How the Coronavirus Is Affecting the Gaming Industry and What You Can Do to Stay Safe

COVID-19 might sound like a new game or a special command unit in Call of Duty, not—as it really is—the name of a disease spreading around the globe, more commonly called novel coronavirus. At the time we are writing this article, the United States has over 160 confirmed cases across 18 states. Worldwide, the number of infected individuals continues to climb, now reaching over 98,000 cases and 3,300 deaths across numerous countries.

The news and numbers have many of us asking, what do we know about the virus? How is it affecting the gaming industry? And what should we do as gamers to stay safe and healthy?

The 411 on coronavirus

According to the World Health Organization, COVID-19 is the most recent respiratory infection in the larger family of zoonotic coronaviruses that cause illness in animals and humans (like SARS and MERS from years back), the outbreak of which started in December in Wuhan, China. Once in humans, coronavirus spreads through respiratory fluids, like when you sneeze, cough or exhale and droplets get on someone else or surfaces. But this particular virus has a two-week incubation period, so an infected person might not experience symptoms for two weeks while, during that time, they could still pass the infection on to others.

What are the signs?

Symptoms of the infection look a lot like the common cold and flu, depending on severity, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing and other respiratory symptoms like nasal congestion and sore throat. At its most severe, the infection can lead to pneumonia in some patients.

Who is at risk?

Right now, people in the United States are more likely to get normal flu than they are to get COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that while the “potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is very high,” at the moment “most people in the United States will have little immediate risk of exposure to the virus,” and even in places where there has been community spread, there is still a relatively low risk of exposure.

However, the coronavirus is easily transmissible and is proving to be difficult to track. Travelers to countries with a high number of cases, like China, Italy, Iran, and Japan, or those who have come into contact with people who have traveled to those places are most at risk. If contracted, those most at risk of severe symptoms and difficulty are the elderly and the very young.

How is this affecting the gaming industry?

It’s a big time of year for gaming conventions and the start of the competition season. We’re also in the major planning phases for some of the biggest championships and tournaments that will happen later on. With coronavirus on the move, organizers and event partners are exercising extra precaution and causing major interruptions industry-wide.

In January, Blizzard canceled Overwatch League matches in South Korea and China, and League of Legends Pro League suspended Week 2 of their China competitions. On February 27, the night before the opening games of IEM Katowice, one of the biggest Counter-Strike: Global Offensive events of the year taking place at Poland’s Spodek arena, ESL announced they would not be allowing fans into the play arena in order to mitigate the health risk of possible coronavirus spread. And last week, after Sony dropped out of the PAX East conference in Boston, which went ahead as scheduled, several companies, including Sony, Facebook, and EA, announced they would no longer attend the Game Developers Conference 2020. Supposed to take place from March 16 to 20 in San Francisco, GDC then made the call to postpone the conference until later this summer.

In eSports, luckily, the games can take place exclusively online and it is possible to only interface in that way. But the in-person events are a huge part of the industry, not only for the buzz and the health of gaming companies and businesses but for the community at large and the cities that host events. The cancellation of these events has a major economic impact.

The biggest question on the minds of many in the industry is what will happen with the Olympics in Tokyo? While not technically in the Olympics themselves, the Intel World Open for the games Rocket League and Street Fighter is an event sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee that undoubtedly would provide a huge opportunity for eSports recognition and growth on the world stage. If the Olympics are canceled or postponed, it will not just be a blow to the business of eSports but a blow to the sport itself.

What you can do to stay healthy and prevent the spread

As the situation continues to develop, government agencies will update their protocols and measures for preventing the spread of the virus in certain areas. But there are several measures you can start taking for yourself now.

  1. Wash your hands. Wash your hands with soap and water frequently, especially if you live in a densely populated area, and for at least 20 seconds. It’s a good idea to also carry alcohol-based hand sanitizer for situations where washing your hands is not easily accessible.
  2. Avoid touching your face. COVID-19 spreads when it gets into your respiratory system. If you happen to touch a surface with droplets from an infected individual’s cough or sneeze or exhalation, and then touch your mouth, nose or eyes, the virus then has the opportunity to enter your bloodstream.
  3. Maintain a safe social distance. When near people who display signs of respiratory illness, whether from COVID-19 or not, try to stay at least 1-3 feet away.
  4. Cover your cough and sneeze. Cover any cough or sneeze with a bent elbow or tissue, and promptly dispose of the tissue afterward.

Gamer-specific advice
All of us touch a lot of surfaces throughout the course of our days, but for gamers, we spend end up touching plenty more surfaces of gaming devices, controllers, keyboards, etc. And we spend a lot of time with those things. This time of year is also huge for conventions as well as the start of competitions that lead up to big eSports tournaments later in the year. Here are the extra precautions gamers should take during this period:

  1. Wash and disinfect all gaming surfaces regularly. Before and after each time you play, especially if you’re playing with friends in person, be sure to wipe down your keyboard, mouse, controller, headset and the surfaces these items rest on.
  2. Be extra careful using friends’ equipment. If it’s not your headset or controller you’re using, be double sure to wash your hands and face super well after use.
  3. Stay aware of the virus’s spread in areas of upcoming events. With big conventions and tournaments coming down the pike, it’s important to know the state of the virus and how it continues to spread, especially if there’s a great amount of it in the areas you’ll be going to.
  4. If you feel any symptoms, stay home from events and see your doctor. Even if it’s not coronavirus if you have a mild cough or start to get a runny nose, opt-out of gaming events and meet-ups and see your doctor right away. You may feel some FOMO, but it’s worth the trade-off this time around.

While there is no reason to panic, it’s good to be prepared and take cautionary measures to protect yourself from infection as well as those around you. Stay healthy friends.