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Volume 27 No. 87

SBJ Esports: How The Game Changed In 2020

Esports Proved Worth When Sports World Shut Down

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, esports showed its resiliency as an entertainment medium. The industry kept humming during a time when traditional sports were cancelling games, movie theaters were closing, live events were being shut down and restaurants and bars were ordered to close. Outlets like Fox Sports quickly pivoted to esports. The network began airing events like a "Madden NFL" tournament, an eMLS event and multiple virtual racing broadcasts (World of Outlaws, eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series). ESPN turned to live League of Legends competitions, along with broadcasts featuring NBA 2K, Codemasters’ F1 game and Apex Legends. Broadcasters now have some of the data they need in order to determine whether esports is a sustainable scene or a simple filler.

 
 

Fox was able to turn to iRacing when real NASCAR races were shut down

It may seem strange to talk about an ancient board game in the context of esports, but digital chess saw a major surge in popularity over the summer, and is still going strong as a streaming category on Twitch, writes TEO's Trent Murray. The intentional approach that platforms like Chess.com and chess42 have taken with attaching themselves to the gaming community shows that esports has both a much broader and more niche appeal than most people realize. This year, we saw esports team TSM sign chess Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, we saw Twitch streamers battle for $50,000 in a live chess tournament and brands like Hennessy and Julius Baer sign on to sponsor online competitions. If it’s played digitally and entertaining personalities will play it on Twitch, anything can become an esport.

As COVID-19 restrictions halted live events and kept pro athletes on the sidelines, many figured out that streaming video games online was a great way to pass the time, interact with fans and make a little extra cash, writes TEO's James Fudge. Football players, race car drivers and even pro wrestlers quickly figured out athletes like JuJu Smith-Schuster had been onto something all along -- creating content directly for fans to consume was something they could own and monetize. Now, some have started their own leagues, participated in activities organized by others or signed up with esports organizations like FaZe Clan. It’s a bell that can’t be unrung.

 
 

The Chargers' Austin Ekeler started engaging with fans on Twitch and provided exclusive video of workouts

At the intersection of esports, sports and capital markets, one story stood out. An esports organization backed by David Beckham going public on the London Stock Exchange. Guild Esports will pay Beckham $20 million over a five-year term to be the “face of the team." It was a bold move for an entity without a team in a top global esports league, particularly when Guild raised roughly $26 million at a valuation of $65 million. That figure was just $10 million short of the 2019 valuation for Astralis Group, a competitor that owns a franchise in the popular League of Legends European Championship and operates the most-successful Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team of all time.