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Bored sports fans are flocking to video games, Electronic Arts CEO says

July 14, 2020, 8:45 PM UTC

The shutdown of professional sports leagues worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted fans to flock to video game sports titles instead.

Soccer simulation game FIFA has experienced an 80% increase in play in EA’s most recent quarter (it had 100 million players during all of last year), said Andrew Wilson, CEO of video game giant Electronic Arts. Meanwhile, the number of Madden NFL football title players has increased by “triple digits” and the number of people playing EA’s NHL hockey games is also up significantly.

“As human beings we have an insatiable appetite for sport,” Wilson said during an online Fortune Brainstorm Tech event on Tuesday.

Some people feared that the suspension of live sports leagues—some have since restarted, mostly without fans—may depress interest in their gaming counterparts. But that’s not what happened. “At a time where we’ve had almost zero sports on television or that you could go watch at an arena, the engagement in our sports games never been higher,” Wilson said.

EA has also used the pandemic shutdown to host virtual matches with professional athletes. In April, it hosted the EA SPORTS FIFA 20 Stay and Play Cup, during which 20 professional soccer players competed against each other online. FC Copenhagen’s Mohamed Daramy won the video game crown.

“We started to create different storylines in the virtual world in and around the athletes and the sports people love that are different from what goes on in the real world,” Wilson said. “As we look at a year where the question (is) are sports going to be on, are they going to stay on, what we’ve done is continue to build in that connection to the real world sports.”

Shares of EA, which rose 2% on Tuesday, have gained almost 20% since early May when the game maker beat Wall Street expectations by reporting quarterly revenue that had increased 12% to $1.4 billion. In June, EA CFO Blake Jorgenson said the company would exceed its sales guidance of $1.2 billion for the current quarter, without providing more details.