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Nobody could have predicted that 2020 would have taken the turn that it did, and that’s especially true in esports. Many events were pre-planned and expected to take place as usual, but travel and hosting restrictions meant we collectively had to pivot to continue the primary purpose of the craft — entertaining fans.

Many video games are built with online play at the top of mind but 2020 has proven that in-person competition and spectating is where esports comes to life. The cheers and boos of thousands of people, all connected in the moment through their passion for the game being played, creates an atmosphere that transforms gaming from a hobby to a celebration of excellence. It was taken for granted until it was taken away from us.

Most, if not all, industries were affected by the global health situation but esports — and gaming at large — also had a moment in the spotlight due to the absence of sports. The robust nature of the industry due to its online capabilities meant the show could go on, but I want to make it clear that we weren’t able to present the best version of what has been created over the past two decades.

The situation meant that we naturally grasped on to any signs of positivity that we could find but I believe this meant some people have overblown the great aspects of the esports’ temporary rise to prominence. It doesn’t mean that esports benefitted in 2020 because the BBC picked up Rocket League and ESPN broadcast sim racing for weeks.

Esports’ shortcomings amplified

IEM Katowice 2020

The iconic event IEM Katowice had to stop attendees from spectating the event in February 2020, forecasting what was to come for the rest of the year.

Esports was shown on national television networks, more eyeballs were on gaming than perhaps ever before, but the unique elements of this year simply amplified the good and bad of esports. Partly due to the nascent, untrodden status of esports and partly because of inexperience and incompetence, it’s hard for many companies in esports to make a profit. Raising venture capital looks attractive and signals a level of success but this is not revenue. Companies aren’t necessarily healthy because investors are betting on them. It’s important to know this.

If tournament organizers are burning hundreds of thousands of dollars hosting events with thousands of fans in attendance, many of which buy confectionaries and merchandise and interact with sponsor activities, then imagine the level of loss that’s possible when paying consumers are taken out of the equation. If teams can’t make money despite earning millions in prize winnings and promoting brands, something more needs to be done to monetize their collective audience; this requires a lot of innovative thinking and has been limited to online activities. We’ve started to see this materialize through fan engagement programs but it simply…

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