At first glance, it would seem that esports are the perfect medium to continue unscathed through a pandemic causing thousands of the world's highest-profile events to be cancelled at short notice. By their very nature, video games are designed to be played between people who are not physically present with each other.
However, many of the biggest events in the esports calendar have already been cancelled due to the pandemic. IEM Katowice, one of Europe's biggest live CS:GO and Starcraft II tournaments, closed its doors to spectators; the event itself went ahead without the live audience. Other events, such as the Dota 2 tournament ESL One in Los Angeles, have been postponed with no new date being set.
As with all other major public events over the summer, eyes are now turning to the year's major and alternative means of monitising events that may not have live audiences. Video games achieve this in different ways.
Most games will allow the viewing of the tournaments itself for free on streaming platforms, which can be viewed from most mobile devices or web browsers (with advertising and sponsorship breaks, of course). Games publishers will often offer additional items or in-game collectibles for fans who want to feel more connected to the tournament.
Valve's headline Dota 2 tournament, The International, does this every year with great success. Players can purchase an in-game "battle pass," a virtual tournament programme. The pass typically costs around GBP10, with 25% of all proceeds going towards the tournament grant prize. How many people would buy a virtual (temporary) item that offers no more of a viewing experience than free viewers? The answer is: a lot. The total prize pool in 2019 was almost USD34.5 billion – the highest in all of esports and a fair bit higher than most traditional sports' major prizes.
With live tournaments for the year ahead on standby, expect to see more in the way of inventive and novel ways to monitise esports tournaments.
We are deeply disappointed but believe this outcome is in the best interest of all of the people who make these incredible events possible