Eliana Bollati
Eliana Bollati
Eliana is a freelance journalist from Australia with a passion for esports, especially Dota 2. A casual player of the game for the better part of a decade, Eliana started following the professional circuit avidly during TI5. She brings a casual player and hardcore fan perspective into her commentary on the professional scene.

How Esports And Gaming Are Bringing The Fight To COVID-19

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Gamers and industry organizations around the world have united to tackle the spread of the coronavirus. We look at some of the fantastic aid initiatives from the community.


COVID-19 has brought disruptions to every aspect of our lives; lockdown restrictions, face masks and social distancing have all become the norm thanks to the threat posed by the pandemic. Without the ability to hold large gatherings, the entertainment sector has suffered and plenty of events have been cancelled this year ⁠— including the Olympics.

The esports and gaming industry have been no exception. We’ve seen several professional circuits delay their seasons. While others have moved to an online only format to keep entertaining fans at home.

But the industry has done something else during this pandemic too. Something in many ways they're in a prime position to do thanks to having a globally connected community of dedicated fans.

It's stepping up to help in the fight against COVID-19 in a big way.

Since the onset of the pandemic there have been countless initiatives by esports organizations, game developers and hardware manufacturers. All focused on aiding frontline workers.

And there’s been an outpouring of support from the community for these endeavors too. With fans of titles from Apex to Dota 2 pitching in to do their part.

We take a look at some these aid endeavors and their success so far.

Gamers Without Borders charity tournament series

Organized by the Saudi Arabian Federation for Electronic and Intellectual Sports (SAFEIS). The Gamers Without Borders tournament series began in late April. It was aiming to connect the gaming world in the fight against COVID-19.

And connect them it has.

A shot of the virtual studio where hosts and casters break down the action between games

What's more, they've already donated $6.5 million US dollars of the prizepool to organizations on the frontlines; including UNICEF, the Vaccine Alliance, Direct Relief, the International Medical Corps. Even the Norwegian Refugee Alliance.

Tournament winners get to choose where their share of the $10 million dollar prize pool goes, the funds already allocated have supported programs for children and young people, and education initiatives ⁠— as well as funding the distribution of much needed medical supplies.

An unprecedented global initiative

We spoke with Prince Faisal bin Bandar Al-Saudi, Chairman of SAFEIS about what inspired them to launch something so ambitious in the middle of a pandemic.

“We’re staunch believers that esports is a force for good”. Prince Faisal said, speaking on how the tournament series is “uniting the global community of passionate gamers to combat COVID-19. And not just through the monetary value of donations to charities” He adds.

SAFEIS and GWB have also launched other initiatives during the lockdown. It’s all part of what they’re calling “Gaming for Good… bringing together amateur and professional gamers from every pocket in the world to become active contributors to something great”.

Education and entertainment

Taking their charitable efforts a step further, SAFEIS is also providing free learning initiatives. The four programs are designed for those eager to find out about “the industry behind gaming”. According to Prince Faisal the initiatives are “aimed at inspiring and harnessing the abilities of the next generation of gaming enthusiasts”.

“Our initiatives so far provided more than 100 hours of training from 160 digital experts to an incredible 20,000 knowledge-hungry young people from 80 different nationalities”.

“We’re staunch believers that esports is a force for good.” – Prince Faisal bin Bandar Al-Saudi, Chairman of SAFEIS

GWB’s learning portal ‘The Academy’ is a series of training programs, competitions and webinars which are free-to-all. The initiatives have been organized in collaboration with MCIT, OCEANX, the Saudi Digital Academy and KSA Digital Game. The programs over everything to do with game development and the ins and outs of the gaming industry, from development to investment.

The Gamers Without Borders series and SAFEIS aren’t unique in their charitable efforts. There have been a slew of charity focused tournaments over the last few months. But the scale of Gamers Without Borders, the wide range of charity initiatives they’re providing support to ⁠— and their active engagement in providing accessible education ⁠— make them stand out as a truly global initiative.
Gamers Without Borders success shows gamers from literally everywhere are uniting in this fight.

