Traditional sports leagues have crumbled beneath the COVID-19 outbreak. Cancellations have left athletes and organizations aimless, and many of them are turning toward eSports to fill the void. By creating brand new virtual events, players can continues their seasons straight from the safety of their homes.
The response to these new esports leagues have been tremendous, and streaming viewership has escalated. With esports popularity rising due to the outbreak, non-endemic outlets are capitalizing on the potential viewership by offering televised events.
NASCAR, iRacing, and Fox Sports have announced that the opening race in the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Series will air on television. The event, scheduled for March 22, will be hosted by FS1 and the Fox Sports app. Drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bobby Labonte, and Kyle Busch are competing in the series.
Racers from other NASCAR series such as the NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series will also participate. The announcement of the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Series comes just after the success of an exhibition race that featured drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Alex Bowman, Bubba Wallace, and William Byron.
The event, called “The Replacements 100” came together in an attempt to keep racing fans engaged. The event hit a peak concurrent viewership on Twitch of 24,000, with a total of 128,000.
Much like NASCAR, Formula One racing is familiar with its virtual counterpart. Starting March 22, F1 drivers and celebrities will hit the virtual track in Bahrain to compete. All matches will happen on “F1 2019” and will air live on Google's (GOOG) YouTube, Amazon's (AMZN) Twitch and Facebook (FB).
“The virtual races will run in place of every postponed Grand Prix, starting this weekend with the Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday, March 22,” F1 said. “Every subsequent race weekend will see the postponed real-world Formula 1 race replaced with a Virtual Grand Prix, with the initiative currently scheduled to run until May.”
“We are very pleased to be able to bring some light relief in the form of the F1 Esports Virtual GP, in these unpredictable times, as we hope to entertain fans missing the regular sporting action,” said Formula 1's Head of Esports, Julian Tan. “With every major sports league in the world unable to compete, it is a great time to highlight the benefits of esports and the incredible skill that's on show.”
NBA And NHL
The NBA has already jumped into esports with its first broadcast of a virtual game between the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks. Specific teams and organizations are partnering up to televise the esports events.
Monumental Sports and Entertainment has partnered with NBC Sports Washington to broadcast esports simulations of scheduled Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals games. Games “NHL 20” and “NBA 2K20” will be played.
The games will align with the Wizards and Capitals' remaining schedule in the 2019-20 season. Each match will be aired on NBC Sports Washington and Monumental Sports Network, with commentary and analysis from experts.
“We know that fans are as disappointed as we are not to be able to watch our favorite teams on a nightly basis,” said Zach Leonsis, Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Monumental, and General Manager of Monumental Sports Network. “We hope that these fun and engaging video game simulations will entertain our fans and help provide a greater sense of normalcy during these challenging times.”
“We hope this content gives fans a welcome outlet for their passion and interest in the Capitals and Wizards. If the video game version of Bradley Beal and Alex Ovechkin live up to their real-life counterparts, fans should be in for a fun experience,” added NBC Sports Washington Vice President and General Manager Damon Phillips.
With esports filling the void left by traditional sports leagues, more virtual leagues will begin to appear to replace normal events. The flexibility and impact of esports are becoming recognized on a global scale.