While select sports leagues have started to return to competition as businesses in some regions around the world get back to work, there’s no denying the impact of video games and esports on media consumption as consumers sheltered-in-place during much of spring. In fact, new research from Nielsen found that 82% of global consumers played video games and watched video game content during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.
To help illustrate the significance of that penetration level, we can look to connected-device ownership in the U.S., as those devices are fueling the streaming wars that are engaging consumers with an array of streaming video content. As of March 2020, 76% of U.S. homes had at least one internet-connected device.
The uptick is even more impressive when you consider the wealth of media options available today—all of which saw big engagement spikes while consumers were forced indoors. And without live sports in the mix, some leagues have leveraged esports as a means to keep fans engaged. Examples include the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series and NBA 2K tournament. Given the engagement that these events have attracted, it’s possible that esports and video engagement could remain high even when more live sports come back online.
In the meantime, engagement with video games is at an all-time high. According to Nielsen Games Video Game Tracking (VGT), the number of gamers who say they are playing video games more now due to the COVID-19 pandemic has increased since March 23, 2020. The increase was highest in the U.S. (46%), followed by France (41%), the U.K. (28%) and Germany (23%).
Much like TV is a barometer for overall media engagement during a crisis, Twitch is a barometer for video game content engagement. And as we saw big increases in TV viewing, Twitch engagement in the U.S. between Jan 1 and March 28 more than doubled, as hours watched grew from 13 million to 31 million. Viewership peaked March 28, with League of Legends, Fortnite, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive accounting for 33% of total hours watched across the top 50 titles.
The video gaming industry’s creativity has played a big role in keeping consumers dialed into the action. And that has led to some creative collaborations. For example, Epic Games recently collaborated with Houston rapper Travis Scott to organize a unique musical journey in Fortnite inspired by Travis. Epic Games planned a multi-date tour, with times that were suitable for players from all over the world. Travis attracted millions of people, who all tuned in to the game from April 23-25, in addition to other video streaming platforms such as YouTube and Twitch.
The Nielsen average minute audience (AMA) for the initial Travis concert reached a total of 4.7 million, with roughly half (2.3 million) coming from live viewers. Fortnite continues to be one of the top games in the world (in terms of revenue and awareness), earning $1.8 billion in 2019.
While millions of people quarantined at home, many looked to esports as a way to pass the time and stay entertained. Playing was more popular than watching games (83% vs. 29% among esports fans 18-34), and one-third of esports fans say they watched esports as an alternative to traditional TV content. And esports fans aren’t just focused on their games, as 70% of esports fans feel it’s important for sports and entertainment companies/entities to acknowledge COVID-19 in their communication to consumers. That’s well above the 52% of non-esports fans who feel this way.
“Consumers are looking for ways to pass the time and to help distract themselves from what is going on in the real world. Video gaming and esports have helped create a much-needed distraction for many consumers,” said Jon Stainer, Managing Director of Sports at Nielsen. “Since the start of the pandemic, the industry has experienced massive growth with 82% of people playing video games and watching gaming video content. At Nielsen, we are able to deliver impactful data and insights regarding how well the industry is doing and how consumers are looking for more ways to be entertained during these times.”
Amid the stress, concerns and hardships affecting the world today, games and esports do bring some light to fans. With the entertainment segment continuing to flourish, it’s clear why gamers are an important audience to market to now and in the future.