Through the gathering restrictions set during this national pandemic, sporting events of all levels have essentially halted. The National Basketball Association (NBA) and other sport leagues suspended their current seasons, along with local sports cancelling competitions due to the closing of schools.
Even sport entertainment companies are struggling, with the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) ending the employment of dozens of athletes and backstage workers. In addition to physical competitions, esports events are also facing cancellations as the pandemic continues.
With many popular esport titles, such as League of Legends, supporting native online multiplayer, transition from in-person competition to at-home may appear as a simple solution. Well, that’s not exactly the case, as many esports leaders are facing harsh consequences due to event cancellations.
In-person esports events are costly affairs: hiring staff, running livestreams, and renting venues and equipment accumulate costs of thousands of dollars. To support regular events, tournament organizers rely on the steady revenue gained from attendees. However, with many 2020 esports events being cancelled, many organizers are left without refunds for down payments.
National fighting game tournament “CEO Dreamland 2020” held March 13-15 faced attendees receiving refunds, cautiously avoiding the event due to Covid-19. Due to this, “CEO Dreamland” tournament organizer Alexander Jebailey set up a “paypal.me” page for donations to the tournament series.
“Any donations will ensure I can pay all the staff, streamers, catering, hotel attrition charges from so many hotel cancellations hurting my contract and more that was already planned,” Jebailey said via Twitter. “Everything was good to go until our world as Event Organizers started taking a big hit.”
Besides money already spent, many games aren’t mechanically functional online as they are during local play. Online games, particularly fighting games, commonly run through one of two systems: delay-based, where actions are delayed so the players’ systems can synchronize, or rollback, where actions are near instant with systems aligning later. Both create issues not present in local play, with severity varied based on the game and it’s online servers.
“The natural input delay from wifi, even the connection is perfect, slows down the game (Smash Bros. Ultimate) just a little bit, Keegan “Kenoca” Carter, ranked second in Central Pa.’s Smash Bros. Ultimate Power Rankings, said. “Precise combos are harder to pull off and because of this, more technical characters are worse on wifi. On top of this, projectile characters become much better because with an additional few frames of input delay, some projectiles become unreachable.”
Other problems exist with online tournaments, such as overworking certain bracket organization websites. In addition, cheating through misreporting of match results is a possibility, as there’s less methods of monitoring players.
“Online has definitely changed the way people play the game (Tekken 7) which is not good for a competitive player who all they have is online,” DJ “Lex Steel” Lewis, a Tekken competitor sponsored by Projekt Crimson Esports, said. “Offline is more so cut and dry with what you’ll get. There are more factors to deal with in a tourney setting than at home. Things like pressure, nerves, where you sit in relation to the screen, and who your opponent is. All these things matter and have an effect on players, except for online.”
Despite shortcomings, online events are slowly becoming commonplace. Event organizers are running brackets from home, using chat programs, such as “Discord,” to direct players.
According to “espn.com,” the Overwatch League (OWL) 2020 season, running Feb. 8 to Aug. 9, will hold its matches through online servers. OWL is financially supported by Overwatch publisher Blizzard, with the first place team in season playoffs receiving $1.5 million according to “overwatchleague.com.”
Smaller events are also transitioning to an online format. Despite being at-home, some organizers charge fees for entrance, allowing both payment to the organizers and top finalists.
“It’s not nearly as fun to play in or run because you lose the social aspect of fighting games, which is a big part of it for me,” Lancaster tournament organizer Jesse Herb said. “Overall, it’s a bummer, but we’ll definitely be pulling positives from the situation.”
As one of these organizers, I can say the transition has both benefits and downfalls: while everyone staying at home leads to less commitment from players, running through delayed communication leads to brackets taking long to complete. Yet, I find running these events important, as it provides practice for those primarily in my hometown. Hopefully, all these replacement events lead to an exciting resonance of local competition once restrictions are lifted.