As the COVID-19 pandemic forces major sports leagues to cancel or suspend regular season games, the world of esports is following suit, albeit with a little more flexibility.
In contacting a handful of the biggest esports events of the year and monitoring the respective social media channels, Inverse has compiled a short list of how the esports world is adjusting to the novel coronavirus.
While there have been cancellations in professional leagues like the NBA and the NHL, esports still has events further into the calendar year that remain pending. Some contests, like Final Kombat 2020 in early March, were held without an attending audience. This model could be replicated, should the spread of the coronavirus weaken sooner than later. For reference, the NCAA was expected to hold empty arena games before it canceled all remaining spring and winter championships, including its annual March Madness tournament.
Here's how several of the biggest esports leagues are responding to the pandemic.
Call of Duty League
The professional league dedicated to the best-selling Call of Duty games started its season in late January and was expected to hold games further in 2020. In an email statement to Inverse, representatives for the Call of Duty League said it was working with teams to "determine" how best to proceed. A few hours later, the Call of Duty League officially announced it will pivot to "online-only competition," effective "immediately."
Their full statement to Inverse is below:
The health and safety of employees, fans, players, teams, and partners is paramount to Activision Blizzard Esports. We are continuing to closely monitor COVID-19 (coronavirus), city-level recommendations and mandates, and all guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Given the current situation, we are working hand-in-hand with our teams to determine how to deliver the best possible experience for our upcoming scheduled events. We will share more information soon.
A portion of the new statement is below:
After careful review and working in close collaboration with our teams, we are shifting all currently scheduled 2020 Call of Duty League live events to online-only competition, effective immediately. For details on previously ticketed events, please visit host team websites and follow their social channels.
The new online-only matches will be broadcast live to fans. Dates will be announced shortly, along with tune-in details.
The League promised it will "return to city-based competition in front of live audiences as soon as it is safe and logistically possible."
Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid League
The official league for the console fighting game Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid began its inaugural season holding qualifying matches at regional events, most recently Frosty Faustings XII in Chicago. The final stop will be the Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid League Finals in Last Vegas, still scheduled for July 31-August 1.
The League's next stop was to be Final Round 2020 in Atlanta on March 20-22, followed by April Annihilation in New Jersey. However, in a statement released on social media, the League canceled the spring leg of its season. As of this writing, the League expects to pick back up at Combo Breaker, to be held May 23-25 in Chicago.
A portion of the Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid League's statement is below.
After careful consideration, effectively immediately, Final Round 2020 and April Annihilation 2020, alongside NorCal Regionals 2020, will be removed as official Major Stops for our League due to growing concerns regarding the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
Our goal is to protect players from any danger and we do not want to encourage otherwise. As we monitor this situation, please continue to follow us as we provide updates on any League changes regarding this matter.
Evolution Championship Series
The biggest fighting game tournament in esports, the Evolution Championship Series (EVO) is expected to continue with its event on July 31-August 2 in Las Vegas. On March 6, EVO President Joey Cuellar, using the Twitter handle @MrWiz, responded to a concerned fan whether EVO is "still on." Cuellar responded, "Yes, but we are monitoring the situation closely. Our attendees safety is our #1 concern. We have some time between now and Evo to see if this gets better or worse. We will keep everyone posted."
When another fan asked how soon attendees will know about EVO's status, Cuellar replied, "At least 30 days notice, if not more."
Inverse has reached out to EVO and will report when we hear back from the organization.
Rainbow Six Pro League
Following a short break for the teams to recover, the Rainbow Six Pro League is expected to resume games on March 23. The League has not responded to Inverse in emails regarding the status of its 2020 season.
At the beginning of the coronavirus' spread in Asia, the Overwatch League first reacted by moving its Asia regional teams to California. But as the situation worsened, the Blizzard-owned Overwatch League officially pivoted to online games and canceled all of its live events scheduled for March and April.
A portion of the Overwatch League's statement can be found below:
After careful review and working in close collaboration with our teams, we are canceling all Overwatch League events scheduled for March and April.
Concurrently, we are working hand-in-hand with our teams to see that all matches are played when it's safe and logistically feasible, staying as close to our originally planned schedule as possible. We are considering the various options available to esports in this effort, so that all teams — including those previously impacted by scheduling changes in China — can get back to doing what they do best.
In a follow-up tweet, the League confirmed it is "NOT canceling" the 2020 season. "Out of concern for fans, players, staff, and others we have just canceled our upcoming Homestand events. We WILL be playing matches with our teams this month, next month, and beyond — and these matches will be broadcast to fans."
The League added, "The ability to do this in the face of unforeseen challenges like COVID-19 is part of what makes our business so unique."
The Overwatch League notably pivoted to a traveling season schedule, where various teams "hosted" matches in their cities. Matches this season took place in New York City, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Houston before the League announced its abandonment of "Homestand" events for March and April.