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Back in the game: An outlook on esports’ biggest year of live events yet

Screen Shot 2021 09 01 at 15 42 00

In this blog, The Switch’s Charles Conroy explores how esports came to be one of the few industries in sports and entertainment to emerge stronger from the pandemic – with exciting prospects for the return of world-class live esports events.

Unlike most sectors within sports and entertainment, esports emerged stronger from the pandemic than before and is now set for one of its most exciting and wide-reaching years yet. The resilience of esports comes down to two reasons. Firstly, the digital nature of esports enabled competitions and tournaments to continue running regardless of travel restrictions and venue closures. Secondly, leagues and teams were quick to pivot their strategies in the face of adversity and embrace innovation, giving them the flexibility and technical resource to overcome the challenges of a global pandemic.

With staple sports like football and basketball off-air for much of the past year in the face of various lockdowns, esports was virtually the only live programming available to watch. It was only a month or two into the pandemic when I realized just how much esports was set to grow over the next year. Friends that once regularly bet on football or hockey games were now calling me to ask which Counter-Strike team they should be making bets on! These friends previously would have struggled to name an esports team, and it was amazing to me just how much the pandemic was pushing borderline fans right into the thick of esports activity.

Production technologies helping drive esports’ growth

Esports leagues are inherently more flexible and open to new technology innovations compared with traditional sports, which helped them more easily weather the storm of COVID-19. Remote production is one technology that once many in the broader media and entertainment industry were wary of. Yet, it has now become a staple and much relied upon workflow to keep live events on-air safely and reliably. COVID-19 drove a significant uptake in remote and cloud-based production for live esports events, taking the technology to the next level and expanding the type of event it can support.

One of the few bright spots of the pandemic was that it afforded esports leagues and teams time to re-assess their business models and technology strategies. Many were able to embrace the waves of change taking place within broadcast technology and pivot their strategy towards even more forward-looking and innovative approaches – like the shift from standard remote production, where much of the crew is in a single location removed from the event, to cloud-supported distributed production where crew can work from anywhere, including their homes. Those that leveraged new methods and technologies are the ones that most successfully navigated the pandemic and stayed afloat through the crisis. As a result, those leagues are seeing more sponsorship dollars coming through than they ever had before, putting them front and center to deliver stellar live esports events.

Although the COVID-19 battle continues, live esports events are firmly back on the table thanks to these revolutionary techniques and technologies. The Switch is working with several esports leagues to develop these approaches further and test their capabilities. Cloud-based production and transmission is one area we’re receiving a lot of interest in, having recently launched our full MIMiC Cloud Video Services platform to provide content creators such as esports leagues more options than ever and address the market’s full range of needs.

Supporting esports’ return to live

The Switch has proudly supported our esports and gaming customers as they return to producing live events of all calibers. Supporting E3 2021 was a massive highlight of ours. We provided a range of live production and delivery services for the prestigious show and helped it reach its widest audience yet on social media.

The Switch was on-hand throughout the show to ensure high-quality feeds were delivered in real-time to platforms such as Twitch, TikTok, and Facebook Gaming. The reception to the show was phenomenal, and for me it demonstrates the resilience of the gaming industry. While many events of its nature worldwide were canceled, the gaming industry once again adapted with the help of The Switch to deliver a world-class event.

It was also a huge pleasure returning to Esports Arena in Arlington, Texas, back in July to support the global transmission of the Call of Duty Stage 5 major. The Switch provided robust connectivity services from the venue to ensure live feeds reached esports fans worldwide.

What’s become apparent in the wake of the pandemic is that esports has proved itself as an industry resilient to even the toughest of global and regional challenges. As a result, leagues and teams are in a stronger position than ever, bringing in more sponsorship revenues and attention from investors. Those who have readied themselves correctly are able to host more world-class events on a much larger scale, and The Switch is incredibly excited and ready to support them!

Charles Conroy is VP Gaming at The Switch