When can we go back to in-person esports events? That is the question on everyone’s lips, while the esports industry was uniquely set up to make the most of the global lockdowns and continue tournaments, there is no substitute for the energy and excitement of live events.
Research conducted by Convention Sports and Leisure International (CSL) and the Esports Entry Advisory (EEA), found that 77 percent of gamers throughout North America are interested in attending an in-person esports event as soon as possible. Online participation is also much higher with in-person events than it is with digital or streaming-only tournaments.
Outside of our own desires to enjoy live events, companies need this sort of engagement to continue growing and improving their esports events and avoid stagnating. Major live events also stimulate the local economy, hotels will be booked, food will be bought, and shops will be patronised.
Can we get back to normal?
All of this to say that in-person esports events are necessary for the survival of the industry. So, when can we expect to get back to normal?
Getting back to normal is a very relative term. I don’t expect the world to turn on a dime and for everything to return to the way it was a year ago. But when can we get back to in-person events?
We need to take into account the different speeds at which countries are exiting lockdowns. Some states in the USA are already open and back in business but others are still, sensibly, operating under stay-at-home orders. In many cases, in-person esports events could start right now. If you were to follow the letter of the law in certain regions, you could host in-person events right now.
The issues with in-person events
Issues arise when it comes to international travel and hosting teams from countries all around the world. In China, they are planning to lift the event capacity restrictions on entertainment venues, including cinemas, theatres, and internet cafes from “low-risk” areas of the current COVID-19 pandemic. This will support the esports industry at a local and even regional level, but when it comes to international events, they will still have to be held online.
Large organisations will always fear legal issues and if they return to live events too soon and people begin to get infected, they could open themselves up to legal action against them. Esports bookmakers for UK Players would not be happy if tournaments launch one day and must close the next after an outbreak. It would be a devastating blow to the players, the fans, and the rest of the esports industry.
Upcoming live events
Most organisations are playing it safe, and I doubt that we will see an in-person event that is not in a closed studio environment for the next two or three months. There will certainly be stumbling blocks but there are some organisers that are paving the way for the rest of the industry.
One of the major esports tournament organisers, ESL, has committed to bringing live events back in 2021. For the first half of the year, they will have online tournaments with the finals being held in their studios. This means that the teams will be able to play against one another in the same location using a LAN connection. This deals with some of the issues of online-only events. However, while the players will compete in-person, it will not be open to fans.
In the second half of the year, beginning in July, they will hold one of their largest events, ESL One Cologne 2021, at the LANXESS Arena in Cologne. They will also hold their Winter Intel Extreme Masters events live at an unannounced location in Asia. As of March 2021, they still plan to hold the event in-person, but according to their website: “The competition remains planned as an in-person competition with an audience. We will reevaluate and update the situation in Q2.”
The future of distanced gaming
Activision-Blizzard had major plans for 2021. They wanted to increase the prize pool for their signature Overwatch League tournament to $4.25 million, as well as restructure their esports department. Well, that restructuring has come and gone and with it, 50 employees have lost their jobs. Activision Blizzard’s president of sports and entertainment, Tony Petitti claimed that it was part of an overarching scheme to allow the company to focus less on organising live events, moving towards a model where more events are organised online.
Larger companies like Activision-Blizzard take esports to be an afterthought. Like an Ikea restaurant, it was a loss-leader, they lose money on it to attract more customers. They can afford to restructure like this, others can’t. It’s easy to assume that postponing in-person esports events for as long as possible is a good thing, but there are plenty of organisations and tournament organisers that rely on it. When can we go back to in-person esports events? As quickly and as safely as we can.