The coronavirus crisis has everyone testing out new hobbies. And for many sports fans struggling without live action, taking up an interest in esports is likely to be a popular choice.
A surge in popularity of esports has been remarkable in recent years and recent research estimated the global audience for esports could grow to almost 500 million during 2020.
That seems certain to be proved a low estimate, however, with esports left as one of the only ways to get a sporting fix as the pandemic continues to tighten its deathly grip on the world.
Sports fans can be forgiven for feeling a bit cynical about esports. After all, to newcomers they can seem impenetrable, with all the different games, teams and personalities that are involved.
Real-life sports are embracing esports, however. Formula One has been running virtual races with sports stars such as cricketer Ben Stokes – and these events are televised live.
Every postponed Grand Prix has been replaced with a virtual equivalent to give fans something to watch.
A lot of people have already got hooked on esports during the coronavirus crisis. If you are thinking about joining them to stave off boredom, this guide will tell you all you need to know.
What are esports and how do they work?
At the most basic level, esports is just competitive gaming. Any game that has a competitive element can be an esport, but some games are more suited to competition than others.
Before the pandemic took hold, if you had some mates round for a FIFA tournament, that would basically be a mini esports competition. The scale is vastly different with the top esports nowadays, but the theory is still the same.
Short for electronic sports, in theory anyone can pick up a controller and take up an esport. Some of the games that are big in the esports community are more strategy-based, which means the time of your reflexes is less of an issue.
Despite this, the best esports players do tend to be young and for some esports the leading players are often still in their teens.
As an example, last year Australian teenager Anathan ‘ana’ Pham helped his esports team to win the Dota 2 world championships – The International – for the second year in a row, claiming millions in prize money in the process.
Virtual sports should not be confused with esports. Bookmakers often offer virtual sports such as football and horse racing to bet on, but these are computer simulations, whereas in esports there is a player controlling matters on the screen.
Most people do not consider esports a ‘real’ sport due to the lack of exertion, but the dedication stars have to their games is still admirable.
Many esports tournaments run online-only but there are some glitzy tournaments held that increasingly attract players from all over the world.
Of course, some of these top esports competitions have had to be postponed due to the coronavirus crisis, but many of the online events are continuing to run. This is great news for sports fans seeking something to watch.
Which esports are the most popular?
- Call of Duty
- StarCraft II
- League of Legends
- Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
- Dota 2
- Teamfight Tactics
What esports are most like ‘regular’ sports?
There is huge variety in the world of esports, meaning there is likely to be a game that appeals to everyone. Some of the leading esports such as League of Legends can be difficult to pick up for complete beginners.
For sports fans who are waiting at home for the lockdown to end, there is no doubt some esports are going to provide a more straightforward gateway than others.
Take FIFA, for example. A video game already played by many millions of football fans around the world, FIFA’s importance as an esport has been steadily growing.
Mohammed “MoAuba” Harkous is the most recent winner of the FIFA eWorld Cup, bagging a cheque for $250,000 out of a total prize pool that was worth a total of $500,000.
This lags behind the prizes on offer at some of the other leading esports, but with over 47 million views of that tournament it is clear there is a massive audience for FIFA as an esport.
Rocket League is another esport that is likely to appeal to sports fans during the pandemic. A ridiculously addictive and entertaining game, Rocket League is easy to pick up but difficult to master.
Players control cars and try to score goals by diverting a ball into a set of goals. YouTube compilations of some of the most amazing goals scored in Rocket League is a good place to start for anyone hoping to become an esports star for this game.
Who are the world’s top esports stars?
The best esports players in the world are rapidly becoming celebrities in their own right, especially in some countries such as South Korea where esports players are idolised.
Johan Sundstein is estimated to be the world’s top esports star in terms of earnings. The Dane, who plays Dota 2, is thought to have won nearly $7 million during his esports career to date.
Many other top esports earners also focus on Dota 2 with dozens of the game’s players having become millionaires as a result of their skill and expertise.
Fortnite expert Kyle Giersdorf earned $3 million for triumping at the inaugural Fortnite World Cup at the regular US Open venue Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York last year.
His feat was even more amazing given he was just 16 years of age at the time. “I know that this could pretty much change my life forever,” Giersdorf told ESPN. “It’s just absolutely unreal.”
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive stars include Andreas Hojsleth, Peter Rasmussen, Lukas Rossander and Nicolai Reedtz. They play for the Astralis esports team and have earned millions of dollars as a result of becoming world champions in the game.
Sports fans who think they could follow in the footsteps of these esports stars should be aware how hard it is to make it in esports, though.
The best esports players have to practice for many hours every single day, while many of them have a natural aptitude for their chosen game too.
It is not as easy as picking up a pad, choosing your favourite game and setting out on the road to becoming an esports millionaire.
But it is still something to aim for and as lockdown continues during the pandemic, many sports fans will try their luck in the coming weeks and months.