The temporary suspension of most professional sports leagues and tournaments over recent weeks has been as frustrating for the athletes involved in the sports as it has for their fans. Across Europe, Asia, and North America, leagues and tournaments have been left hanging, and in many cases, they are at critical moments.
However, it is a well-known fact that in this online era, people can quickly turn to the internet to chat with friends, do their shopping, and even carry out their day to day work without leaving their homes. In the same way, online tech in terms of gaming and live streaming is providing an outlet for stars of soccer, basketball, motor racing, and other sports to ply their trade in cyberspace.
Premier League’s charity extravaganza
The English Premier League is probably the most followed domestic soccer tournament on the planet. It has been paused at a critical moment, with just a handful of games left in the season. A glance at websites such as Comeon.com will tell you that victory is all but assured for Liverpool, but there are plenty of other unanswered questions, including which other teams will take those coveted top spots to qualify for the European Cup, and at the opposite end of the table, which will face relegation from the top flight.
It’s a difficult time for all concerned, but a growing number of top players involve themselves in FIFA eSport tournaments. FIFA is a game that has already been embraced by the eSport community to the extent that there was even a premier League last year that received TV and media coverage.
A few such events have been organized, both in the Premier League and across other divisions within the sport. The most recent initiative has been set up to raise money for charity and will involve such household names as Gareth Bale, Kieran Tierney, Luke Shaw, and Mason Mount. Keep an eye on the event’s Twitter page to find out which games are happening when and for links to the live streams.
The F1 circus goes virtual
While the Premier League was reaching its conclusion, the Formula One season had not even had a chance to get started before racing was suspended. However, as one of the most high-tech sports on the planet, it should come as little surprise that a virtual alternative has quickly been put in place. Max Verstappen is already well-known on the eSports circuit, where his aggressive driving style courts almost as much controversy as it does on the track.
The popularity of the Redline eSports series in which Verstappen stars is part of the inspiration behind the F1 eSports Virtual Grand Prix series. The series uses the official F1 2019 PC video game from Codemasters. Races are broadcast on a variety of channels, including Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook. Like the real Grand Prix, there will be a qualifying session to determine grid order, and the broadcasters are even conducting the traditional post-race interviews with the drivers.
The tournament features many of the current F1 drivers, including Lando Norris and Nico Hulkenberg, as well as famous names from the past like the ever-popular Johnny Herbert and ex-Minardi driver Anthony Davidson. The plan is to run a virtual version of every grand Prix that is canceled or postponed until the season gets up and running for real. You can stream all the action from the Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix, which took place on March 23, on the official Formula 1 website. It’s compelling entertainment.
NBA 2K brings relief to fans
The situation in the real-world NBA is just as frustrating as that in the Premier League. Just like soccer, however, basketball has a mature eSports infrastructure in place. The NBA 2K League has been one of the most successful crossovers between traditional sport and eSport. Furthermore, many NBA players already stream some NBA 2K games just for fun.
A case in point is Phoenix Suns point guard Devin Booker. He is already famous for his Twitch streams, but when the league was suspended, his team was quick to look at practical alternatives, scheduling a live-streamed game against the Mavericks to mirror the fixture that was due to take place in the season schedule. The game attracted 12,000 viewers, and the Suns plan to play out the rest of their regular-season fixtures in the same way.
The NBA has decided to launch its own official eSports tournament, in much the same way as Formula 1. According to Yahoo Sports, a players-only tournament is will air on ESPN and is set to feature some of the biggest names in the NBA. It is expected to run over ten days.
Virtual horses under starter’s orders
The cancellation of the Grand National from Aintree was a massive blow to both racing fans and bookmakers. This is one of the biggest races of the year, and, like the Kentucky Derby, is one of those events that even those who usually have no interest in the event tend to follow.
Since 2017, the event has been accompanied by a virtual version of the race, but this year, it will be taking center stage. ITV, the free-to-air broadcaster that has exclusive UK rights to the Grand National, has confirmed that it will broadcast the simulated race live on April 04, the date the real Grand National was due to be run.
The race will use cutting edge CGI and AI technology so that the outcome will be as unpredictable as a physical horse race. As yet, it is unclear whether bookmakers will be able to get involved, and fans will be able to place wagers on the virtual runners and riders. If so, it will be a ray of light in what is proving to be a difficult period of time for the sector.
More to follow
Where these sports are leading the way, others are following. Tennis, golf, and Nascar all have eSport events of their own, and it seems inevitable that if necessary, the NHL, NFL and other major leagues will be eager to get on board.