Eyes of the world turn to esports during coronavirus lockdowns

By Luz Gancedo

Madrid, 18 Apr (efe-epa).- The global coronavirus pandemic has drastically changed most of our lives, forcing most of society into confinement and hibernation as authorities grapple to contain the outbreak.

Those who were hoping to at least have their usual dose of professional sports to entertain them have also been left floundering as the virus has triggered the suspension of the vast majority of major sporting events – except for those that take place online.

Competitive video gaming online, commonly known as esports, is one of the very few sectors to actually experience a boom during the global shutdown.

“Technology has started to occupy a very important role in our lives, because it’s only thanks to that that we can communicate, work, and entertain ourselves” while much of society is urged to stay at home and avoid physical contact with other people, says Nuno Alves, esports expert and professor at the Real Madrid Graduate School, Universidad Europea in Madrid.

The quarantine “has not meant a big setback” for esports, but rather has led to growing audiences, as it steps into the void left by traditional sporting entertainment.

“It means that the eyes of the world are on esports. There are a lot of people just realizing that esports exists, and that it is here to stay,” Alves explains in an interview with EFE.

For many of the people who were already involved with esports before the crisis, including fans and players, the lockdowns and confinement measures have not entailed radical lifestyle changes.

“For the new generation and people who are hooked on video games, this is a way of life and the way they prefer to communicate. They are very comfortable with being at home, with connecting with others virtually – it’s a homely pastime,” Alves says.

The only aspect of competitive gaming that has changed since the outbreak of the pandemic has been the cancellation of live events, which draw crowds of thousands of people who watch the gamers compete onstage and on large screens.

These events have been held instead online, an easy transition for the computer-bound gamers “who are used to this form of remote competition,” says Alves, who says most of them actually prefer not having a large audience closely following and loudly reacting to their every move.

“They don’t feel the pressure of the crowd. At the finals that are face-to-face, there are teams that perform much better when playing from home, but then they cannot handle the pressure” of the live event.

But just as often, teams shine under the increased pressure, because “if you know how to deal with it, you can get the most of the competitor,” says Alves.

The confinement of millions has once again shone a spotlight on video games as a form of distraction and entertainment, and their effect on people’s mental wellbeing, especially on children.

Video games have always caused some controversy, because as Alves explains, “it has been shown that they can cause addiction.” But the professor insists that “video games, in themselves, are not negative. It is up to the parents to work with their children to limit the amount of time they play.”

The games “can stimulate mental development, as well as improve strategy, communication, teamwork,” Alves says.

As society comes around to Alves’ point of view, esports has quickly gone from being a marginal activity confined to teenagers’ basements to being a multi-billion dollar professional industry.

For Alves, this evolution was natural – video games owe their popularity to a “generational change.”

“Seeing children play video games is normal, it is only the older generations who do not understand it because they grew up without them,” Alves says.

But today’s players “have grown up playing video games, so they can appreciate the skills of the gaming professionals, which gives rise to esports stars, an audience, and an industry soon follows,” the professor surmises.

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