eSports makes itself heard as stadiums go silent

Opportunity knocks at the strangest times and it’s even more so now than ever for eSports.

The silence in sporting venues across the globe has forced sports organisations to rethink their approach in keeping fans entertained.

The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted a long list of events as nations tighten their borders and go into a semi-lockdown state.

Clubs and teams are scrambling to find alternatives to ensure their sponsors don’t pull out. Some have resorted to pay cuts to ensure the cash flow is not affected.

Others, however, see a whole new potential in this era of physical distancing.

eSports, once seen as the unwanted child of the sports world, is now the saviour for traditional sports in gaining traction and increasing viewership as people are locked in their homes.

Formula 1 drivers, including the likes of Alex Albon, Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris, will be on the grid for the second edition of the F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series this weekend.

NASCAR’s virtual race hit 1.33 million viewers for its recent Pro Series Invitational en route to being the most viewed eSports event in US linear television history.

Back home, The Mobile Legends: Bang Bang (MLBB) Professional League Malaysia and Singapore Season 5 resumes on April 10.

Many remain hooked on games on their laptops and smart phones while Astro Malaysia announced that its viewership has exceeded over 200 per cent since the Movement Control Order (MCO) kicked in on March 18. Astro is home to Southeast Asia’s first eSports and gaming channel, eGG Network.

Traditional sports in Malaysia, however, have yet to capitalise on the cyberworld extensively.

PsST poster

Astro Head of Sports Lee Choong Khay believes now is the perfect time for traditional sports organisations to venture into eSports.

“Just look at Formula One and NASCAR. These are sports that have been affected by the Covid-19 outbreak but have quickly tapped on eSports to ensure fans still have something to look forward to at the comfort of their homes.

“There are some sports that have adopted eSports, there are others that are still late in the game. But now is the perfect time to test this out,” he added.

Lee had early last month told Twentytwo13 that the eSports industry, despite its popularity, is still in its infancy. He had then said many people were excited about it but weren’t investing in it.

“The problem is that they don’t understand eSports and its ecosystem. They must be exposed to the impact of eSports based on case studies and we have many to share,” Lee was quoted as saying then.

Echoing similar sentiments is Torque Esports chief executive officer Darren Cox who was recently quoted as saying: “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 like what they see.”

Football teams in Malaysia, for example, have resorted to flashbacks and encouraged fans to don their favourite football jerseys but have not engineered a campaign to engage fans through eSports. Other sports associations, meanwhile, have not initiated any form of programmes online to keep themselves relevant.

Torque Esports’ analytics group, Stream Hatchet, was reported as saying eSports streaming viewership has grown more than 17 per cent from January to March this year, with 1.75 billion minutes of content watched around the world in March alone.

British Esports Association chief executive Chester King reportedly said eSports has the ability to keep on going during these trying times.

“If more people are going to be self-isolating and playing or watching video games, then you can see the potential for brands like Deliveroo or Uber Eats to get involved.

“Brands built on enhancing people’s home life are going to realise eSports is a great thing to be attached to, and it’s the reason we now work with brands like Coca-Cola and Mercedes Benz,” King was quoted as saying.

Only time will tell if Malaysian sports associations and brands will seize this opportunity.