While many businesses are struggling from economic disruption brought on by the pandemic, gaming and esports have instead been thriving. Game sales, subscriptions and viewership of online competitions have rocketed, thanks to people being stuck at home during COVID-19 lockdown.
Video games make isolation and safe distancing a lot more bearable, and the industry may be one of the biggest pandemic beneficiaries. More people are buying games to relieve stress by ‘switching off’ from real life and immersing themselves in a different reality. Besides being a stress reliever, gaming can also help with loneliness from being apart with your friends. Multiplayer setups enable continued interaction among close knit communities of gaming buddies. The virtual realm that allows them to connect and communicate online is very much like social media, but with a lot more strategic discussion and rapport.
Unprecedented sales were recorded during the first quarter of this year - Nintendo sold almost half of its games digitally, while Tencent’s year-on-year online revenue increased by 31%. New game downloads have increased by 80%, with popular titles such as first person combat game Doom Eternal and social simulation game Animal Crossing breaking sales records when they launched during the pandemic.
My own company MSI has already seen a 60% increase in gaming equipment sales in Australia and New Zealand from last year, and the first quarter of 2020 sales have already observed an uptick of almost 200% compared to 2019 in the monitor space. The monitor figure is especially interesting, as it indicates that for gamers and non-gamers alike, the experience of interacting with others through the screen is increasingly important during lockdown.
As work and play spaces at home begin to blur, people are prioritising their gaming and social setup at home, investing in equipment such as studio speakers, curved monitor screens and even gaming mouses, to achieve a truly comfortable working space and immersive gaming experience.
Driven almost entirely by consumer spending, the gaming business model has evolved from customers spending on buying more games to spending more time on them instead. The focus has shifted to increasing the engagement for the user, making the gaming experience as compelling - and as socially fulfilling - as possible. This includes additional downloadable content such as expansion packs or upgrades on new features, tools, characters and more, providing as much value as possible for gamers.
There have been discussions on how these online interactions in gaming could potentially turn into an acceptable norm post-pandemic, revealing previously untapped opportunities for gamers to interact with one another online, as well as with audiences. Esports is coming to the forefront as more gamers are competing at online tournaments, driving up audience numbers and resulting in greater levels of engagement in a period where the spectator experience of traditional sports is no longer available, at least in its usual form.
The conversation around competitive gaming in esports is continuing to grow bigger than ever, with Twitter seeing a 71% increase around end of March, when news of pandemic was beginning to make headlines worldwide. It is quickly adapting with the transformation of consumer behaviour, getting the attention of brands and traditional media alike.
Entertainment sectors are starting to realise the cultural impact that gaming can make on music, sports and television, and are exploring partnerships. For instance, Fortnite, the “battle royale” style survivor game hosted a wildly successful live concert online during the pandemic. Performed by rapper and producer Travis Scott, the show attracted almost 300 million live viewers.
The unique selling point of esports is the flexibility and creativity around creating content, and that allows gamers and brands to build personal relationships with fans who go to esports seeking the same kind of tribal connection they get from supporting traditional sports teams.
The greater interest in gaming is also accelerating an existing shift, towards cloud and mobile games. Cloud gaming allows games to be played across devices without the need for expensive physical hardware. Players can plug in from anywhere with a high-speed internet connection and start playing. Some big titles are already available and successful on mobile devices, such as the Call of Duty first person shooter game, which reported above 50% earnings above analyst expectations.
The esports and gaming industry plays a huge role in the advancements of technology that is already upon us. They’re at the bleeding edge of the social re-arrangements being catalysed and accelerated by COVID-19. The light they can shed on the shift in our world can provide valuable insight into how we will live in, play and socialise in a post-pandemic world.