Kings turn to video game simulations to keep fans engaged amid coronavirus shutdown

The last Kings aired started with familiar voices.

Play-by-play announcer Alex Faust sets the table at the start of the Sunday afternoon show and drops nuggets of research into his opening line. Analyst Jim Fox took over from there and submitted a scouting report for a game that was not intended.

The two men did not watch a real game, the NHL season was still suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak. Instead, they tried to talk into cameras from the safety of their home and tried their best to give a virtual replacement the real feel.

In this absence of live action, the kings have turned to video game simulations to maintain some semblance of routine. Every time a real Kings game takes place, such as Sunday’s delayed meeting with the Chicago Blackhawks, the team instead hosts a virtual rendition watched by thousands on an online stream.

Smile if you want. Three weeks ago, the idea of ​​live streaming video games for a low-energy fan base would sound comical. But with almost all real sports delayed in the near future, the industry has turned to virtual simulations to help fill the void.

“It does not completely replace hockey,” said Faust. “But it’s a nice way to get together and talk about the store for a while.”

On March 11, Faust signed the Fox Sports West Kings broadcast, knowing it could be the last. Earlier that evening, Rudy Gobert’s positive test for COVID-19 stalled the NBA season. The NHL followed the next morning. Since then, the entire sports world has come to a standstill, making sports-focused video games a rare tool of illumination.

Most teams in the NHL and NBA have staged something similar to the Kings simulations, creating content from video games such as EA Sports ” NHL 20 ‘or 2K Sports’ ‘NBA 2k20’. NASCAR and Formula One have turned iRacing’s virtual program into expertly produced television events, including a nationally broadcast race Sunday on Fox. Athletes have made contact with fans themselves through online platforms such as Twitch, de facto social media channels for video games.

In a time when arenas are empty and fans are stuck at home, the virtual world offers one of the best escapes from the real.

‘I like to watch our virtual one [Kings] play, ”said a Kings fan on Twitter recently. “I am currently going through a difficult period and I need these games.”

Kings vs. St. Louis Blues esports competition.

This is not the same as legitimate eSports endeavors, with professional gamers and organized competitions. Streams like the Kings’ are much more casual, but also ingenious in their own way. For the Kings, “Bailey” the team mascot (the real-life creation of senior game presentation and event manager Tim Smith) started working on the idea, checking the Kings team against computer simulations.

After the first stream received rave reviews, the Kings broadcast team was invited to participate. Now the streams open with an original pre-recorded package, including pause reports, post-game shows and in-game video interviews with real Kings players themselves, and find a captive audience online. Sunday’s game, a 5-3 Kings win, attracted more than 4,000 views on Twitter. Some of the highlight packs posted by the team have exceeded 10,000.

“Initially, I thought this would impact a small group of fans interacting with Bailey’s Twitter account,” said Faust. “But it really caught on.”

Other hockey teams put their own spin on the “NHL 20” simulations. The Ducks run similar online games instead of their actual schedule. The Washington Capitals cable branch, NBC Sports Washington, shows streams on the television waves. And the New Jersey Devils have published game stories around every virtual result on their team website.

“It is great to see the product we put our heart and soul into being used by the teams and promoted by the NHL,” said Sean Ramjagsingh, the EA Sports game’s executive producer. “A lot of people are currently largely at home. So it’s really cool to see how different teams actually use the game to create content. “

The video game “NHL 20” already had a lot of cachet within the hockey community, a game that was praised for its realistic visuals and user-friendly gameplay. Ramjagsingh has been working on the title since the 2009 edition, being involved in every annual improvement – details such as threads on jerseys and light reflection in the glass are some of his proudest – that have enhanced the visual experience.

“The kind of nuanced things that make the experience look so realistic is just the [game production] team members who own these things, “said Ramjagsingh. “Pushing the product to make it better on its own. I think that’s the real driving force behind the NHL team, only the passion we have to replicate the world of hockey. “

And as long as the actual games are kept on pause, the video game streams remain one of the few suitable replacements that the sports world can share as one.

“We all wanted to get involved and bring a little fun,” said Faust. It showed that “Hey, we’re still there. We are all still family. This Kings family will survive this period together. “How much frivolity we can bring to the situation is what we try to do.”

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