skyrocket.
What led to the surge in eSports interest and viewership?
“People are just attracted to human competition,” said Rufail. “That, combined with so many people who engage with video game content these days, has really fueled the growth our industry.”
The age gap between those who understand eSports (much less watch) and those who don’t is predictable.
“It’s kind of a shift in interest from generation to generation and eSports is one of those things the older generation didn’t have when they came through,” explained Rufail.
eSports brings in more than $1 billion in annual revenue.
By 2021, viewership is expected to top every major sports league in the world except the NFL.
“It’s only going to get bigger and better from here,” smiled Rufail.
The sports world is frozen.
The eyeballs are not.