And it’s not over yet. There are still more titles to come in the GWB series to come over the next couple of weeks, you can catch their CS:GO event from May 29.

GAMEMASTER and the makers network

It’s not just the tournament scenes that have been affected either. Plenty of gaming-related community and entertainment endeavors have been set back by the outbreak of COVID-19.

The Game Master logo, a retro 70's video game font coloured in a sunset gradient with the katakana for the word "master" beneath the English lettering

“…It’s been great, we’re really very lucky with the community we have.”
–  Laurie Lockliear, co-executive producer, GAMEMASTER

GAMEMASTER, is a reality TV show that aims to find the ultimate lifestyle gamer. It’s 12 contestants were primed to learn what life's like living as an esports pro. April was supposed to see them moving into a team house and working directly with teams like the OWL’s Atlanta Reign to get their skills into shape.

The show had secured a panel at South by South West. And host Wil Wheaton was going to be presenting the GAMEMASTER awards at the event, as part of the promotion for the shows launch.

But with the onset of the pandemic, those plans “slid off the cracker” according to the one of the show’s executive producer Laurie Locklear. We spoke to Laurie about how her team pivoted to help during the pandemic.

 

 

Creating a connection

As Laurie explains it, the GAMEMASTER team is full of creatives. “We have this incredible group of talented people ⁠— our producers and our technicians and our camera people and our writers and our creatives and our web designers…” People with skill sets and talents that they realised could still be put to use ⁠— even under lockdown.

“We were lucky enough, we went to some of our partners, at Microcenter and AMD, and our other corporate partners and we said we want to do something great”.

GAMEMASTER were even luckier than they first realized, because as they started plans to help support their local frontline workers, they discovered there offices were just “down the street from the CDC”.

“And what we said is the CDC and NIA and all of these organizations around the world have makers. They have patterns for 3D makers for clothing for people who want to make masks and do things and create”.

The problem was, connecting creators with the people who needed the supplies.

“And with some shipping things taking extra time etc.” Laurie said. “We thought if we could find a maker in your community who could make for your hospital, for your police department, for your fire department, for ambulance services… … if we could connect those people across the country to each other through our network… then we wanted to be able to do that".

So, that’s what they did.

 

Connecting communities

In just one week, the GAMEMASTER team and their partner Opera Events created a “website that actually allows makers across the country to connect with those who need the supplies in their own communities.”

And the types of supplies in need vary from place to place. Something which Laurie and the GAMEMASTER crew soon found out. With some hospitals and clinics needing PPE beyond a standard M95 style face masks. “Some need full-face shields,” Laurie explained, or “the earpieces to go on the reusable masks…”

But as Laurie points out, “there are 3D printing patterns for all of these things. So, working in their local communities they can literally find out what is needed right here and make that”.

And that’s exactly what GAMEMASTERS network of makers have done.

Giving back to communities that give

“We’ve found fantastic response…” Laurie said, “Just the response… the gamers and the cosplayers and the folks that have this technology… It’s been great, we’re really very lucky with the community we have”.

And GAMEMASTER want to give back to those chipping in as well. You can check out their website for more details about the prizes their corporate sponsors have offered up as rewards for those who get involved.

“The coming together right now by the gaming community to do great things, to be somewhat helpful”. Laurie said, “Because it’s hard sometimes if you’re not a frontline worker and you’re told to stay at home. You still want to feel like you’re contributing. Somehow making the world a little bit better”.

 

Secretlab, masks, and Make-a-Wish

Secretlab’s efforts to provide aid during the pandemic began early. Their first initiative back in March saw them raising donations of FDA-approved masks for healthcare workers.
Initially, Secretlab were donating 50,000 masks to frontline workers. Then with the help of their partners at Riot and Valve ⁠— alongside big esports names like Cloud9, Team Secret, OG, Astralis and G2; they launched an initiative to donate 200 masks for every esports edition gaming chair sold.

