Impact of Lockdown on Sports, How virtual sports and e-sports came to be on par with real-life sport

The coronavirus pandemic brought about untold change, forcing people everywhere to adapt to a new life under the omnipresent virus-mandated restrictions that seem to have no end in sight. For professional athletes that means finding new ways to train – reinventing the wheel, so to speak.

For sport, however, and the business of sport in general, it means a test in adaptability and, in some cases, going to great imaginative lengths to salvage sport – from production to product delivery. The latter of which is bringing about rising enthusiasm for virtual sports and e-sports that’s about to change the sporting world forevermore.

To elite athletes, daily training is a way of life. It’s essential to their very existence and survival within sport as oxygen is to basic human survival. So too is competition and competitive life.

In lieu of strict training regimes in the face of interruption to competition and events and the closure of training facilities and gyms, no stone was left unturned during lockdown. Living room, kitchen, bedroom, hallway, garden, farm, random objects, public space that affords sheltering and social distance compliance measures, and… ,well,… just about anything and everything that could substitute as a workout space or for exercise equipment was fair game. Impressively converted so for training purposes.

As is the norm nowadays to trot out everything for all and sundry to see, athletes flocked to social media to showcase their craftiness. The online sphere is inundated with numerous images of pro-athletes around the world training over the different stages of the global pandemic. A simple google search of athletes training in lockdown spits one image after another. And depending on the type of sport, whether it’s individual or team-orientated, where in the world the athlete lives and trains, and how pervasive lockdown measures, the level of creativity corresponds in kind.

Running, arguably, is one of the simplest disciplines to train for in most circumstances and especially under the current circumstances. The options for running are boundless, encompassing streets, parks, beaches…etc,. Embodied as it were perfectly in the serene picture of Mo Farah, Olympic and World champion runner from the UK, running alongside deer in a London Park.

The Jamaican bobsled team, eyeing qualification for the 2022 winter Olympics, showed great ingenuity: pushing a car down a street in England. Which isn’t a first example of inventiveness by the Jamaican bobsled team, representing as it is a country that isn’t naturally inclined towards snow, never mind winter sports.

British gymnast Dominick Cunningham raised the stakes further with his acrobatics, using whatever was evidently at disposal on his family farm to train. Even attracting a fair, four-legged audience.

Wherever one chooses to look, more examples of invention can be easily found. Photographic articles, collages depicting athletes training in lockdown that are both inspirational and awe-inspiring.

And yet: it’s the ingenuity of the world of sport in general transcending online boundaries that has whet the appetite of sporting fans left bereft during lockdown. Athletes plying their wards on online media during this extraordinary period in time doesn’t suffice. Does nothing for sport fans begging for competitive sport.

Avant garde approach by some sports in the midst of lockdown limbo, thinking “out-of-the box” and combining technology with sport in the virtual space has left a lasting impression and won over new fans. Not only do they present some of the most remarkable examples of adaptivity – symbolic of the motto, “the show must go on,” – but also they might well be indicative of a changing tide. A sign of a future where virtual sport and e-sports are on a par with real-life tournaments.

In cycling, virtual Tour of Flanders, the Digital Swiss 5, and the Giro d’Italia virtual are some such examples of adaptivity.

Team Sunweb rider Chris Hamilton raced in all five of the Digital Swiss 5, and after the race he tweeted, “That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

British broadcaster ITV went virtual with the Grand National to fill the virus-created sports blackhole in the UK. The race was broadcast to millions and domestic bookmakers, who took bets on the virtual Grand National race, donated proceeds to NHS charities in their fight against coronavirus.

Simon Clare, PR director of Ladbrokes Coral hailed the event a “real success” to The Telegraph and praised ITV for putting “on a great show.” Clare added, “Millions have engaged either by watching or betting which is what we were hoping for – it’s been a celebration of the National in the absence of the race.”

Formula 1 launched a virtual Grand Prix series in the midst of the lockdown to replace a slew of postponed races. F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series, featuring a number of current F1 drivers, enabled fans to continue watching F1 races in simulated form. IndyCar and NASCAR also took to the virtual highway allowing pro-drivers to compete with gamers for sim-racing glory, plus continuing their Cup Series.

The success of sim racing is a testament to the rise of virtual sports and e-sports and it signals that a new age of sport competition is already upon us. Whether we like it or not. Clearly. the coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on sport in more ways than one might initially consider.