The deadly disease that began in China is spreading worldwide. The death toll is now over 2,700 with the majority of deaths coming from mainland China. On February 26th, France reported the first death of a French citizen from the disease.
The outbreak has slowed business in China and the stock market is taking big hits as uncertainty around the disease impacts many companies. Considering esports massive presence in China, the esports community is seeing a wide variety of impacts as well.
Events ranging from fighting-game tournaments in Japan to the largest League of Legends regional league have been postponed or canceled. The Overwatch League originally intended to replay missed Chinese events in Seoul in March, but now Seoul isn’t even safe to host events. It was just ten days between the announcement of the missed games to be played in Seoul to the cancellation of all events in Seoul through March. The disease is spreading quick and businesses aren’t sure how to handle it.
Gathering large crowds is just too risky for most esports events to take place. Some leagues like League Championship Korea are continuing to play but not bringing in a live studio audience. For the regionalized Overwatch League, Activision Blizzard was banking on bringing large in-person fans to venues across Asia.
But the biggest esports issues are still on the horizon. The Tokyo Olympics are set to begin on July 24th, one member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said that the event could be cancelled due to the virus but, for now, the event is continuing as planned. These Olympics were set to be a major esports step. The Intel World Open is an esports event that is set to take place in the run-up of the Olympic Games. While Rocket League and Street Fighter, the two games in the World Open, are not technically Olympic competitions, the event is officially sanctioned by the IOC.
Beyond those Olympics, Riot Games is clearly worried as well. League of Legends Worlds is set to be held in Shanghai, a city fairly close to Wuhan, the center of the Coronavirus outbreak. While the event will not begin until October, Riot is absolutely working on contingency plans in case the disease hasn’t been dealt with by that time.
The most likely backup plan in Los Angeles. The Staples Center has hosted Worlds twice before, Worlds was set to return to North America in 2021 anyway and the proximity to Riot Games’ offices makes planning the event on short notice a bit easier.
While esports companies are pulling their hair out as the disease continues to spread, people are more important than esports competitions. So far, most companies have been willing to cancel or postpone the events in the name of human safety but as profits grind to a halt, that decision will become even tougher in future weeks.
Written by Mitch Reames