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E-sports are unaffected by the cancellations that other sports are seeing due to COVID-19. // Western Front Archive

As people are forced to stay home, gamers take comfort in esports

By Jason James

COVID-19 has paused major sporting organizations including the NBA, MLB and PGA, but esports continues to operate due to its online accessibility.

Esports is a form of organized, professional-level gaming that allows for gamers to prove their skill in competitions and tournaments.

Wes Platt, the lead narrative designer and writer for Knee Deep, a swamp noir adventure game developed by Prologue Games, said in an email, “Over the years, I've become familiar with various Twitch streamers and YouTubers who showcase esports activities. The fact that other major sports shut down means that the sports networks need something else to cover. Esports, by their very nature, are socially distanced and mostly immune to the pandemic.”

The growth in esports is apparent in the amount of annual viewers and players. 

According to a report from Newzoo, a provider of market intelligence for esports, audiences grew from 160 million people in 2016 to 215 million in 2018. Newzoo estimates 250 million people in 2021. Major broadcasting companies including ESPN2 broadcasted the latest Rocket League World Championship.

A source of this viewership throughout esports comes from streams, a live broadcast of gameplay. Streaming companies including Twitch and Mixer have millions of players streaming games everyday. Some of the most streamed games include League of Legends, Overwatch and Rocket League, according to Newzoo.

Pedro Kuhn, a third-year student at Western studying sports psychology and on the Rocket League team at Western said in an email, “I really enjoy the concept of watching people who are better than you at a game because it's a way to learn how to get better at it.”

Rocket League is a team centered game where players drive rocket-powered cars to get a ball in the opposing goal. According to an article from Newzoo, Rocket League had 18 million viewed hours in 2018 and an increase of about 28% percent in viewers each year since then.

Kanyen Sherwood, another member on Western’s Rocket League team, said he recommends Rocket League for people who are inexperienced in gaming.

“Rocket League especially has the chance to become extremely popular due to its similarity to regular soccer. In other games, the gameplay can be confusing and it’s unclear what each team is trying to do if you don’t know the game very well,” Sherwood said in an email. “But Rocket League is different. The objective is just to put the ball in the back of the net, which is easy for newcomers to figure out.”

Kuhn believes streaming can be a fun way to be productive during physical distancing, especially with the amount of free time available to him.

”COVID-19 has affected me in the amount of screen time I get during the day. Usually I'm on my computer anyways, but now I'm really spending a lot of time at my PC setup. I decided to turn this into an opportunity to grow my Twitch channel and focus on trying to network to get my channel out there. This way I'm not mindlessly gaming and actually trying to work for something,” Kuhn said.


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