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Empty Chairs at Empty Arenas

By KERRY TINGA

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The wonderful world of sports has been upended by the Covid-19 pandemic. Sports seasons have been suspended, some for the first time in history. Meanwhile, for some sports and entertainment industries, creative means of keeping the show going have been employed.

In March, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) broadcast live without any audiences. Without any context some could have mistaken it for an independent art film as two men in a dazzling, cheoreographed display of strength wrestled in a ring in an empty arena. As the wrestlers attempted to “play to the crowd” that was not present, they ended up giving dramatic monologues that were oddly beautiful. Think Marius’ solo “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” from the musical Les Miserables.

The WWE is one of the few entertainment and sporting enterprises still holding events during the pandemic

The WWE is one of the few entertainment and sporting enterprises still holding events during the pandemic

Professional wrestlers are professional entertainers who probably practice their speeches and  move in empty arenas anyway. Other athletes not as refined in the act of entertaining, however, may still need an audience to hype them up. There is something comforting about seeking the faces of other people.

Just a few days ago T1 Entertainment & Sports (T1) won the League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK), defeating Gen.G in a 3-0 sweep. For those unfamiliar with the billion-dollar eSports competition industry, Riot Games’ League of Legends is the most watched eSport not only beating direct competitors like Fortnite but also traditional sports events such as the Super Bowl.

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Given that social distancing is the new normal, eSports are projected to get even bigger. Unlike other sports, many viewers are accustomed to watching the sports on a screen. But don’t let that fool you as arenas around the world were usually packed during physical events where fans would fill in venues to, well, watch the sport on a larger screen than the one they had at home.

Of course, due to public health concerns, Riot Games has cancelled many of the League of Legends events or at least closed them off to a live audience. Since the players are all on computers, competition can still ensue with social distancing. For the LCK, a peak of 1.07 million unique concurrent viewers tuned in to watch, with some committed fans even sending photos printed out for cardboard cutouts.

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The longshots could have fooled a viewer into thinking there was an audience, making it a little more comfortable to look at than the empty arenas of WWE. The jury, however, is still out on whether the closeups of the cardboard cutouts worked to provide a sense of normalcy to the event or made it a whole lot odder.

Which ever case you prefer, it might take a long while before a live audience is possible again even after the lockdown is lifted anywhere in the world.

Photos courtesy of LCK


Source: Manila Bulletin (https://lifestyle.mb.com.ph/2020/04/27/empty-chairs-at-empty-arenas/)

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