When the COVID-19 pandemic forced WWE to stage all of its shows behind closed doors last March, the company lost one of its most valuable assets: a live crowd.
For generations, WWE Superstars have thrived on the energy and passion of the fans they perform in front of. Real-time feedback from the audience allowed both performers and the company itself to know instantly whether the direction of a character or storyline was connecting with the masses.
WWE lost that link when all of its tapings had to be moved to the Performance Center in Orlando, starting with the March 13, 2020 edition of SmackDown. From the very first moments the show came on the air that night, it was obvious that the empty-arena setting was going to drastically affect the feel of WWE's programming moving forward.
Things improved slightly in August when the company unveiled the WWE ThunderDome - a set-up that allowed fans to attend events virtually. However, while the ThunderDome looks much better on television than the Performance Center, both venues lack a genuine in-person audience.
WrestleMania 37 marked the only time in the last 15 months that WWE has put on events before a paying crowd. The difference made by a live audience was clear throughout the entire two-night spectacular.
As much as fans enjoyed themselves, though, WWE Superstars were just as enthusiastic to perform for them.
Rumors suggest WWE is exploring the idea of beginning to tour again later this year. As of now, the company reportedly wants to kick off its new touring schedule by having fans in attendance at this year's SummerSlam pay-per-view event. New York's Madison Square Garden and a venue in Las Vegas have both been touted as possible locations for the August show.
Once WWE is touring again, which superstars stand to benefit the most from the presence of a live crowd? There have been some standout performers for the company during the 'pandemic era', but here are five WWE Superstars who could benefit most from the return of fans to live events.
#5 Former two-time WWE Champion Drew McIntyre will benefit from the return of live crowds
Drew McIntyre has arguably been WWE's biggest star during the period where fans have been absent from shows.
McIntyre was already scheduled to face Brock Lesnar in the main event of WrestleMania 36 for the WWE Championship when the pandemic struck. Global events robbed the Scottish Warrior of the opportunity to have his crowning moment in front of a capacity crowd.
Drew McIntyre has carried the RAW brand for much of the last 18 months, consistently making the best of the bad situation presented by COVID restrictions.
McIntyre has won both of his WWE Championships without a live audience in attendance. He won his first title run when he beat Lesnar at WrestleMania last year, before defeating Randy Orton on RAW in October 2020 to begin his second reign.
Despite being recognized as a champion for a combined 300 days, McIntyre has never appeared in front of a live crowd with the title. The Scotsman has grown into a top-tier superstar without the WWE Universe to feed off of. Once the company begins touring again, the 35-year-old will have the chance to properly engage with his fanbase.
McIntyre made no secret of how important the return of fans at this year's WrestleMania was to him. Although he came up short in his WWE Championship challenge against Bobby Lashley, he clearly loved being back in front of a live audience in Tampa.
When crowds eventually return to WWE events permanently, expect McIntyre to go all-out to put on a great show.