2020: The Year of Esports

Traditional sports leagues in Mexico are following the footsteps of their counterparts and turning to esports in a bid to capitalize on the void in live sports created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Across the globe, events of all shapes and sizes have been suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The NBA and NHL seasons are in limbo, and the Olympics are being put off until 2021. But with the real life turned upside down and much of the world in lockdown, there is one form of sports that continues to live on in the age of social distancing.

Esports, or competitive video gaming, has risen to the challenge of filling the void created by COVID-19. And the numbers speak for themselves: Twitch, the go-to site for game streamers, reached all-time highs in 1Q2020 for hours watched, hours streamed, and average concurrent viewership. And in March 2020, Twitter saw a 71% increase in competitive gaming conversations and a 38% increase in unique gaming content.
As the pandemic drags on, people from everywhere are tuning in to esports tournaments, and even traditional sports are following suit to stay in the game at a time when COVID-19 is starving clubs and companies of their incomes. After all, with more than 2.5 billion gamers worldwide to engage with, the potential is huge. Nascar and Formula One have turned to virtual races, which are being aired by major broadcasters such as Fox Sports and Sky Sports.
In Mexico, the country’s top soccer league, Liga MX, is following the lead of leagues such as the NBA and La Liga in holding esports competitions. The league is using three players from each club to hold a tournament using the popular FIFA 20 game.

A 17-game season will be followed by an eight-team single-elimination playoff, all of which will be aired by the North American sports broadcaster TUDN. Notably, each match will enjoy live play-by-play, pre-game, and post-game coverage from TUDN.
It may seem that esports are just now having their moment in Mexico, but in a country with 58.6 million gamers and an esports audience of 11.2 million, the pandemic is simply accelerating what was already a fast-growing industry. Mexico’s esports industry grew at an average of 6.6% between 2015 and 2019 and is currently valued at more than USD1.4 billion. According to research firm Newzoo, Mexico is among the top-10 worldwide in terms of the number of esports enthusiasts and second highest in Latin America after Brazil.
The biggest reason behind Mexico’s emergence as one of the biggest regional and global players is strong government support for the esports industry. In early 2019, the National Commission of Physical Culture and Sport (CONADE) recognized esports as a sport and established a long due affiliation with the Mexican Federation of Esports (FEMES). This represented a huge win for the esports industry, as it meant professional esports players were recognized as professional athletes by the CONADE and considered for economic bonuses from the Mexican government.
Equally important for the industry’s future, this kind of recognition brought the private sector to the fore. From the creation of the first training center for esports players by the Monterrey Institute of Technology, through a research project of the National Autonomous University of Mexico aimed at discovering the dynamics of electronic sports, to a 24-hour esports channel by Mexican television giant TV Azteca, universities and private-sector players are leading the way in promoting esports in Mexico.
In 2H2019, Azteca invested USD5 million in Allied Esports Entertainment, a company that aims to operate esports arenas, distribute content, and establish a new online tournament platform to promote gaming across the region. Both companies are building on their last partnership, which resulted in a “Nation vs. Nation” battle between American and Mexican PUBG players that hit 2 million viewers.
The bet on whether esports can lure in new viewers while much of the public is stuck at home is fast gaining momentum in Mexico and around the world, especially as major sports leagues get famous athletes to get behind a computer or console. And as more and more companies realize the potential of esports as a vehicle to increase brand awareness and provide new revenue streams, 2020 is turning out to be a big year for the global esports industry.

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