Folks discover new pandemic distractions – each inside and outside

Restaurants, bars and cinemas were closed. Kennywood ended his season more than a month early. The pirates have banned fans. The Steelers banned the hatchback.

COVID-19 has turned many popular social, cultural, and recreational pursuits on their heads that have provided moments of calm for Southwestern Pennsylvanians.

At the same time, pandemic disruptions in traditional entertainment have sparked growing interest in other recreational opportunities, such as outdoor sports and video games, which may linger after the public health crisis has subsided.

“People flock to activities they can safely do,” said Tim Derdenger, associate professor of marketing and strategy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.

Parks are becoming increasingly popular

When Pittsburgh and Allegheny Counties moved into the yellow phase in May, residents were consuming the area’s natural resources en masse.

Visitors to state and local parks rose 36 percent over the same period in 2019 last spring, according to the Pennsylvania Department for Conservation and Natural Resources.

The PA Fish and Boat Commission reported that sales of new fishing licenses were up 159,000 year over year, an increase of 19 percent. “Unknown,” said Mike Parker, communications director for the PA Fish and Boat Commission. “A really good year would be an increase of 3 percent.”

The take-off permits for private boats rose even further and increased by 35.6 percent compared to the previous year. “What we are seeing now is the explosion in paddling, especially kayaks,” said Parker. “Kayaks are the fastest growing segment of boating in Pennsylvania.”

For state parks, a disadvantage of the surge in popularity was the burden of maintaining a statewide parking system that already had deferred maintenance costs of more than $ 1 billion. Several parks reported greater crowds, traffic jams, and rampant litter.

On August 10, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources issued an overcrowding warning for a number of state parks, including Keystone in Westmoreland County, Presque Isle in Erie, and Ohiopyle in Fayette County, and took action to prohibit parking in each park limit.

And more boats on the water meant more work for the Corps of Waterways Conservation Officers of the Fish and Boating Commission, who patrol the rivers and enforce local laws, attract new boaters unaware of basic water safety, and more drunk boaters. “There were more BUI [Boating Under the Influence] Arrests this year, ”said Parker.

Still, the surge in popularity was a welcome development. It is seen as particularly beneficial to the fish and boat commission. License and permit proceeds are paid for services ranging from trout stocking programs to agents who patrol local waters. And higher revenues will support the department’s conservation and outreach efforts across the state, “which in many cases has long been underfunded,” said Parker.

Visit virtual worlds

While some residents rediscovered nature during the pandemic, others are taking advantage of screen time.

Facebook reported a 12 percent year-over-year increase in daily active users in the company’s report to investors in the third quarter. Netflix saw record growth in subscribers in the first two quarters of the year, adding nearly 16 million subscribers worldwide. Disney +, the entertainment giant’s new streaming service, reported 73.7 million subscribers in the first week of October, a milestone the company hadn’t expected in at least five years.

Interest in already very popular video games has also increased. US consumer spending on video games – both the games themselves and the hardware – was $ 11.6 billion for the second quarter of this year, up 30 percent from a year earlier, according to research firm NPD.

On the streaming website Twitch, where famous and obscure gamers broadcast their virtual hijinks, the daily viewership increased from 13 million hours to 31 million in March, according to Nielsen Data Analytics.

The Pittsburgh Knights, a local esports team, have expanded their online presence significantly over the past year after focusing on live events in 2019. An online event in July with Pittsburgh-born rapper and Knights sponsor Wiz Khalifa was seen by 95,000 viewers, a record for the Knights. “We’re not surprised that so many people have turned to gaming during this era of social distancing as a way of socializing,” said Angelica Sirabella, communications director for The Knights.

Whether the gaming industry can maintain such high levels of engagement once the pandemic has subsided and traditional conversations return is an open question. However, CMU’s Derdenger said new technology could help continue video games and even build on last year’s accomplishments.

Technology leaders like Google, Amazon, and Sony recently launched cloud-based gaming services – essentially Netflix for video games. Over high-speed connections, players can play without having to own any specific gaming hardware or downloading title-specific software.

Such services still have a long way to go before they match the performance of the consoles or downloaded content that currently dominate the industry. However, Derdenger said the technology is likely to mature quickly and have the potential to improve the accessibility and popularity of games.

“I think we are in an area for significant innovation in this area. It’s an exciting time. “

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