Thursday, 28 Sep 2023

Esports Taking Pole Position – Sports Stars Turning to Gaming During COVID-19 Lockdown

Last Sunday, when the clocks hit 4:10 pm local time, Albert Park in Melbourne, Australia, was rather deserted and covered in an eerie silence. The chatter of hundreds of thousands of people and the screaming noise of Formula 1 racing car motors were supposed to fill the air. After one of the participating teams, McLaren, withdrew from the race because one of its members was diagnosed with novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the race was canceled on the Friday morning of the race weekend. 

Instead, the F1 motors howled online when McLaren’s F1 driver Lando Norris took it to the Albert Park circuit in a Codemasters’ F1 2019 race organized by esports organization Veloce Esports, dubbed “Not the AUS GP.” Competing against Norris was a field of 19 including professional racing drivers Stoffel Vandoorne (Formula E), Esteban Gutierrez (Formula E), Sacha Fenestraz (Super GT), Louis Deletraz (F2), and Ryan Tveter (F2); racing simulation esports pros including the World’s Fastest Gamer James Baldwin and F1 Esports driver Daniel Bereznay; Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois; and several racing content creators. Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team’s six-time F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton joined Veloce Esports’ stream for some commentary as well.

Norris’ personal stream topped Twitch as the most-watched, hitting a maximum of 70K concurrent viewers spectating the virtual race. During his four-and-a-half-hour stream, Norris generated 131K average views on an average of 25K viewers. The race’s organizer Veloce Esports streamed the event for a duration of two hours and had a maximum of 12K concurrent viewers tune in.

Following the success of the event, Veloce Esports announced a second edition of the virtual race, “Not the BAH GP,” taking place this Sunday, the day the F1 Grand Prix in Bahrain was originally scheduled. Norris, Vandoorne, Gutierrez, Courtis, Bereznay, and a few others will compete again with several new editions completing the field.

The significant change for the upcoming Sunday will be that Veloce Esports’ “Not the BAH GP” will face a serious competitor. The Formula 1 announced that it will launch its new F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series, featuring a number of current F1 drivers. The Formula 1 explained that “the series has been created to enable fans to continue watching Formula 1 races virtually, despite the ongoing COVID-19 situation that has affected this season’s opening race calendar.” F1 Esports organizer Gfinity will run the event series. The series will also use the official F1 2019 PC video game, developed by Codemasters.

The virtual races will run in place of every postponed real Grand Prix, with the Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix this Sunday being the first. The series will continue as long as the real-world series is postponed. Additionally, during non-race weekends, Formula 1 will also be hosting online exhibition races, where fans from around the world will be given a chance to go head-to-head with F1 drivers.

The Formula 1 circuit is not the only sports event turning to live-streaming during these times. Several NBA players, who already streamed games now and then, began using the downtime during the league’s suspension to stream more regularly. Phoenix Suns point guard and Top 10 scorer in the suspended season Devin Booker was informed about the league’s suspension during his live-stream on Twitch playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare with 100 Thieves founder Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag.

Booker has streamed more than 20 hours since. His team seized the opportunity as well to be the first in the league to organize a live-streamed NBA 2K game against Dallas Mavericks, the team it would have played according to its regular schedule. The two-hour stream peaked at 12K viewers on Twitch and amassed 10K hours watched at an average viewership of 6K. The team plans to play out the rest of its regular-season schedule on NBA 2K.

Other NBA players that streamed more frequently since the suspension include Miami Heat’s Meyers Leonard, who is also an investor in esports organization FaZe Clan; New Orleans Pelican’s Josh Hart, who is also partnered with FaZe Clan; Sacramento Kings’ De’Aaron Fox, a HyperX ambassador; and Boston Celtic’s Gordon Hayward, also a HyperX ambassador.

The phenomenon of sports athletes utilizing downtime due to the global outbreak of respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus (COVID-19), to stream and engage with their fans online is not exclusive to the two sports disciplines this article focused on as a growing group of athletes from many sports, including soccer, American football, etc. turns on a stream these days.

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