The sports industry was one of the first to take an early hit from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The 2020 calendar promised maximum sports entertainment, which included the Summer Olympics in Japan, Euro 2020 played in 12 different cities in Europe, the return of the World Rally Championship to Africa, Kenya, and the launch of the Basketball Africa League in Africa.
These among the regular football, basketball, motorsport, tennis, and golf seasons, amongst others.
The cancellation of all live sports saw avid sports fans, teams, and athletes switch to E-sports, which stands for Electronic sports.
E-sports are video games competitions played before live audiences in a virtual mainstream sports format and mostly broadcasted through the Internet.
These players are divided into competitive pro gamers and lifestyle gamers, with a global average age group being 21-35 years old.
According to research by Green Man Gaming and Newzoo, the esport revenue projections for 2020 are set to surpass the $1 billion mark, excluding the broadcast revenues.
These numbers might be startling for those less conversant with the gaming world, but a simple look at the gaming platforms tells a better story. Twitch is the world's largest live streaming platform for gamers.
In February 2020, it registered a total of 3.8 million unique broadcasters with peak viewing of close to four million and viewing duration at 95 minutes a day for one subscriber on average, according to Twitch Tracker.
With the lack of live sports, teams have had to be creative around fan engagement and ensuring sponsorship value during this pandemic.
The most prominent sports have put more effort into promoting their esport teams encouraging both fans and sports stars to get onto their platforms and compete.
Football with the FIFA 20, as part of the FIFA series, NBA with the NBA 2k league with a new competition featuring 16 stars going head to head, Motorsport with Formula E, F1, NASCAR and IndyCar launching virtual seasons.
Other sports have not been left behind with the first virtual horse racing tournament taking place a few weeks ago.
What does all this mean for Africa? Well, a few years ago, the main barrier to participation for Africans in pro esport tournaments around the world was our internet speeds. We significantly lacked the speeds and infrastructure to play with the big boys but not for too long.
Internet speeds are becoming faster on the continent with more internet penetration than ever before. 5G penetration on the continent might be one of the answers to levelling the playing field for Africans who aspire to go pro.
This will ensure better training and coaching as well as scouting and player visibility, just like in mainstream sports.
With the massive eyeballs on esports across sites like Twitch and YouTube, the value of sports marketing will skyrocket, and so will the value of the whole esport ecosystem.
As we strive to build our sports industry on the continent, esports must be an essential part of the conversation going forward. We will otherwise resort to watching other gamers from the rest of the world racking millions while sitting on raw talent. Talent has never been Africa’s problem.
The whole idea has never been for esports to replace mainstream sports but rather to grow the industry for more opportunities for participation and entertainment, with those two forms of sports feeding off each other and one day both of them being referred as just ‘sports’. That is the future.