It’s been two weeks since the MTM office began working from home and in this time I – like many of my colleagues – have become well acquainted with the Netflix back catalogue. In fact, I think I’ve almost finished Netflix. Meanwhile, my partner has doubled down on his gaming: both playing and watching gaming livestreams. I’ve never bothered trying to engage with gaming before; I didn’t have the time. But during this lockdown I’ve started paying more attention and to my surprise, I’m starting to ‘get it’. I can see the attraction of community bonds – my partner has best friends in Italy that he plays Dota with and has known for years. He has in-jokes I don’t understand and passionately talks about how the Playstation changed his life. I want some of ‘that’. So much so that I looked at getting a Nintendo Switch for myself. Unfortunately, they’re out of stock ☹
It turns out, I’m not the only one getting seduced by gaming in this time of isolation. Indeed, our Gaming team has been fascinated by the steep rise happening in gaming, so we thought we’d take a closer look.
The ‘rise of gaming’ is unprecedented
We’re all very aware that hand sanitizers and toilet paper have had record spikes in usage, Gaming isn’t too far behind. Here are some impressive examples:
- A report by Verizon showed that in the US, during the week of the 16th March gaming usage during peak hours increased by 75% compare to the week before. This is a huge increase, especially given that web traffic over the same period only increased by 20% and video streaming by 12%.
- In China, over Chinese New Year 2020 (when most of the country was in lockdown) average time spent per user on mobile games increased by 41% compared to the same time period in 2019. Similarly, Telecom Italia reported a 70% increase in internet traffic, which they attribute to gaming.
- During the weekend of the 14th March Twitch saw a 10% increase in global traffic compared to the weekend before, and across March the streaming platform had its largest monthly increase in new channels since January 2019. Similarly, YouTube Gaming had a 15% increase in viewership over the same weekend.
- Steam, Valve’s online platform used to buy and play PC games, hit a record number of concurrent users during the weekend of the 14th March, with a 24-hour peak of over 20 million users – it’s the first time in the platform’s history that so many users have been logged on at once and 6.4 million of those users were actively in-game.
Game playing and viewing is clearly up, and spend is up too:
- During the week commencing 16th March, 4.3 million games were sold across EMEA; a 63% increase compared to the previous week. While some of this growth is likely due to the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, when removing the impact of this release, the spend on video games was still 44% higher than the previous week.
- Looking at the UK specifically, digital downloads of games were up by 67% during that same week while physical game sales increased by 218% week on week
- Lastly, Chinese publisher Tencent gained millions of new gamers for its mobile games.
Moreover, mass brands are getting in on the act:
- Both Formula 1 and Nascar have used their race simulation software tool iRacing to hold esport versions of races. Last month Fox Sports gained 1.33 million viewers for Nascar’s Pro Series Invitational esports race that was broadcast on its cable channels, which made it the second most-watched sports event of the weekend.
- In the UK, Sky Sports aired the F1 Esports Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix across three channels and on YouTube. The race included current, reserve and former drivers as well as celebrities-turned-drivers Sir Chris Hoy and One Direction’s Liam Payne. have committed to broadcasting a virtual Grand Prix race each weekend.
- Many other major sports leagues have been holding esport events throughout March and traditional, linear broadcasters have been buying the rights to broadcast them in order to fill their depleted schedules. Most recently, Fox Sports agreed on a broadcast deal with the NFL which included the first, two-hour Madden NFL Invitational airing last weekend on FS1.
Lasting change? Or flash in a pan?
Gaming, and esports especially, has been gaining momentum long before the pandemic. Indeed, gaming projects were a big part of our working lives. The pandemic has propelled this momentum stratospherically – the numbers show that. What isn’t clear is the immediate and lasting impact:
- Will the popularity of gaming maintain beyond the lockdown?
- Will it entice a wider, more mainstream, audience for the long-term?
- When people go back to ‘normal life’ will gaming numbers dwindle back to where they were before the pandemic?
- Will new forms of gaming such as virtual F1 last beyond and capture an audience long-term?
To be sure, in the short-term game developers certainly can get their titles in front of larger audiences and they’ll be revelling in their engagement metrics. Mainstream mobile games will have more captive audiences to engage with and hook-in. The recent surge may also prove the value of esports to rights holders as a way of maintaining engagement even when the real-world sport isn’t running and help them develop their eSports growth strategies.
In the long-term, we think there’s huge potential for the sector to turn the recent engagement into real shift in people’s behaviour. In order to do so, games developers, streaming sites, and the industry at large should look to embed new users into gaming culture. They should therefore explore what is engaging and enticing people to gaming today and use that insight to maintain engagement for a post-lockdown world. For broadcasters, this period of experimentation can help determine whether traditional sports consumers will watch esports and whether they should make future esports rights investments.
We may look back at Covid-19 as the event that cemented the wider world of gaming into the mainstream consciousness.
In the meantime, I hope all of you out there who own a Nintendo Switch enjoy it! I’ll be watching streams and my partner playing Dota until they’re back in stock…