The Rise of Esports during the COVID-19 Pandemic


Photo Courtesy: Harrisburg University

Rhea Wojack

     Competitive gaming, or esports, have been around since 1972. However, it did not gain public recognition until the 2000s with the debut of tournament hosts such as the World Cyber Games and the Electronic Sports World Cup, as well as the founding of Major League Gaming(MLG). Currently, esports is one of the most profitable industries with prize pools reaching millions of dollars and predicted long term revenue growth. For example in 2019, the Fortnite World Cup had a prize pool of 30 million dollars. Now with COVID-19, streaming sites such as Twitch reported a spike in viewership for game streamers. 

     “I would say I got more into gaming than I would have if not for COVID,” Sophomore Isaiah Nabea said. “So I have Discord, which is something that most gamers use when they’re playing with their friends and such. I also have more stuff to help me play better, perform better so I have more controllers and stuff.”

     When professional sports were canceled back in March 2020, many people turned to esports for entertainment. Esports as a virtual median lends itself nicely to adaptation as most people have access to the internet, and without major league sports going on, esports popularity spiked. In March 2020, Twitch reported a 23 percent increase of viewership, with about 1.2 billion hours of video game watch time. However, it wasn’t all great, as not all games have a strong online multiplayer structure and work better when opponents are in person. 

     “Everybody knows Smash Ultimate (Super Smash Bros Ultimate), at least their online, isn’t the best for playing games. And generally when tournaments are hosted online they’re not really seen by the community as really true tournaments just because of how much an online infrastructure can change the way people play,” said Sophomore Cody Torres.

     Some game companies used the pandemic as a marketing tool for new releases. Riot Games released the beta version of Valorant, a multiplayer tactical first-person hero shooter, in April of 2020 and partnered with Twitch to advertise the beta play. On the first day of streaming, it hit 1.7 million views and when it was officially released in June 2020 it quickly topped charts. As of February 2021, it is in the top ten most watched games on Twitch. 

     Though the recent surge of interest in video games was caused by the pandemic, the esports industry was predicted to gain traction anyways. Companies release new games or update old ones frequently, changing gameplay. New equipment better fit for running more frames per second or increasing a player’s ability are being sold and sites like Twitch and Youtube make it easier for people to see content related to gaming, maybe even sparking a person’s interest.