While things may seem like they are getting back to some sort of normalcy, at least where sports is concerned, the ongoing pandemic means that there could be a return to lockdowns and therefore disruptions to sporting events at any time. This was the case earlier in the year, when the first wave of the virus led to lockdowns virtually all over the globe, which led to sporting events being postponed, suspended, or even cancelled. In such a situation, sports fans were left high and dry, with no alternative to watch or pass the time, especially while being stuck indoors as well. Thus, it was no surprise that online forms of entertainment became extremely popular during this time, and quite a few sports leagues and events took this opportunity to set up virtual competitions of their own to keep fans engaged.
Formula One was one of the biggest examples of a successful virtual series during this time. The F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series drew over 30 million views across various platforms, which is a staggering number, and shows how sports fans flocked to online mediums as they were starved for content and action. What added to the appeal of the F1 Virtual series was the fact that actual F1 drivers took part as well – over the course of the series, more than half of the F1 grid participated, with 11 drivers racing in at least one virtual Grand Prix. They were joined by cricketers, footballers, musicians, and other celebrities, all of which served to raise the profile of the series as well. The series, which used the F1 2019 video game, also led to a huge increase in popularity for the game itself as well, while also giving drivers the chance to unwind, but at the same time maintain some sort of readiness for when races resumed, as the game is extremely lifelike and simulates race conditions almost perfectly.
Another example of a successful online gaming series was seen in basketball, where the three-day FIBA Esports Open, held in June, saw 17 national teams taking part. The series was played on the NBA 2K20 game, and the success of the inaugural edition has meant that plans are already underway for the next edition, for which FIBA has already announced that 38 national teams will take part. The second edition is set to take place over three weekends, with six regional conferences, and will be played on the new NBA 2K21 game. The FIBA Esports Open II will take place over November and December.
This online wave proved to be beneficial to a lot of sports that do not have that many global fans, such as horse racing, for example. In Australia, Inspired Entertainment created the inaugural ‘Lexus Melbourne: The Race of Dreams’ virtual event for the Victoria Race Club, which saw 24 past winners of the cup fight it out against each other, but in a virtual event. Inspired Gaming has experience in this regard, having created virtual versions of the Cox Plate in Australia, the Kentucky Derby in the USA, and the Grand National in the UK as well.
This rise in popularity of online gaming and online versions of sporting events is an interesting development, as it gives sports leagues, teams, and franchises another way to stay connected with their fans during times where there is no live sporting action. The success of these events is sure to lead to many more virtual sports events in the future, but it remains to be seen if they will hit these heights in terms of popularity again, when competing with actual live sporting events.