In Western Europe lockdown measures are starting to be eased after three months of restrictions. It’s a good time to look back on the measures we’ve taken in our fantasy sports games, and to look to the future when sports competitions are resuming.
In the beginning of March COVID-19 took over Western Europe and countries went into lockdown. A logical consequence of the pandemic was the suspension of all sports events. At first for the time being, and after a couple of weeks some sports leagues decided to call it quits on the current season. Other organisations decided to reschedule events to later this year. Let’s have a look at some of our clients and how we’ve handled the pandemic thus far.
When the pandemic hit, we had fantasy sports games live for cycling, football and field hockey.
Cycling – No action on the cobbles
The 2020 Spring Classics season started as planned, with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne in the opening weekend at the end of February. But meanwhile the coronavirus made its way to the peloton in the UAE Tour. Some cyclists and teams were forced to stay quarantined in their hotel rooms in Abu Dhabi. And news from Italy, where clusters of cases were being detected and regions placed under quarantine, was even more worrying. The organisers of Strade Bianche (scheduled for 7th of March) and other Italian races (Tirreno-Adriatico, Milano-Sanremo) were forced to postpone.
We decided with DPG Media and Sporza to give players an extra transfer as compensation for the postponed or cancelled races. Games like Megabike don’t have transfers so no issue there. But after a couple of days the situation was becoming more dire and countries went into partial or full lockdown. General health was now the first priority. Races were put on hold indefinitely.
Now the waiting and hoping started. When will the UCI take a decision about the rest of the season? Will there be any racing at all in 2020? We couldn’t do much more than to wait it out. It would be a financial disaster for our clients if we immediately decided to close the games. That would have meant no more revenue if races would start up again, and we would have a bunch of angry players asking for compensation or reimbursement.
A lot of ifs and buts followed, but on May 5th the UCI announced the new 2020 calendar. Organiser ASO already announced that its Tour de France would take place in September, and the UCI and the rest of the races had to follow suit and reschedule before and after the biggest cycling race in the world.
The reshaped calendar introduced a couple of challenges. The spring classics were scattered all over the place and some grand tours and classics would take place on the same day. That meant that we couldn’t just restart our fantasy cycling games without further ado. A lot of players craft their teams with the calendar and individual cyclist programmes in mind. What races will Van Avermaet take on? Which Ardennes classics specialist will I transfer after the cobbled classics? Now those teams and strategies can be tossed in the bin. Our solution is to give every player the opportunity to do unlimited transfers up until Strade Bianche, the first upcoming race in August. By doing that all players can take the calendar reshuffles and upcoming participations in mind. After Strade Bianche, each transfer will be counted as before and players will have to think about who and when to transfer, as transfers will be limited (3 to 6 transfers in a season, depending on the game).
Fantasy sports games for the grand tours (Tour de France, Giro and Vuelta) will take place on a different date, but since they had not yet started when the pandemic hit, no special actions are needed to be taken. We hope that these races go ahead as planned.
Football – Season is over
The Belgian Pro League and Dutch Eredivisie football season 2019/20 is cancelled. There are multiple reasons why these leagues took that decision. Firstly, the Belgian and Dutch government are forbidding mass events to take place before a certain date. Secondly, there is not enough time left to play the remaining matches, no time to rest and to prepare for the next season. For the biggest European leagues (Bundesliga, La Liga, Premier League) the commercial stakes are too high to just cancel and they are aiming to resume the season behind closed doors. But not so in Belgium and the Netherlands.
Since the season is over, we are forced to close down Gouden 11 (DPG Media), Megascore (Mediahuis) and FFF Manager. That means a loss in revenue as players would have paid for new teams for specific gameweeks, playoffs and matchups, and a quarter of the season remains unplayed. The current standings become the final ones and all prizes will be send to the winners. Players who have created new teams for unplayed gameweeks will receive a coupon code to create a free team next season.
Hockey – Introducing a new game mode
A month before the Final 8 of the Euro Hockey League (the best club hockey competition in the world) the announcement came in that the tournament would be postponed. Together with our partner Scorrd we had an EHL fantasy hockey game coming up. We absolutely wanted to engage the hockey fans and we came up with a fantasy game “with a twist”.
The scores in regular fantasy sports are generated based on the real-life stats in each match. Now that all matches were postponed, we decided to simulate all hockey matches. You can read all about the inner workings of the online simulation fantasy game in our blogpost STAY@HOME Fantasy Hockey, our new game mode in times of coronavirus.
The new game mode and simulation approach offered a lot of benefits and was well received by the hockey fans. We could deliver for Scorrd in this uncertain time, and Scorrd could keep offering fantasy sports, which boosted website visits and engagement of its audience. One could argue that a simulation version would never be as successful as a regular fantasy game, but the numbers say the opposite: more people played the STAY@HOME Fantasy Hockey game than last year’s regular fantasy game! And when all live sports were halted, the STAY@HOME Fantasy game was the only active fantasy game out there.
It’s fair to say that a crisis such as the one we’re still in is not all bad, it forces you to think on your feet and find creative solutions to new problems. Let’s hope everybody stays safe in the coming months. We are currently preparing for relaunch this summer!