With the coronavirus pandemic shutting down virtually the entirety of the American – and worldwide – world of sports, interest in eSports is on the rise. Looking for a clear marker? The Fox Sports Network has signed on to carry the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series live.

And just what, exactly, is iRacing? It’s professional NASCAR drivers going up against each other in the virtual world. They’ve got a steering wheel and pedals, are linked up via a computer, and they race. 

And the first time FS1 broadcast it, nearly a million viewers tuned in.

The eSports world is vast – with League of Legends leagues long dominating the landscape – and while mainstream American media never paid it much attention before, the coronavirus seems to be changing the equation.

Right off the bat, five percent of Americans who didn’t previously follow eSports are now finding themselves drawn to the online world.City-dwellers are overwhelmingly more likely to have wandered into the eSports waters in recent weeks and men and Gen Z also over-index. It is notable, however, that Gen X comes in at 5%, right at the average. eSports aren’t just for teens anymore.

Marketing Opportunities

And for eSports marketers looking to reach this new audience, podcasts and free streaming music services seem to be a very good place to spend some advertising dollars. 

Passionate Sports Fans All-In

A full quarter of people who say watching sports is a “passion” of theirs have found some solace in eSports. This is something to watch going forward; will these sports fans keep eSports around as an interest once the major professional sports leagues start playing again? Even if the eSports world could keep a portion of these self-described “passionate” fans, it would be a major victory.And just for kicks, maybe after Tom Brady finally retires, he could find some extra work doing play-by-play for some eSports action. With professional sports on hiatus, five percent of Americans who have never paid eSports any mind have all of a sudden found a new hobby. Interest is up, networks are jumping in. It begs the question: Will the coronavirus be the accelerant that ends up launching eSports into a mainstream concern, or will all these new followers ditch it once baseball, football, basketball and all the rest come back? CivicScience will surely be tracking this going forward – as well as how long-time eSports fans are adjusting to life during quarantine.