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Can virtual sports replace traditional sports?

If the year 2020 for the world of sports can be described in a few words, it is that it changed the industry that had withstood against changes and developments for centuries. For the first time in the lifetimes of most people alive today, the global pandemic put a stop to almost all major sporting leagues. Fields and domes that were once full of players and fans cheering for their favorites were empty and lifeless, as everyone was forced to stay at home due to safety and health restrictions.

When games are out, people needed to have something that can keep them entertained and for bettors, to keep their gambling hobby going and alive–for that, more people have gone and discovered virtual sports. Now that major games and even sports betting events are starting to get back on track, albeit with some changes and restrictions in place, people are asking: will virtual sports have a permanent place in the spotlight now, and can it eventually replace traditional sports in this world of “new normal”?

What the pandemic did for the sports industry

The situation that the pandemic brought to the sporting industry made people shift their focus of interest in virtual sports and e-sports. However, this is not to say that these sub-niches of sports did not exist until 2020–it has been around for quite some time already, but 2020 only gave it the most significant boost it had so far.

In a nutshell, virtual sports and e-sports served as the go-to for fans. Even for those who are into sports betting, this was also the “alternative.” Now that things are slowly recovering and going back to normal, people’s interest in virtual sports remains. Will this mean something for traditional sports?

The rise of e-sports and other virtual sports

Aside from virtual sports, or computer-generated sports games, e-sports have managed to stay afloat in these tough times, deposit experiencing a decline as well. E-sports, for starters, is the competitive manner of playing video games. E-sports players are also considered athletes, in that they also require training of skills and practice to perfect their craft in their own game.

“The same things that appeal to traditional sports fans are prevalent in e-sports,” says Ashton Muller, co-founder, and manager of Goliath Gaming, one of the biggest gaming companies in South Africa. “The assumption is that video gamers are just spotty kids who are uncoordinated and don’t have a social life. Maybe that’s true in some cases, but our gamers are professional athletes. They are obligated to keep their minds and bodies healthy and we incorporate yoga as part of our training program. This is not just for fun. We’re providing a platform for our players to change their lives.”

But the burning question: is the virtual gaming scene here to take over? The answer is no. Or at least, not yet. On the other hand, it is a fact that the virtual gaming scene will also not be like it was before, now that more people had taken an interest in it. Whether the world would see a time where all sports are already virtual, only time can tell.

“It’s impossible to say what will happen,” explains Kelvin Watt, a managing director at Nielsen Sports. “We know we’re not yet at the peak of this virus and lockdown. I’ve read many reports that the coronavirus has been good for e-sports. It hasn’t. But it has thrust it into a more mainstream spotlight and that might have an impact on the way traditional sports are consumed.”

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