Esports find broader embrace during pandemic shutdown

PENSACOLA, Florida (AP) – It was a small surprise and, finally, hard to lose momentum in top sports, that is, competitive video games, during the first two months of the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After years of building huge online audiences, esports expanded its place in the modern mainstream during the days of social detachment, filling the gap in prime time on ESPN and other major sports networks.

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In Pensacola, video games briefly replaced some sports and youth recreation.

Locally, the Navy is organizing eSports tournaments in Madden 20 for service members, and a new e-sports center was recently founded at the OWA entertainment complex in Foley, Alabama.

Snap Soccer, an event management company based in Pensacola, affiliated with Perdido Bay FC, hosted a virtual football league and tournaments with FIFA on the Xbox and Playstation consoles.

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Players represent their football club full-time with logos, while league organizers produce content such as square brackets, ratings and individual distinctions, such as "Player of the month".

Sponsored by Puma and Soccer.com, even local players can compete for more than just bragging.

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"Even when I was arriving, football and video games weren't that popular online," said Parker McIntosh, 27, director of eGaming at Snap Soccer. “Major League Gaming was something I remember and it was a big deal. Now it is as if the market is flooded.

"Access to technology today with all these children, they know it better than we do."

If the pandemic provided a platform for e-sports in the mainstream, it is only because the activity had already generated substantial fundamental interest online.

A recent McKinsey report estimated that the American esports audience is just over 20 million fans, over 80% male and under 35. Among US men under the age of 25, about 38% consider themselves to be esports fans, according to the same report.

This interest was created mainly through streaming platforms like Twitch, which allows players to watch or broadcast other people playing video games. Twitch saw a record 1.4 million simultaneous viewers and a 33% increase in unique channels in the last quarter, according to Forbes.

The pandemic provided an opening for the leap in esports on major cable channels and television.

ESPN attracted NBA stars like Kevin Durant, Donovan Mitchell, Trae Young and Devin Booker to an NBA 2K basketball tournament, while raising $ 100,000 in coronavirus aid funds. At Fox, tournaments in the Madden 20 and Formula 1 racing competitions found prime time slots on the broadcast and on the cable.

Race broadcasts dominated television ratings on major networks. IRacing won the top nine broadcasts and averaged 845,000 viewers. On the other hand, the final broadcast of the ESPN 2K tournament with Devin Booker drew 201,000 viewers.

Although it attracted traditional sports viewers, the choice to broadcast simulated sports games did not necessarily pursue the largest audiences in e-sports.

Multiplayer online battle arena titles like League of Legends and DOTA 2, as well as battle royale games like Fortnite, dominate the online streaming space, recording hours watched by hundreds of millions each year.

Viewers of the Couch Cup tournament broadcast only a few dozen, but interest in the competition still attracted publicity from an international brand like Puma.

"At the time, it seemed like the only way to access football with the kids at home," said McIntosh. "… after we arrived Puma and Soccer.com as sponsors, there was definitely a buzz to compete on Xbox, especially.

"Many children see the awards and we affiliate them with their club, so success is also praised by the club."

In addition to making inroads into traditional media and traditional sports businesses, video games may have raised the esteem of some families during the pandemic.

"I have had several parents tell me that everything their children expect is Tuesday at 4 pm when the tournaments start," said McIntosh. "It is something I certainly like to provide that outlet to."

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