As the previously bustling stadiums across the world have either become deserted structures and infirmaries due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Pakistan’s top gamer Arslan ‘Ash’ Siddiqui reveals how the esports circuit is enjoying the spotlight during lockdown.
In an exclusive interview with Geo Super, the 24-year-old said that there has been an exponential increase in the number of gamers and spectators alike as people struggle for ways to busy themselves in the time of COVID-19. With far more time on their hands, many new gamers and just as many old ones have picked up their controllers.
"A lot of my friends who had given up gaming are playing again and new players are also coming. I’ve noticed an 80% increase in the number of gamers while online engagement during live streams has doubled,” he said.
As conventional sportsmen are confined to their homes and resorting to innovative ways to keep fit, Ash said pro video gamers are in a much better position, if not ideal.
"Sometimes I cannot practice because of technical issues and am unable to play with my fellow peers and I can't go to my usual training spot, but I do think us gamers are still faring better than cricketers or footballers," the Tekken champ said.
Despite the advantages, the unified Tekken champion, however, has felt the effects of the pandemic as 22 tournaments lined up for this year have been put on hold.
Nonetheless, he said that the financial blow has been softened up a great deal by his sponsors, vSlash and Redbull, both of whom have taken great care of him during these testing times.
He insisted that the pro gaming career, contrary to popular belief, was a sustainable one and urged for the need of familial support for rising gamers.
"Gaming is a very respectable way to earn. You just need the passion and support to do so," he said.
One of Ash's supporters was the Pakistan Cricket Board, who recognised his triumphs in the Pakistan Super League 2020. Even all-rounder Shoaib Malik had lauded Ash's efforts.
While the PSL limelight did raise his profile, Ash believes that a lot more needs to be done at local level in Pakistan's gaming industry.
For starters, he said that he has been pushing to establish a formal gaming governing body in Pakistan.
Having been all too familiar with the struggles, he hopes that the body would propel the sport to a professional level.
For now, however, he waits like the rest of us, hoping the pandemic ends soon so the game goes on.