The response from the esports community was massive. Within the month they were able to provide 400,000 masks to healthcare workers on the frontlines in the US, UK and Singapore.

"…a true testament to what the esports community can achieve when united for a common cause.”  – Secretlab

 

Finding new ways to make dreams come true

Not satisfied with their mammoth mask donation, Secretlab turned to finding other ways to help people during the pandemic. Turning their focus to a very special charity ⁠— that isn't letting the coronavirus stop their hard work making dreams come true.

Partnering with Make-A-Wish® International, Secretlab are doing what they can to brighten up the lives of wish kids. “This is a particularly isolating time for all of us, as we are told to distance ourselves from one another to combat the spread of COVID-19”. Said Ian Alexander Ang, co-founder and CEO of Secretlab. As he points out it’s an even harder time for these kids. Who might "have their lifelong wishes put on hold during this social distancing period”.

But according to Ang, the gaming community has shown itself as a space which can bring people together and “forge tight-knit communities”.

Even more importantly to Ang, “It remains accessible".  As he explains "wish children with gaming-related wishes can still have their wishes fulfilled and at the same time connect with their fellow gamers and the rest of the community”.

Luciano Manzo, President & CEO of Make-A-Wish® International welcomed the partnership, expressing the organizations gratitude and enthusiasm at having a partner with a “dominant presence in the esports industry” to leverage to help wish kids fulfill their dreams. Something which Manzo says is “especially important now as more wish kids are waiting for wishes than ever due to COVID-19”.

“For our wish kids, gaming allows them to regain a bit of normalcy and to be included in a bigger community of gamers and streamers.” Manzo explained, “With this collaboration, we call upon people looking to do something positive and impactful during these uncertain times to bring hope and joy to children and families who need it most’’.

 

Cloud9 and mental health

“Gaming and esports is a refuge for so many during this pandemic, and we want our fans and our players at their healthiest, both mentally and physically.” – Jack Etienne, founder & CEO, Cloud9

Cloud9 have hopped on board with plenty of charitable endeavors over the course of the global pandemic. Their teams have donated tournament winnings, and they’ve pitched in with Secretlab’s mask donation efforts as well.

On top of that, they’ve launched their own initiative with healthcare provider and US not-for-profit organization, Kaiser Permanente. The initiative aims to shine a light on health issues that might not be caused by COVID-19 ⁠— but can definitely be exacerbated by it.

The Presence of Mind initiative focuses on opening up conversations surrounding mental health. It’s one of what Kaiser's many efforts to help Amercans build a stronger mental and emotional foundation.

Together, Cloud9 and Kaiser are producing a new content series on Twitch which will focus on having healthy conversations around the subject of mental health. The initiative ⁠— which kicked off this month with Cloud9’s League of Legends team ⁠— also includes mental health training for Cloud9 players and staff.

“Partnering with Kaiser Permanente allows us to shine a spotlight on the importance of mental health and wellness in our community, and to set an example for everyone in our industry”. Said Jack Etienne, founder and CEO, Cloud9. “Gaming and esports is a refuge for so many during this pandemic, and we want our fans and our players at their healthiest, both mentally and physically”.

 

Making time for young minds

Don Mordecai, Kaiser Permanente’s national leader for mental health and wellness, believes having these conversations with young people “is even more critical in this period of stress and physical isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic”.

“Our goal is that Presence of Mind will contribute to a public health movement within esports by engaging teens, young adults, and other gamers in mental health conversations”. Said Mordecai,

And “with Cloud9 leading the way,” he says members of the esports community “can support each other’s mental health while also supporting their own well-being and resilience now and long into the future”.

It’s hard to imagine exactly what the future looks like right now. But finding ways to support one another through it all is exactly what we should all focus on. While lockdowns have begun to ease in some parts of the world, the dangers posed by COVID-19 have not yet passed. But one thing is for certain, our community is coming together to achieve amazing things, and we’re not done yet.

Feature Image: Sean Do/Unsplash

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