Esports and virtual programming on the rise during COVID – The Blue Banner


Roman Uglehus

Sports Editor

ruglehus@unca.edu

Photo by Roman Uglehus                                  FIFA among one of many sports video games popular in the esports community.

The cancelations and delays brought onto athletics by COVID-19 impacted many across the country, some continue to struggle while others find success with online programming.

Local youth soccer clubs Highland Football Club and Asheville Buncombe Youth Soccer Association began playing competitively again last month, but the club looks vastly different from how it looked at the beginning of the year.

“We shut down everything in the middle of March and got back out on the field in the middle of June doing social distanced soccer training,” said Executive Director Mike Rottjakob. “ABYSA and HFC have been more cautious than most of our peers in North Carolina in terms of not being the very first club to implement reduced restrictions and giving our families lots of time when we tell them what the next change is in terms of it being less restrictive, let them digest that information, make decisions about whether they’re comfortable with participating in that.”

According to Rottjakob, the club currently operates at 35 percent of what it normally would be for the fall season in terms of registered players at the club.

“The impacts have been pretty big and we don’t know how long it will take to get back into kind of a normal situation. So we’re still playing it by ear and providing programming to families as safely as we can, but trying to keep the club alive,” Rottjakob said.

One effect of the club’s massive decline in player registration can be seen in that the club has 53 percent less full time workers due to employee cuts.

“We had 15 full time employees prior to COVID-19, right now we’re down to seven full time employees. It’s kind of like a skeleton crew,” Rottjakob said. “There’s a lot of expenses during the entire time we’ve tried to provide service for families.”

HFC and ABYSA include two of the thousands of sports clubs impacted financially across the U.S. because of COVID-19. According to The Aspen Institute, more than 10,000 municipal park and recreation departments with sports programs were cut as of mid July due to the financial setbacks brought on by COVID-19.

According to Mikkel Patterson, an athletic coordinator for Asheville City’s Parks and Recreation Department, the city did not provide any athletic league play or competitions in the summer due to the logistics and safety of the participants.

“We really were not doing any leagues or tournaments,” Patterson said. “As long as we were in Phase 1 or 2, we were not running any leagues or tournaments. The goal was once we got to Phase 3, we could start at least tournaments up, but Phase 3 wasn’t completely what we…



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