The growing popularity of eSports was already evident even prior to the world wide COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus has only served to open up the eyes of the masses to exactly how huge, and perhaps even more significantly, how durable eSports competitions are in comparison to so-called regular sporting events.
While virtually all major sports were shelved by the COVID-19 outbreak, eSports carried on relatively unscathed. Certainly, there was some need for adjustment. No longer was it possible to contest major eSports competitions inside halls packed with adoring and cheering spectators.
For example, the Overwatch League was left to play its entire 2020 season online. Play! Pokémon canceled its North American International Championship and World Championship.
Regardless, eSports displayed an ability to easily adapt, something on-field sports weren’t capable of doing. And the rest of the sports industry took notice. Sports fans seeking something to cheer about began to check out eSports action. All-sports television networks left bereft of programming began discovering the possibilities of eSports.
Networks such as ESPN incorporated real sports with eSports. They televised tournaments featuring NBA, MLB and NFL players competing against each other via online video games, utilizing virtual versions of their actual selves. NASCAR and Formula One contested canceled races in the virtual realm, with the drivers at the controls of the video game replica of their race car.
Industry estimates are that the demand for Esports has increased by 300% since the outbreak of the coronavirus.
This change in culture was also evident at online sports betting outlets. Most of these betting sites already offered a dedicated space on their web pages to esports wagering. With so many sports on the shelf, these betting houses upped the ante on eSports, increasing the betting lines offered on video game playing, and giving eSports a place of prominence in their drop down menus.
ESports Popularity Rising In Lithuania
Data compiled by Statista.com indicates that eSports is also a growing phenomenon within the borders of Lithuania. Their numbers show that in 2019, there were 500,000 Lithuanians playing online video games, while some 400,000 were involved with varying eSports on their mobile device of choice.
Based on the country’s population of 2.794 million, those totals mean that nearly one-third (32.2%) of Lithuanians are participating in some level of eSports competition.
These eSports totals should only increase in the future, if demographics are any indication. Among those users, 64.1% were between the ages of 18-34.
Lithuanians invested some $14 million US in the video game industry last year. That ranked 98th in the world. China ($27,588 million) was the world leader.
What eSports Games Do Lithuanians Prefer?
From both a team and individual standpoint, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) is the most popular eSports game played by Lithuanians. Last year, there were five pro CS:GO teams based out of Lithuania. They combined to earn $18,238 in prize money.
Individually, six Lithuanians were competing professionally at CS:GO during 2019. That sextet banked a total of $99,019 in earnings. Across all professional eSports competitions, there were seven teams and 22 players involved who held connections to Lithuania.
The top-earning team associated with Lithuania was SkitLite, earning $10,682. That ranked SkitLite 164th out of the 1,304 professional CS:GO teams spanning the globe. Individually, Rokas Milasauskas, who plays for the Brazilian-based Team Imperial eSports under the video-game pseudonym EspiranTo, was the top-earning Lithuanian player. The 19-year-old CS:GO competitor banked $33,101 in 2019.
That ranked him ranked 194th among 1,632 Counter-Strike players worldwide.
The top provider of eSports competition within Lithuania is GameOn. This gathering of avid gamers, game developers, journalists and esports enthusiasts was formed in 2015 and organized the first eSport event in the country.
Since that day, they’ve developed into a full-fledged gaming agency. Not only do they organize tournaments, the objective of GameOn is to grow eSports throughout the nation.
Basketball and eSports
The most popular sport in Lithuania is played on the hardwood. This is a basketball-mad nation. So it was more than a bit interesting in 2018 when Lithuania’s BC Žalgiris, one of oldest basketball clubs competing in the top-tier European League, opted to venture into the world of eSports.
BC Žalgiris worked with Baltic esports organizations Gameplay DNA and Baltic Elite to develop rosters to compete in League of Legends (LoL), Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), and Hearthstone. They were the first pro sports team to enter a squad into Hearthstone competition.
The famous Lithuanian basketball squad has won 20 Lithuanian championships, five Soviet championships, one European championship, and has reached the Lithuanian league finals every season since the loop was first formed in 1993. The club has sent eight players to the NBA.
BC Žalgiris followed the lead of NBA teams the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors. Each of those clubs doled out $13 million to acquire franchises in the North American League of Legends championship.
Interestingly, the NBA has also ventured into eSports and currently operates its own NBA 2K league. This season, a team from China made its debut in the league. With Lithuania’s passion for basketball, could an NBA 2K franchise perhaps be in the country’s future?