Coronavirus has a lot of people playing Fortnite and watching Twitch

People are turning to the hit video game and streaming service as an escape amid the pandemic.

Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
3 min read

Fortnite, as escape route.

Epic Games

Fortnite: Battle Royale is one of the most popular games on the globe. Now, with governments shutting down schools, entertainers canceling events and even Disneyland closing, the game may be getting a boost. And so might the way to watch it, too.

As Italy's government enforces a mass quarantine, shutting down stores, restaurants and schools in an effort to slow the coronaviruspandemic, telecommunications companies have noticed a surge in traffic. And a lot of it's coming from video games such as Fortnite and Call of Duty, both of which pit players against one another in online battlefields.

"We reported an increase of more than 70% of internet traffic over our landline network, with a big contribution from online gaming such as Fortnite," Telecom Italia Chief Executive Officer Luigi Gubitosi said on a conference call, earlier reported by Bloomberg.

Epic, which makes Fortnite, didn't respond to CNET's request for comment. Activision said Call of Duty: Warzone, the newest addition to its series that was released this week, attracted 6 million people to play in its first 24 hours. "We're just getting started," the company tweeted.

Data from the online game analytics service Esports Charts shows the number of viewers has roughly doubled over the same time a year ago. TwitchTracker, another analytics service following activity Amazon's popular game streaming company it bought in 2014 for nearly $1 billion, shows each major game increasing viewership as well. Twitch didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

As more people around the world are told to keep their distance from one another, work remotely and, ideally, stay home, cabin fever could set in quick. It's no wonder that some people are retreating to the online world as a mental escape from the real one.

Bloomberg reported that Vodafone in the UK and Telia in Sweden are preparing for surging bandwidth demands. With schools now closing across the US, local carriers and services are likely not far behind. 

Discord, a video and chat app popular among gamers, said it is expanding the number of people who can use its group video chat service up to 50 at a time as it expects demand to surge as more people stay home.

Comcast said it's increasing bandwidth for people who pay for slower connections, and it's going to offer free service for the next 60 days to low-income families who sign up as new customers. "As schools and businesses close and families are encouraged, or even mandated, to stay home, Internet connectivity becomes even more important," Comcast said in a statement.

Verizon  and AT&T in the US said in a separate statements Wednesday they hadn't seen increases in data usage so far. Verizon added that it plans to spend as much as $18.5 billion this year upgrading its networks to support 5G wireless and more reliability. Verizon also said it will prioritize network demands of US hospitals, first responders and government agencies if its network comes under strain.

Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint each said they will be suspending data caps during the coronavirus outbreak.

Hulu and Disney didn't respond to requests for comment. Netflix declined to comment.

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