Coronavirus Fears Threaten 2020 Esports Boom As 'PUBG' Becomes Latest Victim

Topline: The spread of coronavirus throughout China and beyond in recent weeks has disrupted industries including oil, tech and now esports, as a slate of events including a PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds tournament in April has been delayed or cancelled amid the growing global health emergency.

  • The game's developer, PUBG Corp., released a statement today saying, "With the health and safety of our players, employees and fans as our top priorities, we’ve made the difficult decision to postpone April’s PUBG Global Series: Berlin event," though it added it still plans to host four major events in 2020.
  • PUBG is far from the first esport affected: Late last month, the Overwatch League, which is making a big bet with home-and-away games this season, cancelled matches that were meant to be played in China through February and March.
  • The esports industry is still young, and 2020 is meant to be a tentpole year, with Activision Blizzard making a big bet on the Overwatch League—charging teams between $30 million and $60 million for a franchise—and titles like PUBG trying to stake their claim in the $1 billion industry. 
  • China in particular is a mass market for esports content, as illustrated in 2017 when fans filled Beijing's Olympic stadium, the Bird's Nest, for the League of Legends World Championship.
  • Reasons companies have given for cancellations range from the dangers of large crowd gatherings and broad travel restrictions. 
  • The coronavirus has killed 910 people and more than 40,000 have contracted the disease, and it's led to immediate reactions on the economy given China's global presence, with over 400 companies warning investors of the disease's potential impact on earnings.
  • Key Background: Another major esport affected by the disease is League of Legends, arguably the most popular in the world. The China-based League of Legends Pro League, consistently one of the strongest regions in the entire esport, indefinitely pushed back matches after the season started on January 13. Also delayed were matches for the inaugural season of the League of Legends Pacific Championship Series, which combined two previous leagues to represent Southeast Asia, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Two other postponed events were a set of CrossFire finals meant to be held in Asian Sports Center Xingyao Stadium in Kunming and the World Electronic Sports Games Asia Pacific finals, which included Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
    Further Reading: Coronavirus Hits Nintendo With Delays To Switch Rollout

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