With the COVID-19 pandemic ripping its way through Europe and North America, we’re seeing a boom in esports that could put the industry on the map for years to come.
Last weekend, Steam flew past their all-time record for concurrent users with a 24-hour peak which saw 20,313,451 users on the platform.
Unsurprisingly, various games across the esports world are reporting record players online. One of the grandees of online gaming, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, posted its first million-plus figures on March 16th with the expectation of more to come as countries gradually enter the lockdown phase of pandemic control.
Another useful barometer for the health of esports is the broadcasting platform, Twitch.
As of March 17th, streaming hours have said to have been increased by 15% across the platform. So far in March, average daily concurrent viewers have gone up 12% from the same period last year (1.43 million viewers up from 1.27 million the previous year)—the biggest year-over-year increase since August 2019 according to Twitch Tracker.
On top of this, according to figures released from Verizon, US video game usage during peak hours has gone up 75% since the quarantine first went into effect last week. Video streaming has also increased by 12%.
Interestingly, although overall web traffic is up nearly 20%, social media usage has been relatively flat over the same period. People are getting off social media and moving to their computer or games console.
The esports industry is set to boom, then. But what of Rocket League?
Coronavirus and Rocket League
Like many other esports, Rocket League is starting to see a spike as people enter into quarantine periods around the world.
This graphic from SteamCharts shows a boost in Rocket League activity on the gaming platform that takes place around mid-March:
The all-time peak figure of 102,684 Steam users on Rocket League was achieved in April 2016. This month’s figure of 94, 846 is the second-highest monthly performance ever.
As for Twitch figures, the data below from SullyGnome show that traffic is up almost 30% from last month’s numbers:
More anecdotally, the in-game figures on Rocket League are reflecting this external data. As Joe Aherns tweeted on the 19th of March, the total number of concurrent players on the game including on consoles was around 373,000.
In the words of FLuuuMP, ‘I don’t believe Rocket League has hit 400k concurrent players in a very long time, if ever, and it’s getting close these days.’
Rocket League, like its ebrothers and sisters, is set to enjoy an increase in users during this time of pandemic. So will we see long-term benefits in the Rocket League universe?
A cursory glance around the world shows that certain esports are already making leaps and bounds in enjoying this new-found popularity in the industry.
At the weekend, Formula 1 ran the first race in a “virtual series” that will be ongoing until a point of normality is reached. “Featuring a number of current F1 drivers, 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,” they announced in a statement last week.
Elsewhere, the FIFA games have been enjoying their own spot in the limelight.
In Spain, two professional players from La Liga joined one of the country’s leading esports personalities, Ibai Llanos, in a bid to keep fans entertained with the league shut down. Supporters of the Sevilla sides were treated to a virtual derby on FIFA 20 which featured Sevilla defender Sergio Reguilon and Real Betis striker Borja Iglesias.
But what about Rocket League?
So far, the only activity that has come out of Psyonix is an announcement that the Rocket League Championship Series (RLCS) will not go to the World Championship stage but will conclude with the regional competition, with an additional $250,000 of prize money spread out across the four regions: North America, Europe, Oceania and South America.
But could they be doing more?
Behind the Curve?
Psyonix have a reputation as a solid company who don’t like to push the boat out too far. Normally, that attitude suits them well. The question is: will they let the ball slip during this esports boom?
It’s important to note that many of the esports that are prospering at present are those with an obvious connection to sports that are currently banned. We’ve already mentioned Formula 1 and the FIFA game series, both of which have obvious correlates to sports that are currently cancelled.
That should not let Rocket League off the hook, though. In fact, Rocket League could benefit from existing at the overlap of both these sports: football and motorsports. With celebrities from both sports having plenty of time on their hands, the Psyonix media team should be doing everything in their power to try to get some sort of exposure for the game by employing these celebrities in some kind of tournament play.
But there are other ways to be proactive.
At the beginning of this year, League of Legends was due to hold its European Championships (LEC) from January 24 until March 28 in Berlin. During that time, its arena was ordered to close to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Rather than cancelling, the LEC planning committee decided to move the tournament online and, despite early teething problem, the tournament has gone on to be a success.
Tim Reichert, Chief Gaming Officer of German team Schalke 04, spoke to the German sports news agency SID about this process of evolution in a time of Coronavirus: “The example of the LEC shows that electronic sports can adapt quickly. In this way, events can continue to take place and leagues can be continued.”
In the end, then, the LEC in Berlin could prove to be a blueprint for other esports taking up the challenge of presenting esports tournaments during the pandemic.
Psyonix would do well to get on this trajectory sooner rather than later when it comes to the RLCS. Instead of cancelling the World Championships, they should be thinking carefully about the logistics of a remote tournament and thinking of the best way to market it to a potential audience of sports fans who miss their regular diet of live competition.
Change While You Can
These are unique times that we find ourselves in. The Coronavirus pandemic has torn up the copybook for life as we know it in the West.
Obviously, we hope that this moment passes as speedily as possible. But if the Rocket League community doesn’t respond to the challenge that a pandemic presents for their esport, they may find themselves lagging behind their competitors.