by Mohammad Samra / Staff Reporter
Fields, courts and stadiums across the country remain barren. It has been a month since the National Basketball Association announced that the regular season was suspended indefinitely — and by the end of the week, the sports world was at a complete standstill.
Currently, Major League Baseball looks to be the closest to returning. League officials and the MLB Players Association are working towards playing all regular season games in Arizona.
The NBA and National Hockey League might not be as fortunate — it becomes more likely by the day that both leagues might outright cancel the reminders of their respective 2019-20 seasons.
Meanwhile, virtual sports have emerged as a dependable placeholder while the various efforts to return to normal play continues.
ESPN is one of many outlets taking advantage of esports. Their “Esports Day” on April 5 consisted of the beginning of an NBA 2K tournament featuring 16 NBA players, the Rocket League World Championship, Madden and an Apex Legends tournament.
The virtual marathon aired on ESPN 2, the global sports network’s second channel, and seemed to be just as beneficial to the players as it was to viewers.
“Caught myself watching this @NBA2K on @espn like it’s a real game,” tweeted former NBA player Kendrick Perkins.
“It’s crazy…I’ve been treating today like a game day.” replied star Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young — who also is a participant in the tournament.
Blog websites have also immersed themselves in esports. Cubs Insider, a website focused on Chicago Cubs content, started a virtual season on “MLB The Show 20” and reports the results of every game as if the games are authentic.
The most recent headline on the site read: “Chicago Cubs Score and Recap (Simulated Game 12): Cubs 8, Pirates 4 — Rizzo Homers Bury Archer.”
Within the article itself are various storylines that have emerged from the simulated season, such as Yu Darvish’s continued dominance and the constant struggles of the bullpen.
Although it doesn’t replace hearing the sharp crack of a Louisville Slugger baseball bat launching a ball 400 feet into the air, the virtual season serves as something to invest in at a time where there aren’t many alternatives.
Esports are also more inclusive and interactive. Not everyone interprets real games the same, and only a small portion of viewers can fully understand the psychology of the decision-making that athletes and coaches make, while the rest of us blindly scream and criticize from behind our screens.
Virtual sports, on the other hand, require a balance of knowledge, strategy and imagination. Only in an “NBA2K” game can you average 50 points a game or pit the dominant 2016 Golden State Warriors against Michael Jordan’s 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.
The more difficult the game settings are, the more realistic the game becomes. Playing “MLB The Show” on the “All-Star” setting provides a much faster pace of play and requires split-second decision-making — similar to the reaction time needed by a hitter or fielder when confronted by a baseball traveling at near-lethal speeds. It allows the player to step inside a professional’s shoes while adding his or her own personal twist to the traditional games we all adore so much.
It remains unclear how much longer the sports world will remain on hiatus. But, as we eagerly await the return of highlight plays and game-by-game analysis on our favorite teams, watching virtual teams battle it out will have to do.