Coronavirus: Sports stars turn to eSports

Coronavirus: Sports stars turn to eSports

With almost every major sports event now postponed or canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, some sports stars have turned their attention to eSports in an attempt to keep their fans engaged during the break. McLaren Formula 1 driver Lando Norris was supposed to race the Australian Grand Prix this weekend, but since the event got canceled he played the race on a gaming console against Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. 

Norris, Courtois and Formula E driver Stoffel Vandoorne took on esports professionals and Youtube stars in a virtual Australian Grand Prix on Sunday. The event was set up by VeloceEsports, a leading eSports team. "Esports is a very fast growing and exciting industry and what we wanted to do this weekend is put on a fun race for fans that are without racing in Formula 1," Jamie MacLaurin, founder of VeloceEsports, said. "We sat down together and thought people will be without a Formula 1 race and sport in general and they will be staying at home trying to avoid the coronavirus so where better to put on a race than online?" 

Another virtual race on Sunday featured Max Verstappen taking on ex-Formula 1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya, and it also featured professional commentary from BBC Radio 5 live commentators Jack Nicholls and Jolyon Palmer. Formula 1 racing is expected to be on hold until June, so we might see more and more such eSports events popping up. "And I don't just think for the racing side of it either," added MacLaurin. "There's also Fifa for football, and lots of athletes are into Fortnite too. It is hard to get too positive about it given the circumstances with the coronavirus but what we'd like to do is keep people upbeat and give people something fun to watch. This is a huge opportunity for esports because for people who may have been watching the real sport and want to have something to watch and give them that fix, this may be able to provide a bit of that." 

Professional cyclists have also embraced the virtual side of things, most of them are hosting virtual races from their home trainers. Vuelta a Espana winner Simon Yates and his twin brother Adam have almost daily events planned, and Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas is also taking part.  "We can't do too much training because we don't know when the next race is," Yates said. "You can't keep going full gas but you need to keep ticking over, just keeping fit, keep active."

With the LaLiga season put on hold, last Sunday's local derby between Sevilla and Real Betis was postponed. It did take place in the virtual world, though, with Real Betis striker Borja Iglesias and Seville left-back Sergio Reguilon playing against each other in FIFA 20. 

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