By Alexander Moiseev, Chief Business Officer of Kaspersky
Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the overall economic downturn, a number of industries have managed to thrive - one of them is eSports.
While all the major live sporting events have been postponed in the interest of public safety, and most likely will not be held anytime soon, for millions of sports fans online tournaments have become the only way to get their fix. Even the world’s fastest and most expensive spectator sport, Formula 1, went online to replace the postponed Grand Prix Series with virtual races. These digital competitions, where the F1 stars are competing alongside special guests, are being broadcast live on multiple platforms – from Facebook to Twitch, attracting hundreds of thousands of viewers.
Some rightly say that without traditional elements of racing - like the smell of burning rubber or champagne celebrations, it’s not the same real-life Formula 1. Nevertheless, the growing popularity of virtual races shows that it’s not a deal breaker of any sort.
In general, the eSports industry has been booming for years anyway, cementing itself in popular culture. The total eSports viewership in 2019 was estimated to be around 454 million people. It is expected to grow at a nine percent compound annual growth rate and to double within the next six years. But the current pandemic can help the audience numbers surge even faster than expected.
Meanwhile, motorsport is one of a very limited number of sports with a truly global appeal – for instance, the fanbase of Formula 1 exceeds half a billion people, representing all corners of the planet. At the same time, offline and virtual motorsport is now more interconnected than ever –F1 racers are competing in online challenges and eSportsmen are becoming legitimate stars with a solid fan base and sponsorship contracts.
Just some 10 years ago, if someone said they considered a career in eSports, no one would have taken them seriously. Now, however, stories of people earning millions of dollars in virtual competitions are not uncommon. It’s difficult to tell what races, classic or virtual, will eventually be more popular - all options are on the table. But the popularity of online races will continue to grow, attracting new followers and luring existing racing fans.
According to a Nielsen survey, 43% of motorsport fans are “interested or very interested” in eSports. Moreover, the appeal of virtual motorsport is being supported by the generational change and the way youngsters consume information. Both Millennials and Generation Z surely appreciate the playful side of the experience offered by tech.
Nevertheless, the growing popularity of eSports doesn’t just open up the entertainment sector but also leads to new challenges as the ecosystem of virtual competitions relies on a huge IT infrastructure. The question of immunity for eSport networks is crucial for both players and eSport organisations. And the more the industry thrives - the more vital these questions will become.
Where is the safety car?
Ten years ago, Kaspersky entered Formula 1. A first in the industry, we partnered with a leader of racing – Scuderia Ferrari, and we’ve since built a strong and proven partnership with the legendary carmaker. Since then we have provided Ferrari with cyber-immunity and Kaspersky’s world-class infrastructure protection. This reaches more than 5,000 Ferrari endpoints and systems globally, including the factory in Maranello and Ferrari’s infrastructure at F1 circuits around the world.
And cybersecurity is not new for the gaming industry.
Alongside widespread threats online, gamers are also exposed to specific risks. The latter can include character and inventory theft via password-stealing malware or targeted phishing - the better your game character or account, the greater the chance that criminals will target you specifically to sell your valuable stuff on the gray market or demand a ransom. This is especially relevant for well-developed games with a ready-to-pay audience. As a reminder, the most expensive item ever sold in a game (that we know about) cost $635,000.
Hackers often target gamers with fake game updates or utilities claiming to customise your game or help speed up your progress. Malicious apps can be spread through in-game communication, as attachments on gamers’ forums or chat rooms, and in exceptional cases even through legitimate game update mechanisms.
Some of that malware is game-oriented, stealing gamers’ credentials or in-game goods, but some steal bank accounts; add the user’s PC, Mac, or smartphone to a botnet; or even mines cryptocurrency.
The cases mentioned above are just a few varieties, which is why gamers should never forget about cyber-immunity for their devices. Time-proven and up-to-date security solutions are always the answer. Don’t be afraid of the stereotype that “antiviruses affect PC processing capabilities” and, therefore, ruin the overall gaming experience. Of course, no one wants to lose momentum on their way to victory.
To avoid such sour situations Kaspersky’s major household products have been updated to include Gaming Mode. When enabled, the application does not run scans and updates, nor does it show any notifications when another application is opened in full screen.
Yet there is more space for solutions to help gamers with continuous performance as well as protection of their profiles and whole gaming experience: from securing mobile broadcasting and streaming tools, to anti-cheat and VR/AR control management.
In March, within the Kaspersky Innovation Hub, we announced a global call for gaming startups, inviting all teams and individual projects to develop solutions on the edge of cybersecurity and eSports to participate in the challenge. With this project, we are looking forward to working jointly with the best tech-based initiatives on pilot projects, so we can enhance our technology and address security needs together with higher accuracy and efficiency.
Nowadays, with the technological advances and growing interest from the public, global investors, brands and media, the future of eSports looks brighter than ever. But just like on the racetrack, safety rules in cyberspace must be taken really seriously to ensure that virtual competitions don’t take an unexpected turn.