Esports: a ray of light in a dormant sporting world

These are uncertain times for everyone, not least for the sporting world. Everything is on hold. And we have no idea when we will next be able to enjoy sporting events. Lots and lots of people are in isolation at home, we're not allowed to go to the sport stadium, the pub or the canteen at the local sports centre.

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Without sporting events, and league and cup competitions, without winning and losing, sport is losing contact with its fans. Fans are the life blood of sport. If no-one cares who wins or loses, no-one has any particular commitment, no-one watches any more, then sport has lost its raison d’être. But there are a few rays of light. In a world of social distancing, contact is being made more than ever via online channels: in other words, sport is moving into the virtual world.

In the world of football, all sorts of initiatives are springing up, like playing matches on FIFA 20. The London-based club Leyton Orient, for instance, is arranging a league competition which already involves 128 football clubs from all over the world. The money earned from streaming the matches will be distributed to smaller clubs, for example, who are currently faced with financial problems. There being no football in the stadiums, the clubs in the Spanish football league are also competing in a FIFA 20 league. Each La Liga club is represented by one of its players, and Marco Asensio took the title with Real Madrid.

Formula 1 is replacing the cancelled races with an esports Virtual Grand Prix. F1 drivers, star sports people from other disciplines, esports people and other celebrities are all together on the grid. By holding the cancelled races in the virtual world, F1 will not be going completely ‘off the radar’, and fans can still be involved with the races and drivers.

And the US equivalent of F1, Nascar, which is similarly suspended until May at the earliest, has also launched an esports variant. Drivers who would normally be behind the wheel of a car are now competing with each other online. Nascar immediately concluded a deal with Fox Sports to transmit the new online races, live on TV. This means that fans will be able to follow Nascar racing ‘as normal’ over the next few months.

Cycling fans are also having to go without their favourite sport for the time being, as all the classic races that are usually held in the spring have been cancelled. The virtual world of Zwift offers the racers the opportunity of nonetheless riding kilometres on virtual courses. An additional benefit for the fans: on the virtual course they can challenge their heroes.

During this surreal sport-free period e-sports could have a big role to play. The initiatives that are being created at the moment thanks to esports mean that fans can stay in touch with the sports they love. That is crucial for league and cup competitions, and other sporting events. But it also gives sponsors a unique opportunity to keep their sporting sponsorships active. There will never be a better time to position your brand in the world of esports.

Sponsors and sporting organisations need to get through this uncertain time together. After all, every long-term relationship goes through its highs and lows. The virtual world of esports can give both the sports themselves and the sponsors a helping hand to get through this period. Sport will get over this crisis by keeping in touch with fans, and that is precisely what esports can make possible.

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