Virtual sports in the lockdown

With the 2020 sporting calendar ripped up for the foreseeable, LK looks at how the industry has appropriated technology to keep the thrill of sporting spectacle alive during these unprecedented times…

A national success 
When the world-renowned Grand National was cancelled in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, longstanding fans caught their breath. But good news swiftly followed; it would be replaced, this year, with a virtual version instead. All the same runners and riders, still televised, the competitors form transformed into virtual action and replacing real life.

OK, so there was no popping of corks or frontpage fashion (and the local economy sadly took a monumental hit), but the excitement of the race still proved captivating and no horses were harmed. 4.8 million people tuned in on ITV and an impressive £2.8million in profits were donated by bookies to NHS charities.

Esports – video games that replicate sporting competitions between individuals or teams, some you can sit back, watch or bet on, some you can actually take part in – suddenly went mainstream.

Changing its game
It’s not just the horseracing world that’s been forced to change its game in the wake of recent events. Whilst there will forever be an unquenchable thirst for live-action sport, the industry as a whole is currently playing a strong and successful game in rolling with the pandemic punches. 

When the World Boxing Super Series screened a virtual rematch between Joe Frazier and Lennox Lewis, millions tuned in to watch Joe win, and when Formula One  hosted its inaugural Virtual Grand Prix series, famous faces clamoured to take part solo or as part of a team. 

As well as mass audiences tuning into esports, PC gaming platforms are seeing record rises in participation numbers too. And did you know there’s big money to be earned for seasoned gamers in prize pool tournaments?

Ready to play
You don’t have to have your eyes on a big prize to take part in esports. Just for fun, healthy competition or chat, you can play a range of virtual activities at Steam (there’s golf, motor racing, footy, pinball, rugby and everything in between).

Want to watch? Try Twitch TV or head to individual organisations’ social media channels.