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Esports find opportunity online

Top pro racecar driver Ross Gunn’s car goes flying on Sunday’s rFactor 2 esports event. (The Race)
Top pro racecar driver Ross Gunn’s car goes flying on Sunday’s rFactor 2 esports event. (The Race)

The novel coronavirus pandemic is having an impact on all sports globally, but esports remains among few areas that have been relatively less scathed. As matches go online, changes in lifestyle brought about by the new coronavirus are turning into an opportunity for esports.

At first, esports matches played in stadiums without an audience. However, concerns for player safety led to the postponement of leagues throughout the world as COVID-19 spread quickly across borders. But then matches resumed online.

Riot Games, which organizes League of Legends, the most popular esports league in the world, dealt with the unforeseen crisis in swift fashion. China’s LoL Pro League postponed all its matches on Jan. 26, and after trying out scrimmage matchs online starting Feb. 26, the league resumed official matches online starting March 9, to much success.

After the first success with the LPL, Riot moved on to LCS, the pro league in North America, and LEC, the pro league in Europe. Only four days after announcing the league’s postponement until further notice, they announced resuming the leagues online starting from Saturday.

“We’ll do our best to deliver the best possible broadcast product to you and we appreciate your patience during the move to the online format,” said Riot Games on social media on Tuesday.

The LCK, Korea’s LoL pro league, also decided to resume its activities online after a 19-day break.

“The long-awaited 2020 LCK Spring will finally resume online, starting March 25,” posted Riot Korea on its social media account Thursday.

An online event match organized by Sandbox between retired pro LCK players filled in for the league’s absence on March 11, reaching over 80,000 simultaneous viewers. Famous names of the game such as Ambition, Pray, Dade, Pawn, Looper, Piglet, Madlife, Wolf, Marin and Insec appeared, playing their signature champs to the applause of viewers at home, shining further light into the opportunity of an online league.

Overwatch League, another popular international esports league, also took its live action to the web, after matches in Korea and China were canceled.

“The show must go on(line),” tweeted Overwatch League on Wednesday.

Esports further gained attention this week when F1 and IndyCar drivers, who had their seasons indefinitely postponed, participated in an online tournament for racing game rFactor 2 on Sunday.

Well-regarded names in racing such as Max Verstappen and IndyCar champion Simon Pagenaud, among others, were back behind the wheel, this time in front of screens, as they geared up online. Three brackets hosted pro-racing drivers, rFactor 2 pro gamers and preliminary qualifiers.

The event concluded with one of the biggest names in racing, Dale Earnhardt Jr., participating, with more than 70,000 people watching via Twitch, marking the greatest number of people ever for racing esports.

“Race fans around the world are starved of entertainment at the moment – but the beauty of esports racing competition is the fact you can set up events anywhere around the world at any time,” said Torque Esports Chief Executive Darren Cox.

By Lim Jang-won (