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:

Game playing and viewing is clearly up, and spend is up too:

Moreover, mass brands are getting in on the act:

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…