How Covid-19 has changed the future of esports

As physical sports across the globe were grounded by the pandemic, esports continued to thrive, and captured the attention of traditional sports fans along the way. This provides unique opportunities for brands to get involved, says Landor’s Rebecca Benson

Coronavirus has offered us a new way to think about sport. As the coronavirus pandemic continued to disrupt our lives, traditional sports had to swiftly adapt their models to keep players and fans engaged. The result has seen a blurring between the worlds of traditional sports and esports – with traditional sporting players and professional gamers pitted against each other for the first time.

Not The Aus GP – a virtual version of the Australian Grand Prix – kickstarted the virtual transformation of traditional sports. Held in March on the day that the real F1 season was due to begin, professional F1 drivers joined professional sim racers and gamers in virtual races that were live-streamed on YouTube and Twitch, resulting in huge audiences.

An explosion of other esports events followed – from tennis to cycling, federations quickly learnt that by turning their attention to virtual alternatives, they could cash in on the unique opportunity that the lockdown has provided and give deprived fans a sporting fix at a time when it was most needed.

There is no doubt that esports are therefore having a moment, but as traditional sports begin to get back up and running, where does this leave this new audience? This is where brands will play a hugely important role – to buoy the world of esports. If brands succeed, there are huge commercial opportunities, but they must be prepared to play by the rules.