ESPN2 is airing an esports marathon because Covid-19 has crimped live sports

Amid coronavirus fears, NBA players will compete in a basketball video game instead.
Amid coronavirus fears, NBA players will compete in a basketball video game instead.
Image: USA Today Sports Network/Reuters
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Much of live sports has been put on hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Luckily, professional esports seem built for this moment. And now major sports networks are taking notice. ESPN2 announced it will air a 12-hour marathon of live and taped competitive, multiplayer video-game tournaments tomorrow (April 5) beginning at 12pm ET.

Professional athletes aren’t lying idle, either. With the first eight Formula One races being postponed or cancelled, F1 drivers are instead playing the video-game version, F1 2019. The second installment of F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix will take place tomorrow and feature current F1 drivers Charles Leclerc, Alex Albon, and others. Hundreds of thousands of viewers watched the first installment, which streamed last month on Twitch, Facebook, YouTube, and the Sky Sports channel in the UK.

Fans missing basketball can instead watch the next best thing: NBA players playing NBA 2K20, the basketball simulation video game. In total, 16 NBA athletes are slated to compete. Tomorrow’s match will feature Montrezl Harrell of the Los Angeles Clippers, Domantas Sabonis of the Indiana Pacers, and others.

EPSN2 will also show recaps of a previously aired Madden NFL 20 tournament and the grand final of the Rocket League world championship (season eight). The night will be capped off with a charity Apex Legends tournament featuring a mix of celebrities, athletes, and streamers.

The $160 billion US sports industry is expected to take a significant financial blow due to the pandemic, losing everything from ticket sales to television and marketing rights fees. ESPN and Turner together spend about $2.7 billion annually to air NBA games, reports the Wall Street Journal. Sports television networks will also lose money from advertisers, and are scrambling to find programming to fill the void. For now, professional athletes playing esports offers a compelling alternative in this new era of social distancing.