The coronavirus is impacting every facet of our daily lives. Esports is undoubtedly one of the many industries to be impacted. While it has the luxury of an online back-up plan, many companies, organisations, and people are in a bind. Esports Insider’s ongoing ‘Coping with coronavirus’ examines all the ways esports figures are moving forward during the pandemic.
As competitions have moved online, the toughest transitions came from Activision Blizzard’s regionalised leagues. The developer has had the 2020 season circled for nearly five years as the Overwatch League was designed for this move to home-and-away competition. With the Call of Duty League joining the OWL, the stakes were high this year.
Even before the coronavirus shutdown, there were signs of potential issues for the leagues. The first few Call of Duty League events were fairly well-received by fans but player complaints about venues and patches overshadowed decent ticket sales.
Then the coronavirus hit and complicated travel plans were scrapped. Despite the setbacks, Minnesota RØKKR player Justin “SiLLY” Fargo-Palmer is just thankful he can still compete and provide some entertainment during a tough time.
“We’re all extremely grateful, especially considering all the other sports are pretty much cancelled or on pause right now,” SiLLY told Esports Insider. “We’re definitely excited to compete because we’ve been off for a while as well and we’re really excited to give all the people stuck at home some entertainment.”
SiLLY’s Minnesota RØKKR hosted the launch weekend back on January 24th. Possible issues notwithstanding, the new-look Call of Duty League was off and a home series followed in London, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. The LA Home Series was on March 7th and was the last event to be held in person before the coronavirus forced the move to online play.
“It definitely sucks. We thought our structure was awesome in the first place with city-based tournaments. It sucks to get interrupted like this, especially with how awesome our home event was,” SiLLY said. “But we are really just happy to be able to play regardless of the circumstance of it. This is our job and we put a ton of time into it and if we weren’t able to play at all that would be pretty devastating.”
SiLLY is one of the veterans of the Call of Duty League, his career stretches back to the early days of Call of Duty esports. Through almost a decade of competition, the vast majority of the tournaments he has competed in have been online.
“Online play is a huge throwback,” SiLLY laughed. “I’ve been around since the dawn of Call of Duty esports and we literally used to put other teams on a horrible host to make our host do as good as possible. We have dedicated servers now so that will help a lot but online competition definitely gives me some nostalgia.”
Still, despite his extensive experience with online competition, he thinks the rookies will be the ones to benefit most from moving online.
“A lot of the newer players that are in the league got picked up because of their online play,” SiLLY explained. “So they might be a bit more savvy to recent online play than some of the older guys. This is their playground, they love playing at home.”
While playing online isn’t the ideal situation, it’s not a tough transition for most professional gamers. However, LAN environments bring a certain type of energy that is hard to capture during an online tournament. 10,000 screaming fans are tough to replace, after all.
“There’s definitely a different feel to the competition when you are not next to your teammates,” SiLLY said. “You won’t have the same hype on stage. I feel like it might mess with our vibes a little bit but other than that, most things will stay the same. But we all want to be back on that stage at an event again.”
With esports being the only game in town, there’s a lot of mainstream attention on events. The Call of Duty League was recently approved for esports betting by the Nevada Gaming Control Board, the government body that oversees America’s gambling capital in Las Vegas. Sportsbooks are looking into esports, events are being broadcasted on mainstream sports networks and every day another event is announced that puts random celebrities on the sticks.
For a longtime esports veteran like SiLLY, the mainstream buzz is a good thing for esports – but the source of attention makes it hard to get excited.
“It’s obviously a great thing for esports to get more attention than it normally does,” SiLLY said. “But it sucks that the circumstances of the attention come from this virus. I do think there is definitely a chance to bring in a new demographic of people. New age groups who haven’t watched competitive video games and could become longtime fans. So while I think it could be positive for esports, it’s hard to call anything a positive that results from such a horrible situation.”
Ultimately that is coping with coronavirus. Around the world, most people are in a tough situation. Esports is moving forward with backup plans but the industry is still reeling from the pandemic.
The Call of Duty League should be heading to Chicago this weekend. With Hector “H3CZ” Rodriguez at the helm of the Chicago Huntsmen and the ghosts of OpTic Gaming swirling around the windy city, the event would have almost certainly been the most popular one to date.
Instead, the players will return to the early days of Call of Duty esports with online competition. While the pop-offs may not be as grand, tens of thousands of fans will flock to YouTube to break up their quarantine lives with some classic Call of Duty action.