The return of sport amid the pandemic has been one of the few saving graces for many people over the last year.
It’s provided a welcome distraction from the humdrum of multiple lockdowns and offered a sense of hope that, one day, things will return to some sort of normality.
The same is true in the world of esports, an industry that has had to play some of its biggest and most spectacular tournaments behind closed doors over the last 12 months.
René Romann is a huge fan of esports outfit Team Liquid and says following his favorite organization has provided respite during such difficult times.
“It’s kind of interesting to see this online family, this Liquid family, and how we can help each other in certain situations, especially in this pandemic,” Romann tells CNN Sport.
“Also getting [...] knowledge of what is going on worldwide, because you have this worldwide fan base.
“It’s really helpful, if you have any kind of problem, you can talk to people and they really help you.”
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‘Watching the games together’
Romann, a 34-year-old software engineer from Hamburg, Germany, says he spends up to two hours a day engaging Team Liquid’s content, though he misses the opportunity to watch his favorite players perform live in front of packed-out stadiums.
However, as a keen gamer himself, spending time and playing online with this virtual community has made the last year that little bit more bearable.
“I wouldn’t call myself a super fan,” he says, laughing. “But it depends a little bit on how you define it.”
“Like [how] other people check the newspapers, it’s more for me that I check what they [Team Liquid] are doing.
“Just watching the games together, having some kind of viewing party, and you’re just talking about what the team will do or what the team should not do [...] that’s kind of interesting.”
Studies have shown the esports fanbase has rocketed in recent years and, with everyone stuck indoors due to lockdowns, viewership increased again during 2020.
Keeping those fans engaged is paramount for an organization like Team Liquid, which says its supporters are at the heart of everything it does.
Team Liquid’s co-CEO Steve Arhancet says his team regularly sends handwritten letters and calls fans over the phone in order to foster that community feel. It’s something that he says has been extra important during such tough times.
“When you’re able to provide that kind of care and consideration that you would to a family member or a friend or someone that you just care about, why is it any different for a relationship between the sports team and its fans? It should be the same,” Arhancet tells CNN Sport.
“I think a lot of other teams take it for granted. They just assume that you could just watch our content and that’s enough. It isn’t. You have to care and you have to listen and you have to remember.”