by Nikki Adams
The gaming industry was one of several industries that thrived under the overwhelming challenge of the coronavirus pandemic, filling a gaping void that was left by the shuttering of all major sporting events around the world in the first-half of 2020. Now though, with countries gaining ground in the battle against Covid-19 and as some semblance of normalcy returns, it raises the question whether gaming can continue to grow from strength to strength in particular with sports fans.
Everything came to a screeching halt last March, the 11th of March to be exact which was the day the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced to the world that it was well and truly in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic. And so, the fallout began indiscriminately in all walks of life, including sports. March Madness was wiped off the year’s calendar; the NBA and NHL’s seasons were halted abruptly; UEFA Champions League football aborted its season; European soccer leagues called it quits, the Wimbledon Championships along with many other tennis tournaments were cancelled; the much-anticipated summer Olympics in Japan were forced to reschedule to 2021; and so on. The domino-effect was remarkable as one by one major sporting events around the world went, free-falling into the yawning abyss of uncertainty.
The global coronavirus pandemic is an extraordinary event to have occurred in our lifetimes – once in a hundred years event, so say epidemiologists and historians. Unless you were an octogenarian (or older) who’d experienced the devastation of World War II and the hardship that it imposed on many European cities, the shuttering of absolutely everything and anything due to the public health crisis and the locking down of swathes of populations around the world was an unfathomable experience. Nobody could have predicted such an unthinkable occurrence, not least of all the impact it would have leaving many people at a loss in more ways than one.
And yet, amidst all the chaos, upheaval and uncertainty that tipped the world off its axis, inspiring feats of adaptation were born. In the world of sports, for instance, the NFL pulled off a virtual 2020 NFL Draft in lieu of a real one, while multiple sports TV channels successfully transmitted their programs remotely, and so on.
At the individual level, with millions of people kept at home searching for some form of entertainment the options were limited exclusively to activities within the confines of their very own four walls. Enter: gaming.
Gaming proved to be the perfect lockdown companion. It experienced a massive surge simply because people were sat at home, going nowhere. with little to do but to look for avenues to idle the time away. Industry giants such as Microsoft, Nintendo, Activision and Twitch reported staggering growth in the early months of the pandemic. In April, Microsoft reportedly cracked 10 million subscribers to its Game Pass and amongst those the software giant revealed a 130 percent increase in multiplayer engagement between March and April, 2020.
Similar such grand figures were reported by Nintendo, Activision and Twitch, the latter of which is owned by Amazon owner Jeff Bezos. Across the board, gaming activity increased to the great benefit of all those involved and held strong throughout the year. The hope was that a person that had played zero hours a week before the pandemic but was now playing a few hours at the very least would become a lifer.
With the traditional sports moribund, online betting sites turned their attention to Esports. Recognising a golden opportunity to get an inside track on this evolving and growing industry, multiple sportsbooks participated by putting action on all manner of video games and e-sporting events in order to provide adequate betting pastime for those sports bettors searching to betting options at the height of the moratorium on real live sports.
A year on, from the point of the start of the global pandemic, the overriding question is whether gaming’s growth is sustainable? The 2020 calendar year closed on a record year for the industry, defying prognostications that suggested people would be reluctant to splurge on frivolities in the wake of soaring joblessness and in the face of economic and financial turmoil around the world. But what comes next?
Even though the industry did pick up hordes of converts along the way, there are challenges that loom ahead for the gaming industry. One of which is figuring out how to entice people back to playing video games when things finally return back to normal and people are able to get around more freely outside. This may prove a tough ask, indeed.. Not everyone is going to assume gaming as a hobby for the foreseeable. After all, it’s one thing when gasping for ways to entertain oneself at home, another when there’s an embarrassment of choice activities to choose from outdoors.
Many countries were forced to fund the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on their populations and industries in unique ways such as providing furloughs and other manner of support to keep people going through these trying times. This assistance however is fast coming to an end as vaccinations ramp up and restrictions are eased. How much spending money and what the spending behaviour will be over the course of 2021 remains to be seen as the public adapts to the return to some semblance of normalcy. Getting people to continue spending on all things gaming will be faced with competition from other sources, particularly from those industries that have been pushed to the wayside for over a year by the pandemic.
Of course, these are just a couple of challenges that face the gaming industry going forward. Others include how to bring back live e-sporting events safely to the masses, attract more sponsorship deals, develop creative games to capture audiences further, and much, much more.