Ministry of Sport

Major Leagues Shift Focus To Esports Competitions

Following the outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) which has led to the suspension or cancellation of almost every sporting competition in the world, major leagues are turning to Esports competitions to get them through the challenging times.

Spain’s top-flight football league, La Liga, started the trend, along with Nascar and Formula 1, by running a charity FIFA 20 Challenge esports tournament that totalled more than one million viewers.

The competition featured 19 players from the Spanish league, including Real Madrid striker Marco Asensio, who bested Leganés player Aitor Ruibal in the final and took home the title.

The event was streamed live via YouTube, Twitch, the LaLigaSportsTV platform, La Liga’s official social media channels, and domestically on Spanish television through domestic broadcast partner Movistar+.

Before the charity event, Spanish football giants Real Madrid launched their own dedicated channel on Twitch, on which they streamed all of Asensio’s matches in the competition.

In a statement on Twitter, Real Madrid said they see this as a chance to expand their profile and improve the content they produce for fans.

“We want to increase the scope of our content in the face of the exceptional and difficult circumstances we are experiencing,” the club said.

Following the postponement of all upcoming Formula 1 Grand Prix series, the global motorsport competition came out with the Esports Virtual Grand Prix Series, featuring a large number of current Formula 1 drivers alongside a host of Formula 1 Esports stars to fill the gap left from professional competitions.

Viewership for Formula 1’s inaugural Bahrain Virtual Grand Prix averaged 289,000 concurrent streams and peaked at 359,000, including 199,000 on YouTube, 180,000 on Twitch, and 18,000 on Facebook.

The United Soccer League (USL), which oversees the lower tiers of US club soccer, has also launched a month-long Rocket League esports competition following the pause of their seasons from the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to the inaugural USL eCup: Rocket League Edition.

The competition will feature 32 clubs from across the second-tier USL Championship and third-tier USL League One.

USL senior vice president of digital, Lizzie Seedhouse, said each participating club will also have the opportunity to nominate a charity that viewers can donate to during broadcasts via a link that will be integrated into the Twitch live streams.

“We just wanted to create something fun and entertaining,” Seedhouse said.

“More than anything, this tournament will be a great way to give clubs and supporters the ability to come together, compete and have some fun,” she said.

Also in the United States, Major League Rugby (MLR) has launched MLR 2020:Virtual, following the cancellation of their season.

MLR 2020:Virtual will see all MLR teams raise money for Feeding America’s COVID-19 Response Fund during Twitch live streams of a Rugby20 gaming competition.

MLR commissioner, George Killebrew, said this is a great opportunity to keep a sense of competition between clubs alive during the crisis.

“During the COVID-19 crisis, MLR is focused on doing what we can to support our communities,” Killebrew said.

“This is a trying time for everybody, but the sports community, and the rugby community in particular, have always been known for picking each other up when we face adversity.

“We’re also excited that this virtual gaming format means we get to continue the competition among our teams in a way that engages our fan base more than ever before,” he said.

These are just some of the many examples of sporting organisations taking the opportunity, in a time full of darkness and uncertainty, to unlock and expand the digital aspect of their operations.

The development of the entire Esports world in the time of isolation and social distancing due to COVID-19 is evidently a focus for sporting clubs and leagues around the world as they look at other forms of revenue to stay afloat and strengthen their entire portfolio.

Joshua Hodson

Joshua Hodson