IMG Tennis / Facebook Gaming

Serena Williams, Gigi Hadid, and Seal are playing in a video game tournament this weekend

A massive tennis tournament is set to take place this Sunday featuring Serena Williams, Taylor Fritz, and for some reason Seal and Hailey Bieber, among others. The arena, as you might have suspected, is not Wimbledon or Arthur Ashe Stadium, but Facebook Gaming. Dubbed the 'Stay at Home Slam,' the tournament will be played in the form of a Mario Tennis Aces competition, and the winners will get a whopping $1 million donated to their charity of choice.

Serena and Venus Williams, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori, Kevin Anderson, and the other tennis athletes will be paired with a celebrity teammate for doubles matches. The streams will have facecams of the players so viewers can watch both the competitors and their Mario Tennis characters going wild at the same time, and each team will receive $25,000 as a donation to their charity just for participating.

"I am proud our IMG tennis clients came together so quickly to support a multitude of great causes," Max Eisenbud, SVP of tennis clients at IMG, which is co-sponsoring the event, said in a press release. "It is a testament to the people we work with across all our divisions that we were able to bring this to life in such a short amount of time."

Facebook Gaming was just introduced last week, but the platform is already trying to flex its muscles as it competes with other streaming services like Twitch and YouTube Live. Jumping into the lake with live tournaments and esports could be a good way to start, especially now that more people have turned to video games for entertainment during the pandemic. This increase in interest includes watching people play video games and spectating esport tournaments — something even Twitch has acknowledged with its new esports directory.

It's also a growth that's backed by data. According to a Limelight Network report titled The State of Online Gaming 2020, "[y]ounger gamers are moving away from watching traditional sports on television." The company predicted that "[t]his trend, combined with the five percent drop in watching sports online, will have a major impact on the value of broadcast sports rights in the near future."

A taste of that impact can be felt right now. Since Covid-19 has basically put all athletic events on hold, teams and other companies have been looking for alternatives to keep the interest in their sports alive. Racing and broadcasting companies have turned to virtual racing simulators to replace in-person races. Even ESPN has relied on video games to fill that NBA-shaped hole.

This Mario Tennis tournament seems to be another attempt to bring sports back to the people.

"[W]e are pivoting in creative ways during this time of crisis," said Stuart Saw, SPV of esports at IMG, in a press release. "We're thrilled to have the internal resources to bring a bit of levity to viewers' lives, and who better than Mario to bring people together for some friendly, competitive fun?"