Online gaming is hailed a saviour for millions in self-isolation

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In the absence of real-life sport, two Premier League footballers took to FIFA 20 to sort out the victors of their cancelled match.

On Friday, Tottenham Hotspur’s Ryan Sessegnon emerged victorious against West Ham’s Michail Antonio in front of thousands of viewers watching from game-streaming platform Twitch.

Sessegnon and Antonio were not the only professional footballers to take their rivalry online. In Spain, Real Betis Borja Iglesias beat Seville’s Sergio Reguilon with a goal from his own virtual on-screen likeness.

The onlookers camped in their own homes were testament to what has been a spectacular boom for the gaming industry. Those trapped in isolation seem to have found gaming as a welcoming safe zone as more intense restrictions are applied across the world.

“It made me feel less depressed about being in a small space for a long time,” said Yang An, who was made to quarantine for two weeks in China after returning to Shanghai from her hometown last month.

She passed the time by playing for up to eight hours a day on her Nintendo Switch handheld console.

Christian McCrea, a media studies lecturer at Australia’s RMIT University, claims that online gaming communities could “go some of the way to create the public space that’s been lost” in the wake of the pandemic

One example of this is Pokemon Go, a smartphone game that became a worldwide phenomenon in 2016 when it lured millions of people onto the streets for a virtual monster hunt.

This month its creator Niantic made changes to the game to make it easier to play without leaving home. Updates include increasing the frequency of ‘gifts’  within the game and allowing incubators to hatch eggs twice as fast.

Esports are also gaining in popularity. Game organisers like the All-Star Esports are seeing upticks in participation for their spring seasons.

“Teachers, parents are all looking for ways to keep their kids engaged in a healthy way,” says Jason Kirby, High School Esports League President and Chief Operating Officer. “Binging on video games, playing by yourself is usually, often frowned upon.

“But when you combine it with their peers and coaches, it takes gaming into a positive light and gives kids more of an opportunity to better engage and stay closer to their classmates and teachers.”

Gaming has always been a behemoth of an industry, even in the UK the sector is expected to be worth £10bn within the next three years. With the impending launch of the Xbox One X and Sony’s PlayStation 5 later this year, the industry’s relentless growth is set to continue.

While many game companies have yet to give insight into the newfound levels of players, there are some insights into the surge.

US game developer Infinity Ward launched Call of Duty: Warzone free to play earlier in the month, which racked up 15 million downloads in three days. The game was launched in competition to EA’s Apex Legends, also free, which accumulated 10 million players in three days when it was unveiled last year.

Elsewhere Steam, the most-popular PC gaming marketplace, said it reached new heights on Sunday, drawing in a record 20.31 million users to the 16-year old service.

That’s despite the fact that the unveiling of new consoles has been delayed and the industry’s biggest show, E3, cancelled. There have also been problems with streaming games, as millions go into self-isolation. 

Sony, the manufacturer of the PlayStation, said the gamers will face “slower downloads” to avoid internet overload but that online gameplay would remain “robust”.

“We believe it is important to do our part to address internet stability concerns as an unprecedented number of people are practising social distancing and are becoming more reliant on Internet access,” chief executive Jim Ryan said in a blog post.

Similarly Xbox boss Phil Spencer said that Microsoft was experiencing an “unprecedented demand” for gaming from its customers.

“We understand the important role gaming is playing right now to connect people and provide joy in these isolating and stressful times, and our teams are working diligently to ensure we can be there for our players,” he said in a blog bost.

Britain’s providers remain confident that they will provide a robust internet service during the coronavirus outbreak.

And for the world’s more hardcore gamers, enforced isolation isn’t exactly a terrible thing.

Gaming streamer “Loeya” said that she had self-quarantined “like three years ago” due to her game intensive schedule.

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