Esports gain new followers among the homebound

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Nate Hill waiting for his Fortnite game to begin while thousands of people watch his stream on Twitch Photo credit: Benjamin Gottlieb.

If you’re a sports fan, there’s a good chance you’ve noticed there’s not much to watch right now. 

Every major professional sports league is on hiatus until at least summer, from the National Basketball Association to Major League Baseball. There’s one exception: electronic sports (esports), where athletes compete via video games.

“For the first time, parents and kids are home, stuck together,” says Arnold Hur, COO of Gen.G, a professional esports organization with headquarters in Los Angeles, Seoul, and Shanghai. 

The typical audience for esports skews young and male. But Hur says with nothing else to watch because of COVID-19, esports athletes are in prime position to gain new followers.

“This is a really important moment where that connection is made between the son or daughter that plays games and watches gaming and a parent that knows about it, but has never had an opportunity to engage,” Hur says.

The numbers are already showing that engagement is up. Hur says streaming numbers are up between 30 to 40%, something that professional esports athlete Nate Hill has been witnessing in his own stream on Twitch, a video live streaming service. 

He primarily plays the online multiplayer video game Fortnite and, at any given time, thousands of people are glued to his stream. But during the coronavirus pandemic, Hill says he’s noticed an uptick in engagement. 

“Daily, I get messages from people saying, ‘Thank you so much for streaming, you’re helping me get through my work from home, or my doing nothing’ because they might have got [sic] laid off,” Hill says.

“But for me, my personal job hasn’t changed too much because I stream from home, which is extremely lucky, and I am mainly in my house most of the time.”

The real question is: Will this surge in viewers have staying power? Lee Trink, CEO of the gaming talent company FaZe Clan, where Hill is a member, believes it will.

“We dropped a video about a new FaZe Clan member, which had 400,000 views in a few days,” he says, adding that those trends could continue as more fans are introduced to the sport.

But Michael Pachter, an expert on the video game industry and an analyst for the firm Wedbush Securities, is not as convinced. While he believes a 10% increase in the current market is possible, he says things will correct themselves once the nation lifts many of its stay-at-home orders.

“I think the analogy is eating at home as opposed to eating in a restaurant,” he says. “We don’t have a choice to eat in a restaurant right now. So 100% of our food consumption is at home. And is that going to last after the pandemic ends? No, we're going back to restaurants. So are we going to continue to consume as much entertainment in the home? No, we're going back out. So this isn't permanent.”