Gaming in the time of coronavirus

Video game usage has seen a spike around the world

The world is changing right before our eyes. Movie theaters, restaurants, and bars have all shut their doors. Sports arenas, concerts, and conferences have been canceled. Schools and businesses are closed.

As people search for a sense of normalcy and indoor entertainment in a time of social distancing, Bobby Kotick, chief executive of Activision Blizzard, hit the nail on the head when explaining why people are flocking to video games. He said: "Games are the perfect platform because they connect people through the lens of joy, purpose and meaning."

Record-breaking Weeks for Video Games

Video game usage has seen a spike around the world, but the numbers coming from some of the hardest-hit countries are mind-boggling. One of China’s most popular games, Honor of Kings, reported a recent increase in daily active users from 65 million to 100 million. According to Verizon, in the US alone, there has been a 75% increase in video game usage during peak hours and a 12% uptick in video streaming. Yet, social media usage has mostly remained flat. In Italy, the homebound flocked to Fortnite in droves, accounting for much of the country’s 70% increase in internet traffic.

Call of Duty: Warzone, launched in the second week of March, garnered 15 million players within four days. That same week, Counter-strike: Global Offensive saw over one million concurrent players, a record for the eight-year-old game. The following week, video game distribution service Steam reached a new record of 20.3 million concurrent users online, with 6.2 million in-game at the time of the announcement.

And it’s not just gameplay that’s on the rise. Gamers love to watch other players play. From the second to the third week of March, Twitch viewership went up 10% while YouTube Gaming experienced a 15% increase in views.

Gamers Foster Positivity During Uncertain Times

Social distancing is now a way of life, and video games more than any other form of entertainment currently available provide a way to socialize with others as everyone respects the ‘stay home’ directives of governments. While social media is often plagued by harsh and antagonistic comments and tone-deaf content, gamers are coming together in a time of uncertainty.

Daniel H, a 26-year-old former professional PUBG mobile player for Method, a.k.a. Gbay in the gaming world, has noticed a change in players’ behavior. He said: ”Everyone is working together to promote social distancing. Gamers are realizing that there are bigger problems in the world right now, and instead of people being toxic, they are being positive and trying to lift everyone up during this crazy time.”

The idea of positivity and community support is permeating the gaming universe. The Twitter account @gamersvscovid19 is asking everyone to pledge to stay inside in the hopes of flattening the curve and protecting themselves and their community. That tweet has been shared 1,800 times and has more than 5,400 likes.

UGC Events and Gaud Hammer Gaming Group have teamed up to present Shutdown Showdown, an Apex Legends charity tournament. Forty percent of each team’s entry fee will be donated to No Kid Hungry, ensuring that millions of children who rely on schools-served meals will still get the food they need even as schools are closed.

Pro Athletes Are Still Playing… Video Games

With every athletic event canceled for the foreseeable future, pro athletes are showing off their online gaming talents. Over 12,000 people watched on Twitter and Twitch as the Phoenix Suns’ Mikal Bridges took on the Philadelphia 76ers’ Matisse Thybulle on NBA 2K.

Avid gamers San Francisco 49ers Richard Sherman and Philadelphia Eagles’ Darius Slay were joined by WWE wrestler Cesaro, two-time Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman and F1 driver Lando Norris all put their celebrity status to good use, streaming live on Twitch for the charity initiative Stream Aid 2020. The 12-hour event raised almost $3 million for the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

Other pro athletes are asking for advice on how to set up live streams in the hopes of giving fans new ways to interact with them. Some athletes, like Lakers star Alex Caruso, are already gamers, but others like Trae Young are just getting started and learning to take their hand-eye coordination into the digital world.

The Bulletproof Nature of Video Games

From every angle, video gaming is taking the world by storm. There’s plenty of free-to-play game content, but gamers are actually spending unprecedented amounts of cash in-game. Both Honor of Kings and Peacekeeper Elite have hit huge numbers, grossing RMB 2 billion and RMB 500 million respectively in China alone. This shows that gaming offers a lot of value for players as it brings together the aspects of life everyone has lost during this time – social connections, entertainment, and simulation all wrapped into one.

Regardless of whether gamers are pros, pro athletes, or just dipping their toes into the gaming phenomenon, they all agree that it offers much-needed relief from the stress and panic of uncertain times. While social media is causing users to feel overwhelmed and watching TV is a solo activity, gaming is proving to be the one form of entertainment that is resilient and even thriving.

The coronavirus will go down in history as having changed many things – from the way people work to how they socialize to how they spend their free time. Although the pandemic will end eventually and people will return to their regular routines, it’s logical to assume that the popularity of video games is here to stay.

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