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E-sports provide welcome relief to online gamers as real-life schedule lost

By Barry He | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-04-21 10:07

Traditional sports all over the world have taken a battering in the last month for obvious reasons.

The novel coronavirus has made it both hazardous and completely commercially unfeasible to run real-life sporting events, as the threat fails to discriminate between sports players and spectators.

Interestingly however, e-sports are experiencing a huge boom, ranging from a surge in games console sales to a spurt in Twitch streaming figures.

The PC gaming marketplace Steam, recorded last month a record number of concurrent users browsing its products, a total of 20 million users all buying games at the same time.

The possibilities of the digital realm are limitless, and do not confine to conventional physical logic. To put it into perspective, the world's largest physical markets for wholesale food, such as the Rungis market in France, could not possibly compete with the numbers involved. A country such as France would need a real-life market with one third of its entire national population inside its perimeter browsing products all at the same time, to be comparable.

The ability for digital platforms such as Steam to facilitate large consumer demands for entertainment is one mitigating factor we have in this epidemic. Even just 15 years ago, this would have been impossible for servers to facilitate.

The game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive also broke its all-time record last month for the largest number of concurrent players, with 1 million concurrent players all connected to the server running around shooting at each other and plotting military exercises in the game. Again, the numbers are staggering and a blessing in a world where even a boxing or mixed martial arts event between just two human beings in real life would be impossible.

The highly anticipated MMA event UFC 249 was cancelled earlier this month, after a string of false hopes that the real-life sporting event would be able to go ahead, due to stringent lockdown measures in the US and border restrictions in Russia, preventing the two highly anticipated athletes meeting for the fight.

Meanwhile, one million players on Counter-Strike were happily firing away in the virtual world, with the game also breaking its record for the largest online viewership for its competition in the same week.

The social aspect of this cannot be understated. Players can download games from the comfort of their own homes and socialize with their friends through online communication, without having to put their lives in the hands of social distancing measures outside.

The positive impact that this has on mental health in people who would otherwise be cooped up with no mental stimulation or socialization is huge, with the mass figures for online gaming suggesting just how many people e-sports is lending a helping hand to.

The traditional sports industry is clocking onto the success of their virtual cousins, with companies such as Formula One providing online e-sports versions of the races that were due to take place during the season. Streaming across platforms such as Twitch and Youtube, the events still maintain their star pulling power with racing icons such as Max Verstappen confirmed on the racing rosters.

E-sports, once marred by stereotypes of lazy and socially inept video gamers are now providing the world with a crucial crutch upon which to stay connected with friends and have fun. In a world that has been bleak in recent months, this much undervalued industry may now finally be getting the recognition it deserves.

When we all emerge from the other side of this, e-sports will still be going from strength to strength and may find more fans due to national lockdowns than it did before, changing our entertainment habits for the long-term too.

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