With Sporting Events Canceled, Pro Athletes Compete Through Virtual Tournaments

May 4, 2020

Thanks to social isolation, many of us have had to change our hobbies in some way or another. Social gatherings have been replaced with Zoom meetings, and a friendly night out at the movie theater has been replaced with streaming the latest films at home.

The world of sports is especially different thanks to COVID-19. Countless games and tournaments are now postponed indefinitely as government officials race to develop a vaccine.

In the meantime, some professional athletes and celebrities have gotten involved in some pretty creative competitions. What are we talking about? Online video game tournaments, of course!

Keep reading to get the full scoop on which athletes are redefining the term “pro gamer.”

A Touch of Irony

The world of video game players is pretty evenly split between those who love sports games and those who hate them. One thing the haters often point out is that annual sports game releases are largely the same from year to year, with only minor changes to the roster and the gameplay.

However, sports game fans are getting the last laugh during quarantine. These up-to-date rosters are now the only way they can celebrate their favorite teams. And thanks to these games, the actual players can get involved in a way that would otherwise be impossible.

Just a little food for thought before you diss your buddy’s NCAA game collection!

Virtual Madrid Open

One of the biggest virtual events was the Madrid Open. Normally, this is a major tennis tournament that takes place in Madrid each May. Since that was impossible this year, they opted for a virtual Madrid Open instead.

From April 27–30, 32 different tennis stars from around the world competed online in the PlayStation Tennis World Pro game. While this provided fans and players alike a lot of fun, some of the players (like Eugenie Bouchard and Donna Vekic) had to deal with connection problems and disconnecting games.

Eventually, two clear winners emerged. Andy Murray defeated David Goffin to win the men’s championship and Kiki Bertens beat Fiona Ferro to take home the women’s championship.

Playing HORSE

These virtual tournaments aren’t limited to tennis. And they aren’t all as formal as the Virtual Madrid Open.

For example, ESPN has been holding virtual HORSE tournaments online for NBA and WNBA players. Two players face off and challenge each other to copy their successful shots. When someone fails, they get a new letter, and whoever spells “HORSE” first loses.

So far, ESPN has snagged players like Trae Young, Chris Paul, Mike Conley, and Zach LaVine. And while the quality sometimes varied (players recorded their own games), this was an exciting new way to enjoy basketball.

The Stay At Home Slam

While basketball is fun, tennis continues to dominate the virtual gaming space. And a great example of this is the Stay At Home Slam tournament. It kicked off on May 3 and is played entirely via Mario Tennis on the Nintendo Switch.


This tournament is a good example of how serious players are taking these quarantine games. In addition to involvement from tennis stars like Serena Williams, Venus Williams, and Maria Sharapova, the event had commentary from John McEnroe and Youtuber iJustine.

If nothing else, this tournament is a hell of an advertisement for Nintendo!

Full Circle With Mario

For longtime gamers, it’s interesting to see Mario Tennis used for a professional tournament. That’s because Mario has been involved in sports for decades!

The veteran plumber was the referee in the 1985 Tennis game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. By the time the Nintendo 64 came out, we got the first Mario Tennis game in the year 2000. And this kicked off a long-lasting and beloved series of Mario tennis adventures.

What can we say? Tennis celebrities rocking rackets with Mario has been an event years in the making!

Big Prizes

When it comes to virtual tournaments, you may have a simple question: what are they actually playing for?

With most of these tournaments, players are competing for prize money that will go to a charity of their choosing. The Virtual Madrid Open, for example, offered winners a prize of 50,000 euros. And the Stay At Home Slam is giving each player $25,000 for their chosen charity, with the winner getting an additional $1 million donation to their chosen charity.

While it’s all in the name of charity, it’s quite impressive to see how massive the stakes of these games are.

A New Set of Skills

On an actual tennis court, players are evenly matched. Victory usually comes down to who has trained harder and mastered the various tennis skills required to win.

These online athletes quickly learned that video games are quite different than the real court. And victory typically went to whoever could learn more moves quicker than their opponent.

That was the case with David Goffin. He lost the Virtual Madrid Open men’s championship to Andry Murray, and he chalks this up to Murray having more familiarity with the game. According to Goffin, “He knows how to use the drop shot, the inside-out forehand, stuff like that, and I wasn’t able to do that. So he has a few more options.”

Anyone who has ever lost a match to either a skilled pro or a lucky button smasher knows exactly what he means!

The Fate of eSports

The popularity of eSports has surged year after year. Last year, eSports grew 12% over the previous year, signaling a large public shift in favor of these digital events. And as Forbes points out, this may be the year that solidifies eSports as a mainstream entertainment option.

For the foreseeable future, digital events like these may be the only way to enjoy professional sports or competitive video games. And enough people getting involved with eSports all at once may be what it takes to change the digital gaming landscape forever.

Category: Articles



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