The major sports leagues have closed due to the coronavirus, and that sucks. Sports fans stuck in their homes are stuck looking for alternatives, and it would appear that this would be eSports’s moment to step into the limelight. There has been plenty of talk of the growth of eSports over the past year, and now even ESPN broadcasted 12 hours of eSports to fill the resulting gap in live programming. Without competition from professional sports, eSports could hardly ask for a better opportunity.
It is true that some gaming numbers we have seen have been positive, with the gaming streaming platform Twitch recording new highs due to the pandemic according to Hollywood Reporter. But far from being a boon, this pandemic could be a significant drag on a sports sector which is far more fragile than it appears.
A Financial Bubble
The fundamental problem which eSports faces right now is simple. eSports are a growing business. A growing business needs capital. This is especially the case for eSports teams, who are more than happy to report growing revenue but are oddly quiet when discussing how much profit they are making.
But this is not a good time for businesses which need capital investment. Even before the coronavirus spooked global markets, eSports teams were already achieving valuations comparable to tech companies rather than other sports teams. These teams were likely already overvalued even before the coronavirus and there is a real chance they could seriously crash in value as funding sources dry up. This will mean less athletes playing which will decrease audience interest and could in the worst-case scenario lead to a death spiral.
And all of that does not touch upon the ways in which eSports remain fundamentally inferior to professional sports. Because there is a contradictory dynamic between what eSports watchers should want and what the video game companies who make the game want.
Gamers have constantly complained about how game companies nickel and dime them with season passes and donation boxes hidden within the games themselves, and such complaints have only gotten worse with the rise of loot boxes. But these things exist because these companies can hardly expect to add new patches or characters and such for free.
But what this means is that game companies can constantly tinkering and making changes to these ostensibly professional sporting events, even though a sport requires stability. Imagine if the NFL changed its rules every single season. This stability is necessary so that casual fans who have not paid attention to said sport in years can drop in and still understand what is going on, just like can happen with professional sports.
However, that gets into the other problem with eSports, which is that the games are changing. The most popular eSports games are games like League of Legends and Counter-Strike which have existed for years, but new titles get added or removed such as the rise of Fortnite or the Call of Duty which comes out every year.
eSports cannot just function with hardcore Call of Duty or StarCraft fans, but will need attention from casual people who do not play games themselves but can flip to a tournament and understand in seconds who is winning and what is occurring. Combine that with the financial turmoil which it will soon face, and the coronavirus is not the boon for eSports which so many are claiming it will be. Professional athletic sports will pick themselves up once the quarantine and continue to be the ways through which billions of people are entertained.
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