Esports is taking the world by storm during the coronavirus pandemic

Dan “Big Cat” Katz of the Barstool Sports podcast “Pardon My Take” streams an NCAA Football 14 game Monday. Katz was playing as USC in the game’s Dynasty Mode.

Sports fans are used to seeing the final countdowns of nail-biting contests during basketball or football games, but amid the coronavirus pandemic, the question remains: How many fans think of video games in the same fashion?

The sports universe has been put on pause due to the coronavirus, leaving little for people to do. Some might binge-watch reruns of “The Office” or “Friends” while others may be tuning in to old Kobe Bryant games or the new 10-part ESPN documentary on the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls that aired its first two episodes Sunday night.

Others might tune into live video game streams for sources of entertainment.

The reality is that esports has taken the world by storm, prompting audiences worldwide to flock to live streams of intense video game competitions of all genres. For example, Epic Games’ first “Fortnite” World Cup was won by 16-year-old Kyle Giersdorf (better known as Bugha in the gaming world) who took home a $3 million grand prize in 2019. And with “League of Legends,” “Counter-Strike” and “Overwatch” becoming increasingly popular among esports streamers, the industry has been estimated to have reached over 454 million viewers and to have grown into a billion-dollar industry. It’s all growing so fast that the International Olympic Committee has even discussed making esports an Olympic sport on more than one occasion.

What caught the attention of two million “Fortnite” World Cup viewers across the globe is still accessible via Twitch, Amazon’s live streaming platform. Esports competitors can stream from the safety of their own homes while their viewers watch from the same settings across the country. Instead of filling a stadium, people can now fill their bowls of popcorn to catch these online competitions.

Twitch garnered over three billion hours watched over the first quarter of 2020, an all-time high since its launch in 2011. Media giant Verizon reported that since the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent quarantines there has been a 75% increase in video game usage. It’s clear that while the sports world takes a pause, the esports world has almost experienced a rebirth for teens and adults around the globe.

Not only does esports give people something to do, but it brings people together to form a community. If you navigate the Twitch website, viewers are able to chat with each other as well as with the gamer they are watching; they can ask questions, start debates and find commonalities. A platform and industry that were once viewed merely as fillers of free time are now at the center of attention.

What’s more is that one of the most attractive features of viewing online gaming is its nonexistent price tag. One can spend money on donations to streamers or on Twitch Prime — an extension of Amazon’s Prime service, which includes monthly offers of video games, add-on content and the ability to purchase a free subscription to a user’s channel once per month — but for the vast majority, it is completely free to be entertained by gaming.

That’s right: There is no Uber charge to the stadium, no hundred-dollar ticket fee and no overpriced hot dogs. Rather, a chair, a computer and delicious home cooking are all you need to enjoy esports while in quarantine.