Esports, for the unaware, takes the world of sport from the physical world and transplants it to the virtual domain, and can provide fans with answers to a menagerie of age-old sporting questions. Would Mike Tyson beat Muhammad Ali? Or how would ‘Iron Mike’ fare against the devastating power of a prime George Foreman?

These questions are being addressed currently in the virtual eWorld Boxing Super Series, where Tyson has advanced to the finals against Ali following a fourth-round demolition of former world champion Foreman. 

The matches, which are streamed online, factor in ratings awarded to fighters as to their specific strengths and weaknesses and pits the two virtual fighters against each other in a realistic simulation of their skills. Ali, meanwhile, has advanced to the final after defeating old rival Sonny Liston in the last four where he will meet Tyson in a literal battle of the ages to crown a champion.

While computer simulations are a distant second to the real thing, the global coronavirus pandemic has led to a worldwide cessation of most sports and an upsurge in eSports’ popularity.

A recent official La Liga eSports tournament was won recently by Real Madrid playmaker Marco Asensio in an online tournament for players officially sanctioned by the Spanish league authorities.

Reports online suggest that several hundred thousand football fans tuned in to a live feed to see him beat Aitor Ruibal of Leganés 4-1 in the final.

Virtual horse racing has also seen a large upturn in momentum among bookmakers in the UK and Ireland, with punters forking over their hard-earned cash to bet on pixels on their computer screens after race meets were called off following governmental policies designed to limit people gathering in large groups. 

Some eSports leagues have already noted a massive increase in Chinese viewership – up around 19 percent – since the various lockdown measures were introduced in the country. 

However, and perhaps contrary to what one might think, eSports hasn’t been immune to the swathe of cancellations which have come in the wake of the pandemic.

ESPN notes several dozen virtual tournaments have been called off due to the pandemic – with many of the online tournaments originally scheduled to take place in arenas in front of a live audience. 

I believe you’ll run out of things to watch on Netflix … so people will surf the Web trying to find stuff to entertain themselves,” Michael Pachter, a video game analyst, told the Washington Post of eSports’ popularity in the current climate.

Sponsors, too, are flocking into the developing market in a bid to get eyes on their products which have otherwise been absent during the sport shutdown.

In the age of social distancing, is there a better way to compete against ‘athletes’ from across the world than from the comfort of your own home. For now, at least, it’s all we can hope for. 

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