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Pandemic gaming - what's different from non-pandemic gaming?

One of the industries to experience the biggest growth explosion during the past two years is the gaming industry. From video games and esports to social media gaming and online casino engagement, the entire gaming industry has seen a tremendous upsurge in play, both among older players who are playing more and new gamers who are  exploring what gaming offers.

When asking why playing games has become so popular these past few years, the answer seems obvious. People were stuck at home and needed something to do. But the real answers may be more complicated and relate more to social, societal and psychological changes that we are seeing in society.

Why is online gaming so popular in 2021?


There’s no denying the impact that gaming has had on the world since the spring of 2020.  Different countries had different types of lockdowns and rules about social distancing but everywhere, people were more aware of the need to stay distanced.

Almost as soon as COVID-19 hit, the world was forced to realize that it was dealing with an unprecedented health disaster, One of the first things to happen was that sports shut down. From college championship games to the big leagues, sports stadiums emptied as game after game and season after season closed. Sports fans were at loose ends -- there were no sporting events to watch, no sports betting to excite and no fantasy sports in which to participate.

eSports started to become a major spectator sport during this period because it gives fans a way to watch some competitive entertainment. But more and more people started to play games themselves -- old-fashioned board games along with the latest video and online casino games. Playing games allowed people to maintain the shelter-in-place directives of government and health officials while enjoying entertaining interludes and interacting with other players through multi-player games and social media gaming.

Nielsen, which measures and analyzes data that informs about audience’s viewing habits across all platforms, found that by the height of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, 82% of global consumers were playing games online and/or watching games online. Connected devices, Nielsen found, are fueling that penetration level as consumers gain access to an ever-increasing amount of game options and streaming video content. 76% of U.S. homes had at least one internet-connected device in March 2020 and the number has grown steadily in the months following those early pandemic days.


The wealth of media options available today has also contributed to the growth. There were spikes in all of them -- consoles, PCs and mobile devices. While live sports was on  hiatus many of the leagues turned to esports to keep the fans engaged by bringing in their star players to compete in online competitions.

One of the most successful of this type of innovation was the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series which saw NASCAR Cup Series stars compete virtually over the course of 10 weeks. The Invitational Series was created only because there was no live racing at the time but it proved to be so successful that a follow-up 2021 series has been planned and expectations are that it will continue into the future.

Concurrently, video gaming is also at an all-time high. The Nelsen Games Video Game Tracking (VGT) shows  a spike in the number of gamers who say they are playing video games more now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. showed the highest  increase (46%), followed by France (4.1%), the U.K. (28%) and Germany (23%).

When examining Twitch, which is a barometer for video game engagement, it became clear that, along with increases in TV and streaming services viewing, there was a jump in video game viewing as well. Between Jan 1 and March 28 viewership on Twitch more than doubled from 13 million to 31 million. As sporting events shut down nationwide, esports viewership peaked with March 28 League of Legends, Fortnite, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournaments drawing massive numbers of sports-deprived viewers.


Creativity within the gaming industry has played a major role in dialing consumers into the action. Within the slots industry, new games with new features and new elements saw record numbers of new players who were eager to try the real money games despite economic uncertainties. Within the video games industry a number of exciting collaborations, including a musical journey within a game, enthralled gaming enthusiasts who followed the journey online and later on video streaming platforms such as Twitch and YouTube.


eSports also saw a jump in its audiences. Many viewers looked to esports as a way to stay entertained and pass the time and a large percentage acknowledged that they had begun to watch esports as an alternative to traditional TV content and even to streaming video content.

Jon Stainer, Managing Director of Sports at Nielsen noted that “Consumers are looking for ways to pass the time and to help distract themselves from what is going on in the real world. Video gaming and esports have helped create a much-needed distraction for many consumers. Since the start of the pandemic, the industry has experienced massive growth with 82% of people playing video games and watching gaming video content. At Nielsen, we are able to deliver impactful data and insights regarding how well the industry is doing and how consumers are looking for more ways to be entertained during these times.”

Online Casino

A study at the University of Bristol found that veteran players were more than six times more likely to gamble online compared to before the COVID-19. Online casinos in general have reported increases in visitation and engagement and based on the increase seen during the COVID-19 pandemic the industry  is expected to register a CAGR of 11.94% during the forecast period, 2021-2026.

Online betting is the fastest-growing segment during the forecast period with AI, Chabot, and machine learning leading the way in slots development. Much of the increase in online casino gaming can be attributed to the rise in the number of women players and the new options for cashless payments that have made online gaming more convenient than ever. The trend is expected to continue with slots gaming leading the way.


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