Online Worlds: Gaming and Streaming in Times of Coronavirus

A story by Patricio Zenklussen

In times where COVID-19 has forced all of us to retreat at home, some professions and careers are thriving. Meet gamers and streamers, and see how the virus is turning out to be a huge opportunity for growth and development for their industry.

These are peculiar times. COVID-19 has changed how we live our lives and has disrupted our routines: remote work instead of office work, social isolation over happy hours, and days and weeks spent at home instead of moviegoing, retail shopping, and dining out.

While these habits are new to the majority of us, one cohort adopted physical confinement and digital landscapes years ago. Gamers and streamers: your time has arrived.

These gaming enthusiasts – commonly portrayed as nerds and geeks with encyclopedic knowledge of fantasy worlds, high technological expertise, and very limited social skills — have become the rockstars of our times by exposing their hobbies to audiences of hundreds of thousands on online platforms like Twitch, Mixr, and YouTube.

By playing games, building computers, critiquing anime series, or simply chatting with their virtual followers in front of a camera, microphone and screen for many hours a day, men and women of all ages have cultivated profitable, professional careers out of their hobbies.

Their backgrounds are as diverse as their interests, but they all seem to possess the same trait: a passion for communicating and sharing their hobbies.

Francisca Sky, popularly known as Pancha Sky, is one of them. Despite her extensive academic background in advertising, politics and philosophy, she chose a career in games. She worked for Riot Games,the publisher of titles like League of Legends and Teamfight Tactics, and recently created her own YouTube channels. Now gathering tens of thousands of viewers each week, she has become one of the most prolific and promising streamers in her native Chile and all of Latin America.

According to TwitchMetrics, Valorant, League of Legends, Fortnite and Counter Strike: Global Offensive are currently the top four most streamed and watched video games on the internet, surpassing 500 million hours of view time in the last 30 days alone. Most of these titles have spawned entire competitive scenes around them, with top players earning tens of millions of dollars in the process.

But the digital world has space for everybody, even those with an analog past. A clear example of this is Magic: The Gathering, the original collectible card game created by Wizards of the Coast in 1993, which recently launched a full version of its Arena platform, a free software that allows players to play the card game online.

While Magic: The Gathering created their original Online platform in the early 2000s, this new video game, with an improved interface and better graphics, represents a clear effort to grab the attention of younger audiences and to jump into the industry of esports.

Last February, Magic World Championship XXVI was played in Arena, marking the first time in the tournament’s history that it was held digitally. The prize pool was $1 million. Long-time players and professionals of the game have flocked to the streaming world, finding new opportunities and spaces for themselves inside it.

CovertGoBlue, Daniel Wagner’s digital persona, is a part of this group. He fell in love with Magic: The Gathering in his adolescence, and even tried to make it into the traditional Pro Tour, without meeting with much success, unfortunately. But with the rise of Arena and the thriving environment of streaming platforms, he saw a new opportunity to make the game a professional outlet.

Since the start of the pandemic, the number of streamers and gamers online has increased. Based on data by SimilarWeb and Apptopia, Twitch viewership has increased by roughly 20%; meanwhile, the number of concurrent gamers on Counter Strike: Global Offensive and Call of Duty: Warzone has also risen, according to distributors. Likewise, the number of unique channels in Twitch has increased by 33.3% during the first quarter of the year, according to a Streamlabs report.

In the following video, Martina Marcaccio, an Uruguayan streaming personality who operates under the alias of SookieDoll, discusses these changes in the industry. As a gamer and inside member of the LLA (Latin America League of Riot’s League of Legends), she recognizes a link between the rising interest in esports and gaming platforms and the current global situation, and dares to share her predictions on its future.

Made by NYU's Studio 20 graduate journalism program.