Doom and Gloom
2020 will go down in history as a life-altering year that re-shaped society in lasting ways. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic triggered a global health, economic and social crisis which will affect mankind for years to come.
COVID-19 has also had a devastating effect on sports at all levels around the world.
During the lockdown – aka Circuit Breaker – period in Singapore, there was no room for sporting activities outside your own four walls, except for individual jogging at a safe distance.
While these measures have been loosened since, with gyms and swimming pools opening up to the general public again, there is still the restriction in place that no more than five people are allowed to participate in any form of activity together.
The good news was that we were able to engage in individual sports again, like swimming, all forms of racket sports, and others. Any kind of team sports however, including football, rugby, and netball, are still not possible at this stage.
This means that a large number of professional and amateur athletes have been missing out on competitive sporting involvement for over half a year already, as they can only train by themselves in isolation.
It’s not just the athletes themselves and spectators who are missing out, the sports industry around the world has mostly come to a standstill, which affects thousands of small and large companies that are now facing an existential crisis.
It is also unlikely that we will see a resumption of sporting events in Singapore anytime soon, as weddings and funerals are the only permitted form of public gatherings with an attendance of more than five people.
Sport events around the world have been affected. The 2020 Olympics have been moved to next year instead. Major marathons in Berlin, Boston, Chicago, and New York City have all been cancelled. The London Marathon was initially postponed from April to October, but it did eventually go ahead with only elite runners being participating, not allowing for mass participation.
Since the start of the pandemic in Singapore, all sports leagues and competitions have been on hold, including football, rugby, hockey, etc.
The following local sporting events have had to be cancelled or postponed indefinitely:
- Mass participation events: Sundown Marathon, OCBC Cycle Singapore, Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon
- Mass spectator events: International Champions Cup, Formula 1 GP, HSBC Women’s World Championship, HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens.
E-Sports provides a solid and alternative solution
So how did the sports and events industries react to this unprecedented situation? While some companies had to fold, and more are likely to follow unfortunately, the industry as a whole has managed to think outside the box and reinvent itself.
Inspiration came from the worlds of gaming and e-sports and sports companies have adopted digital innovations to bring sports back to the millions of fans stuck at home during lockdowns. Major sports broadcasters and sponsors are already aligning their brands with e-sports, with the likes of Samsung and Intel now investing into e-sports.
Sporting events around the world have adapted to the trend of digitalisation. Some have decided to completely go virtual for their 2020 editions, including the first ever Virtual Tour de France, which saw riders from across the globe taking part based out of their homes.
Others have introduced virtual additions to their main events, acting more as placeholders until their physical events returned. One example for this would be F1, who upon the cancellation of the Australia GP went ahead to hold its first digital e-sports event.
Apart from the adaptation of existing events, we have also seen the rise of new stand-alone events and event series. The pandemic-enforced absence of professional tennis action on our screens has led to the creation of the Ultimate Tennis Showdown (UTS). This new, dynamic league sees 10 players based in one location and playing 1-vs-1 matches on a court behind closed doors, adhering to strict social distancing regulations.
Not unlike the previously successful but ultimately doomed IPTL, UTS uses a different format and scoring system. Their matches are free to watch live online via their website. Interaction and engagement are key components for UTS events, as fans can interact with their favourite tennis stars in real time, and also listen in to every conversation between the players and their coaches.
In Singapore, we have also seen sports taking its first virtual steps.
Ironman, the organisers of the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon (SCSM), have launched their own successful virtual running club at the beginning of the year. With Ironman VC, runners can train and compete with a global community of fellow athletes. For 2020 they have adapted SCSM into a virtual event, as it proved to be too difficult to hold a 50,000-participant event in Singapore this year.
The Singapore Premier League have hosted an official online e-sports video game tournament (the eSPL), where each club is represented by two players competing against the other clubs.
The introduction of events like the eSPL signifies a trend and we can see a correlation between staying at home, gaming, and now e-sports.
E-sports in the traditional gaming sense are blossoming and video game sales have significantly increased in 2020 compared to the previous years <Source>. Popular gaming tournaments like League of Legends (LoL), Dota 2 and Starcraft 2 are largely unaffected by COVID-19. While it may not be possible during the pandemic to host large in-person tournaments, aka LANs, changing these e-sports tournaments be purely online is straight-forward and not very different from what is regularly done during LANs. In a way, playing and watching tournaments from home in a form of self-isolation is not really something new for gamers. The behaviours and patterns of stay-at-home athletes and sports fans will in time closely resemble that of gamers as we move through this pandemic.
Events such as UTS have shown us that the key to success for e-sports events will be the integration of the right communication and social media platforms to provide quality and constant interaction and engagement opportunities for participants, fans, the organisers and sponsors. In the past, e-sports were mainly streamed via streaming platforms such as Twitch or YouTube. Now Tik Tok and Instagram are used as well reach more fans and make e-sports more mainstream.
E-Sports provides a solid and alternative solution
Sports and sporting events will prevail and resume to some form of normality again at some point in the not so distant future. The industry will have to adopt to changes, but it will persevere and make a recovery.
The emergence of esports and virtual events should be seen more of an opportunity and an additional element. While it has filled a void during a difficult time where other forms of sports where non-existent for a while, it won’t now disappear. It has been proven that there is a growing market for E-sports and the interest is ever increasing. Both sports and esports will co-exist in the future and this creates more opportunities for everyone involved, the players, the organisers and the fans. Better times are ahead.
Thinking about converting your existing event into a virtual event?
Do you have a great virtual event concept in mind but aren’t sure how to get started?
There is an agency based in Singapore which is offering virtual events consultation and conceptualisation. They are already collaborating with reputable sports brands from around the world.
What’s the name of this agency you ask? It’s Dejavu Agency, you should give us a call!