Disclaimer: Waldo is a medical student, not a licensed physician. This article does not contain any information that constitutes medical advice, it is simply a synthesis of publicly available information that is being interpreted through an esports lens.
At this point it seems you’d be hard-pressed to find an esport that hasn’t been affected by the outbreak of COVID-19, or coronavirus, which was actually more recently designated as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). In an attempt to help you understand why this is all transpiring the way that it is, I’m going to take some time to use my medical education (thus far) to explain where we are, where things could go, and why we should care.
We’re going to focus on the “novel” part, as that’s the scariest part about this whole outbreak. There’s a lot about SARS-CoV-2 that is new and unknown, which we’ve learned to fear as human beings. The good news is that we’ve known about the family of viruses known as coronaviruses for a long time, some estimate as far back as the 1960s. We classify viruses based on things like the type of DNA or RNA they utilize, whether they are positive or negative “sense” (more on this in a second), whether or not they have a protective envelope, and their shape.
This specific type of coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, is considered a spherical, positive-sense, single-stranded RNA virus with an envelope. Positive-sense means that the sequence of the virus’s RNA appears like human mRNA, so it is able to hijack human cells to replicate its own proteins more efficiently. Negative-sense viruses have RNA that appears opposite to human cells, so the viral particles need to use an enzyme to flip it around before they can hijack the human cell. This will manifest like an upper respiratory infection: think pneumonia. You’ll feel bad, you’ll cough a lot, run a fever, and have trouble catching your breath.
Based on what we know so far, SARS-CoV-2 isn’t a major health threat for the predominant esports demographic. Teenagers and young adults are the biggest part of the market share for esports consumption and are also the demographic least likely to succumb to the novel virus that is sweeping the globe - that is, as long as they receive proper healthcare. The primary concern is that attendees will contract the virus at an event, then bring it back and expose it to other, more vulnerable people upon returning home.
Previously, we have seen the number of cases of SARS-CoV-2 increase exponentially. In many Western countries it only took three days for the number of cases to double. According to a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, the initial data from China appears to show that the average infected person spreads the infection to 2.2 other people if no measures are implemented to stop its spread.
Though we as esports fans may not be at inherent risk, we have the potential to spread this disease at an extremely high rate if organizers were to continue to have mass gatherings of people. We have a social and societal responsibility to limit the spread of coronavirus for those who cannot protect themselves: the elderly and the immunocompromised.
There is even more reason for concern in certain areas of the world that don’t have the healthcare infrastructure to deal with a quickly spreading virus. Take the ESL One Rio de Janeiro Major for example. Nearly a quarter of Rio’s population lives in favelas, densely populated and impoverished neighborhoods (~1.5 million people) and have limited access to quality healthcare. Not everyone will be receiving the same quality of care as their president, Jair Bolsonaro. If SARS-CoV-2 were to make landfall here, the close proximity of so many people combined with the Brazilian government’s history of issues enforcing their wishes in the favelas is a recipe for fast spread and high mortality. The Brazilian government does have a responsibility to vet and protect fans that descend on the tournament.
You might think the hype and fast sellout of this event means that the attendees would be largely local fans, but that’s also the scariest part. While it’s true that you would be fairly safe in a place with nearly all asymptomatic people, but all it takes is one person who is unknowingly carrying the virus to willing make the trip from NA, Europe, or Asia to infect a ton of local people that will disperse it throughout the Rio community.
TOs and governments can say or do whatever they want to reduce the chance of transmission, but in the end only individuals can prevent the spread of disease. It’s pretty simple really. Just follow these easy steps:
Here’s hoping this all runs its course soon. Be passionate, be a proud fan, but be smart and plan any trips with maximal precaution and possible restrictions or roadblocks in mind. Use these WHO tips if you would like to learn more!
Above all else, just remember that when we look back on this it is far better to reflect and think that we did too much than to look back and wish we had done more.