Coronavirus puts much of esports industry on hold

COVID-19, perhaps better known as coronavirus, is a respiratory virus that originated in China and has reportedly affected more than 100,000 people across over 60 countries at the time of writing. Over 3,000 have died as a result of obtaining the virus. While the containment and prevention of further cases of the illness have been the primary concern, there is still much that is unknown.

It’s impossible to determine just how many people are experiencing mild or asymptomatic infections. Also, the precise dimensions of the illness are unclear. With more reports of confirmed cases appearing, and a global death toll that is continuing to rise, the fear of coronavirus has affected much of the video game industry.

This includes esports. The list of cancelled events is growing as leagues try to promote the safety of staff and players.

At the end of February, Activision Blizzard was forced to cancel Overwatch League matches in Asia due to the outbreak. The spread of coronavirus in China led to cancellations throughout February and March, with a postponed series that would later take place in South Korea. However, after the illness spread there as well, the make-up games were inevitably cancelled. This directly affects the games scheduled to be hosted by Seoul Dynasty; parent company Gen.G esports is committed to rescheduling the matches, but no further details have been revealed at the time of writing.

On February 28th, it was announced that the Asian teams in the Overwatch League were packing up and flying into Los Angeles. Since the cancellations, Shanghai Dragons, Guangzhou Charge, Chengdu Hunters, Hangzhou Spark, and Seoul Dynasty haven’t played a match.

Players from the Seoul Dynasty have already landed, but others seem to be experiencing issues. Charlie “Nero” Zwarg, an American player for the Guangzhou Charge, shared that he was flying into LA alone while the rest of the team waited for visas. Depending on the applicant’s country of origin, it can take weeks to acquire a U.S. visa. This combined with flight cancellations due to the virus could create even more complications in the league. However, the Overwatch League hopes that the Asian teams will finally be able to begin their season in LA.

Photo credit: ESL

No reports of coronavirus have appeared in Poland at the time of this writing, but companies are already taking precautions. Kinguin Esports Performance Center (EPC) has implemented its own safety procedures in an attempt to halt the potential spread of coronavirus. Because the facility hosts teams from around the world, Kinguin has plans to offer awareness of the illness while promoting safe habits.

Viktor Wanli, Founder and CEO at Kinguin, spoke to Esports Insider about the safety and plans at the EPC: “Currently the risk of the virus manifesting at the EPC is very low, but we cannot disregard it. We pay special attention to the protection of our guests and our staff. The time for introduction of preventive and safety measures is now.

“So far no team has cancelled its reservation at the EPC for March. However, we see a decline in future reservations due to coronavirus spread fears. We remain in close contact with all our customers and remain committed to their safety.”

In preparation for IEM Katowice 2020, ESL announced mandatory health screenings for those in attendance. Temperature checks were planned to identify those with possible fevers. In addition, those traveling through high-risk areas such as China and South Korea were asked to either provide health certificates or agree to additional screenings.

However, despite ESL’s determination to continue as planned, the Governor of Silesian, Jarosław Wieczorek, shut the doors to the public “due to the dynamic changes in the global health situation.” The tournament continued without an audience, to record-breaking online viewership.

ESL provided the following comment on coronavirus to Esports Insider: “While we respect the decision of the local authorities, this was obviously a very disappointing scenario for fans, players and also our own crew that worked hard on making this unique tournament a great experience for everyone involved. We felt especially sorry for everyone who traveled to Katowice to join us at the first ESL Pro Tour Championship Masters competition and couldn’t get into the venue eventually. We will obviously offer a full refund for all tickets and ship goodie bags to people who would have received one on-site.

“The entire crew working on IEM Katowice has done a fantastic job considering the situation we were put in. We are monitoring the situation very closely and will as of now continue with ESL One Los Angeles as planned. At the end of the day, our top priority is to ensure the health and well-being of our players, fans, vendors, and employees and to this end, we are preparing alternate scenarios should they be required, but have no indication at this time we will need to alter the event. We will provide update proactively as we have them.”

Other competitions are opting to hold online alternatives while the coronavirus is spreading.

eStar LPL
Photo credit: LPL

Just a week into its 2020 season, TJ Sports’ LPL suspended matches due to the outbreak. After reviewing the situation, the LPL decided to continue the matches online. Players are required to complete a “14-day monitored quarantine period and meet all local health requirements before they can resume participation in the league.”

For the players who aren’t in quarantined provinces, they’ll attend matches at their club headquarters, and on-site referees will ensure fair play.

The LPL isn’t the only League of Legends league affected by the coronavirus. Riot Games also announced an “indefinite hiatus” for LCK‘s spring split. Riot Korea said: “Due to the on-growing Corona19 epidemic, in order to ensure the safety of the members of the league, we have decided to have the LCK and Challengers Korea go on an indefinite hiatus. Currently, we do not have a set return date, and will keep a close eye on the epidemic to choose the appropriate date of return.”

League of Legends isn’t the only Riot Games title to fall beneath cancellations. VALORANT, its newly-announced FPS title, won’t be shown in the capture events in Los Angeles and Barcelona that it had planned

In an email to attending content creators, the developer said: “To be honest with you, this totally sucks. As integral members of the gaming community, we worked super hard to craft an experience to present our game and our story to you in the best environment possible. We are working hard on our side to put some finishing touches on a digital solution which will let you get your hands on the game from the comfort of your home setups. While it is certainly not as cool as what we had planned, it is our top priority to empower you to be the community’s entry point for your gameplay commentary and education.”

National PUBG League Super Arena
Photo credit: OGN

Other titles are beginning to be affected by the coronavirus as well. Due to concerns of the illness, the PUBG Corp. postponed the PUBG Global Series that was originally scheduled in Berlin in April.

In a statement, PUBG Corp. said: “With the health and safety of our players, employees, and fans as our top priorities, we’ve made the difficult decision to postpone April’s PGS: Berlin event. The dates and times of regional qualifiers may also be subject to change. The plan to host four PUBG global esports events in 2020 remains unchanged, and we are actively exploring options for when a replacement event can be held.”

However, when Esports Insider reached out for additional comment, PUBG Corp. declined.

Rocket League esports have also taken a major hit. Psyonix released a statement announcing the cancellation of the Rocket League Season 9 World Championship live event which was scheduled for April 24-26th in Dallas, Texas.

Psyonix told Esports Insider: “We don’t have anything else to share besides the information in the blog post and that the health and safety of our competitive players, fans, and personnel will always be our top priority.” 

While many leagues and tournament organizations are choosing to shutting down due to coronavirus concerns, others are continuing to host events. DreamHack is one that will execute on its existing plans.

Marcus Lindmark, Co-CEO of DreamHack, spoke to Esports Insider about the company’s plans surrounding the coronavirus: “The safety of our staff and attendees will always be our priority. We will continue to monitor the current situation and follow the guidance of trusted health advisors, city officials, and venue partners to monitor the situation and act if there is notable development. At this stage, there is no negative authority advice, so we plan to move forward with our next event in May as scheduled.”

With so many leagues and tournaments facing hiatuses and event cancellations, it feels as if much of esports is on a hiatus. The future of esports and how events are formatted could potentially change as we, globally, enter an age of infectious disease. With no coronavirus immunisation available at the time of writing, it’s unknown when the illness will actually peak.

As the battle against coronavirus continues, and as other illnesses inevitably emerge in the future, companies will likely have more robust back-up systems in place to keep business going when times get tough. Avoiding LAN events and opting to host matches online may take precedence to encourage the safety of the public and provide stability for competitions, that much is fair to say.