Apr 7, 2020 - Economy

eSports surge as professional sports get canceled

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Major sports broadcasters are leaning into eSports to fill the programming gaps left from leagues canceling professional sports games because of coronavirus.

The state of play: ESPN on Sunday aired 12 hours of esports including Rocket League, NBA 2K, and Madden.

Be smart: Without live sports, the players themselves are looking to eSports to stay connected to fans.

  • Some athletes, like NBA star Kevin Durant, are using eSports tournaments to raise money for charity. A few tournaments will be used to fund coronavirus relief efforts.

By the numbers: eSports streamers like Twitch, Mixer, Caffeine, and Discord all posted their best revenue-generating month, according to data from Apptopia.

  • Other professional creators, like musicians, are also flocking to those platforms to increase exposure now that most live events have been canceled.

The big picture: At-home gaming through PCs and consoles is also exploding.

  • According to Verizon, gaming as a sector is up 75% in data usage, way ahead of standard web traffic (up 20%) and video traffic (up 12%).
  • Experts predict that the uptick from the virus will push gaming publishers to create more cross-platform gaming software.

Yes, but: Many eSports have been built around live-streaming large in-person events.

  • "I think everybody is struggling," says Jonathan Harrop, Senior Director of Global Marketing & Communications at AdColony, a mobile advertising company. "So many eSports are being pushed to live in-person events and obviously that has been completely shut down."

What's next: Harron has his doubts that eSports will catch on with the major television network audiences.

  • "There's this weird substitution paradigm at play: How do eSports do on broadcast TV versus Twitch? How many 55-year-olds are going to tune and say these aren't real people, what's happening?"

Go deeper: Social media takes center stage for athletes as sports stall

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