Online gaming is getting a big boost from the coronavirus pandemic and experts say it's just the beginning

by Administrator
in Games

Online gaming is getting a big boost from the coronavirus pandemic — and experts say it's just the beginning

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, most Australian parents would agree that online gaming was a lot more than just a growing trend.

Already a hundred-billion-dollar global industry, online gaming has become a popular pastime for many, and even a full-blown profession for some.

Dedicated esports arenas, huge tournaments and the migration of traditional sport into the virtual world in recent years have proven it was already here to stay.

But off the back of the coronavirus pandemic, the proliferation of online gaming in households is predicted to go to the next level.

James Birt, Associate Professor in Information and Computing Science at Bond University, has studied emerging technology for the past 20 years and says he is seeing record-breaking levels of participation.

Some game manufacturers across the world have reported downloads have more than doubled, while a staggering 1.2 billion hours of content was consumed on the streaming platform Twitch in March.

"The number of people playing games is off the charts, we have never seen this many players streaming and playing simultaneously online, in the history of gaming," Associate Professor Birt said.

Earlier this week, Twitch reported it had more than 4 million concurrent viewers on its platform for the first time, after the release of Valorant, by Riot Games.

"I think what COVID-19 has really created is this point in time that one could say, is when this movement happened," Associate Professor Birt said.

"Kids, esports enthusiasts, just [the] general public are getting into games in a way that they have never done in history.

"What we see now is those people that hadn't engaged in esports and gaming prior to the pandemic are now driving in droves towards new opportunities new experiences, new collaborative opportunities with friends."

Traditional sport is chiming in

Motorsport is one of a number of Australian sports well placed during the downtime to take advantage of the booming interest and willingness of fans to watch online games.

The inaugural All Stars Eseries event took place on Wednesday night and saw drivers competing remotely against each other online, in the first of 10 rounds.

It was broadcast live on Fox Sports and streamed across multiple social platforms.

The competition followed the script from recent years in Supercars, with 2018 and 2019 series champion Scott McLaughlin winning two of the three races.

The first two races featured the Phillip Island virtual circuit, while the final race was held using a digital version of the famous Monza track, home of the Italian Formula One grand prix.

Like almost all of Australian sport, the traditional Supercars series — in which drivers and teams compete on tracks around the country — is on hold because of the pandemic.

Instead, simulators have been installed in the homes of 25 drivers, who are getting used to the idea of getting suited up and racing the competition from the comfort of their own living space.

Holden driver Chaz Mostert has welcomed the initiative.

"Supercars has done all that it can to set this up so we can at least keep the fans entertained at home … I'm sure it's killing people like myself who wish we were racing, on the track, but we're making do with what we can at the moment," he said.

"It's a bit different, strolling down the stairs and going into the garage [to the simulator], it's a bit more unique than getting on a plane and going to a round!"

Similar moves are taking place in the United States, where NBA players have been pitted against each other in a special NBA 2K tournament, set to broadcast on ESPN.

It is an example of how esports can also showcase sports stars in a unique way, by cutting to player reactions and banter over a mix of gameplay.

New technology to drive esports growth

Associate Professor Birt says many sports should be looking to take advantage of the unique opportunities that online gaming presents, given sports entertainment can now easily cross digital borders.

"The increase in the power behind the computing and the capacity to present the materials in 4K, we really are moving towards photo-realism in our games," he said.

"We are going to see even more dramatic increases this year with the release of things like the PlayStation 5 or the Xbox [Series X]," he said.

Mostert himself has been blown away by the quality of the visuals in his gaming experience, and said he was interested in being able to see the races on replay to get a different perspective from the simulator.

"I think we [drivers] are like fans, we're still going to be watching [the replay] tomorrow, even though the race happened today," he said.

"I'm looking forward to having good on-track battles as well, it's still the same competition that we're used to out in the real world, and no doubt we'll still be racing for sheep stations in the virtual world as well."

With traditional sport still in a pandemic-induced hiatus, esports is expected to further develop its role in the Australian sporting landscape in the months ahead.

"I think there is this incredible blend between the technical capacity of esports to essentially get into people's living rooms," Associate Professor Birt said.

"What television hasn't been able to do is create that connection between players, the games and the brands."