The global pandemic has left many people working and learning from home. With less driving time, work trips and decreased access to restaurants and other venues, the amount of free space in peoples’ schedules has grown, leaving many looking for ways to entertain themselves. While some picked up baking, sewing or skateboarding, others turned to the world of esports.
Esports is a general term used to describe competitive gaming. While games such as Animal Crossing have also increased in popularity during the pandemic, esports focus more on games where players are aiming to win a specific battle. Popular esports games include League of Legends, World of Warcraft, Fortnite, Apex Legends and Overwatch. Naturally, these games have always been a way to build community and connect with friends to achieve a common goal, but now they are helping many cope with the loneliness that comes with quarantine.
With COVID-19 isolating most people in one place, esports have become increasingly popular amongst those who may not have tried them before. The ability to access esports from home has drawn in a larger audience than the industry saw in pre-pandemic times. According to the World Economic Forum, the global video game market is forecast to be worth $159 billion in 2020, and huge gaming corporations such as Nintendo and Tencent saw an increase in engagement and sales. Additionally, since COVID-19 limits the ability to broadcast live, in-person competitions, several online competitions have been broadcast on TV, making esports more accessible to a wider audience.
Nate Carlin ’21 weighed in on the popularity of esports.
“Esports is a much larger and more mainstream community than people believe,” Carlin said. “Several different countries compete at the highest level for League of Legends. The world tournament finals last year had 44 million viewers from all over the world. The spring season this year was even on ESPN, likely due to the lack of other things to show.”
While there is no concrete guarantee that the video game market’s revenue will continue to rise due to an abundance of free games and limitations for in-person fundraising, esports continue to provide a socially-distanced alternative to other activities. College students especially have found esports to be a great way to connect with friends over the summer.
“I’ve been playing League of Legends since 2014 and have played for St. Olaf’s collegiate team since I was a freshman,” Carlin said. “We are trying to make it an official club sport this year. Last year we had a 66 percent win rate and made playoffs, although they were cancelled due to COVID-19. I would say I have been playing a lot more games over quarantine since it’s an easy way to pass the time and not feel so confined.”
Melinde Madsen ’21 has found a new vested interest in League of Legends during quarantine as well.
“I started playing League of Legends to make fun of my boyfriend and his friends,” Madsen said. “But now my roommate and I have become obsessed with it. It was a good way to bond with people off campus and during the first quarantine phase on campus.”
With so many new changes occurring in school, at work and in our social lives, it makes sense that the world of esports has seen a spurt of growth. Online gaming platforms give players an opportunity to refine or learn a new skill, sharpen their reflexes and enjoy time with friends in a safe manner.