Even eSports Leagues Adapt to Online During the Pandemic

Video-game competitions are filling the void for many viewers who would ordinarily watch major professional sports. But even as traditional sports have had to go on hiatus, eSports leagues have also had to adapt and emphasize their “digital-first” nature. Every major eSports league, including the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), Call of Duty League (CDL), Overwatch League and ESL Pro League among others, have moved their competitions entirely online. Meanwhile, FOX Sports recently teamed with NASCAR for virtual racing and aired the celebrity Madden NFL Invitational tournament on Sunday.

The Verge reports that the transition has been bumpy; the IEM Katowice 2020, “one of the world’s premier ‘Counter-Strike’ competitions, took place in an empty 11,000-seat stadium after the Polish government declared a ban on mass gatherings not long before the event was set to kick off.”

CS:GO ESL Pro League global chief strategy officer Craig Levine realized he had to make some changes, and the team, after considering options, “settled on playing the entirety of the competition online.” “We went from one global product, to essentially two continental products, to solve for latency which isn’t quite so good across the Atlantic yet,” said Levine.

The League of Legends Championship Series abandoned the idea of continuing the season in a studio with no fans, instead going entirely online. LCS “has also taken things a step further with a completely remote broadcast,” with every person involved working from home.

To make sure everyone plays fair, “LCS has instituted … screen recording, running in-game communications through league-operated Discord servers, and broadcasting games on a delay so players can’t gain a significant advantage from watching the competition.” Among the “unexpected issues” have been throttled Internet and various logistics adjustments.

Call of Duty League’s Toronto Ultra general manager Dominique Gelineau said the players will retain their same pregame rituals “to stay focused, which will be particularly important since they’re used to live events.”

Gen.G’s Los Angeles office, “which houses its ‘Fortnite,’ ‘CS:GO’ and ‘NBA 2K’ teams,” is open, running with minimal staff and allowing players “to continue to come into a safe/clean environment where they can eat, practice, and compete in online tournaments safely,” said general manager Nathan Stanz. Although the coronavirus has meant uncertain times and constant changes, eSports is growing its viewership, as “one of the only live options.”

“As other sports and entertainment have gone dark, we’ve probably inadvertently benefited,” said Levine.

TechSpot reports that the FOX Sports broadcast of the Madden NFL Invitational tournament is another sign of the rise of eSports. According to FOX Sports, “the eSports tournament will consist of seven matches across three rounds of play to determine a winner among a field of celebrity competitors including Derwin James, Antonio Cromartie, Michael Vick, Matt Leinart, Orlando Scandrick, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Ahman Green.”

All players are competing remotely “with the matches streamed live during the telecast.” “For FOX and especially eSports in general,” says TechSpot, “this is a huge opportunity.”

Sources: NBA Planning a Players-Only NBA 2K Tournament, Yahoo! Sports, 3/31/20
From Courts to Consoles: With Live Sports Canceled, Pro Athletes Join the Streaming Surge, The Washington Post, 3/30/20