Following the outbreak
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns around the world, almost all of the upcoming shows, tours and sporting events were either postponed until a later date, or simply cancelled outright. What might have escaped your attention however is how strongly hit the competitive video gaming scene has been by said lockdowns.
You would think that an industry that essentially has its roots in people playing from the comfort of their own homes would be the last to be hit by a law telling everyone to stay at home but, whilst Esports has had a genuinely staggering boom since lockdown, it is still facing some pretty jarring complications.
Planned for the world of Esports
Much like the Premier League or NBA, most of the shows and events planned for the world of Esports have had to be postponed due to social distancing guidelines and the complications caused by travelling from place to place. What Esports does have up its sleeve, however, is the ability to take the majority of its events, and stream them from where it is safe to do so.
Examples like the ESL Pro League and Overwatch League
The best things to look at when searching for examples. Platforms such as YouTube and Twitch regularly top over 100,000 viewers at a time, with the consistency of Counter-Strike being the absolute king of the industry right now. Its month-long ESL Pro League and ongoing Road to Rio Major tournaments deliver at least three games of Counter-Strike a day to its fans, making it the ideal format for those long days spent at home.
However, there have been a couple of eyebrow-raising games in recent tournaments that might be cause for alarm if Online events are going to become the new norm.
Of course no one is expecting everyone to be at the top of their game in a new and unfamiliar format, but the fact that on the first day of ESL Pro League Astralis, Na’Vi and Fnatic (the three best sides in the world) all lost, it does point to it being more than a coincidence.
Playing in offline
Most of the tier-1 sides in the world are used to playing in offline, LAN-based tournaments in either a controlled studio or a huge arena filled with passionate screaming fans. A LAN tournament puts everyone on the same footing, you all share the same facilities, the same connection strength etc. Online formats naturally throw that completely on its head, suddenly putting those with more powerful computers or more stable surroundings at home at a huge advantage.
Most Esports have taken the measure of splitting Online events into more smaller, regionalised competitions. With North American sides only having to place sides from the region and not, say, European teams and vice versa obviously help level the playing field somewhat, but the connection issues remain problematic, and the amount of technical timeouts and complaints about not being able to perform optimally will always remain whilst the competitive formats remain like this.
Sides that are ranked significantly lower in the world rankings and usually fail to even qualify for the biggest LAN tournaments suddenly find themselves with a home advantage and a whole load of fresh confidence.
Swole Patrol’s win over Team Liquid at Pro League and Mousesports’ loss to Movistar Riders during the Road to Rio have both been striking examples of the esports betting odds being upset and of that volatility of Online play. It can make for some interesting games for the viewers to watch, but examples like these are just further proof of competitive gaming’s optimisation being put on hold for now.