It’s pretty incredible to see how far technology has come within the past few years. One of the more popular inventions has been the push for virtual reality (VR). Esports has always been an industry that prides itself on technology advancements, so I was curious what impact virtual reality had on its future.
Can virtual reality and esports coexist? The esports industry is slowly incorporating virtual reality. More VR only leagues are launching every year. Though many esports athletes are still hesitant to use virtual reality. It will be interesting to see if virtual reality is just a fad or here to stay.
As a newer fan of esports I just naturally assumed that virtual reality was being proclaimed as the future of the industry. Depending on who you ask though that’s not necessarily the case. While a lot of companies are working to make it a viable component of esports there is still a lot that needs to happen for it to overcome PC and console gaming.
Definition of Virtual Reality
When I started researching virtual reality, I almost felt like I was reading about science fiction.
Companies are making massive strides with VR technology. It’s being used by more people in their day-to-day lives.
Virtual reality has changed the medical field, scientific world, sports medicine, and has even impacted the military.
It’s such a new technology that is still evolving and changing every single day. There’s a variety of companies designing different uses for virtual reality.
In the esports industry, virtual reality is when a player puts on a headset and holds some sort of controller to play a video game.
The headset covers the gamers eyes and ears, so they feel entirely incorporated into the video game world.
It’s supposed to feel very immersive, so players feel more connected to the video game.
Developers want to make these games so real that it would be hard to differentiate between video game and real life.
The simulation is supposed to engage all of our base senses.
The only experience I have with virtual reality was from a cheap headset that turned my phone into a virtual reality system.
I enjoyed it Christmas morning, but afterward, I never found myself returning to the product.
My experience with virtual reality is the same problem that video game developers are having withing the esports industry.
No Cupid’s Arrow…Yet
There are a couple of different problems currently holding virtual reality back from being more popular with esports.
A few of them I expected while others I had never thought of before.
Virtual Reality Games
Virtual reality in esports really feels like a glorified niche among its best athletes. Even the most popular esports games have zero virtual reality components.
After researching esports as extensively as we have, we know League of Legends, Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Call of Duty are the most popular games in esports.
When I started researching what esports games were being played using virtual reality, I realized I had never heard of any of them.
The games are not very well known to the general public making it difficult for casual fans to get involved.
Obviously, the ESL believes virtual reality has a place in esports having created a league solely dedicated to the product.
But the games being played in the league I personally have never heard of.
Have any of you ever played these games?
This is the biggest obstacle to overcome. Game developers need to design games the general public enjoys playing and watching. Otherwise, your league will never grow beyond what it currently is.
The Cost of Virtual Reality
Another problem holding virtual reality back and keeping the general public from knowing about these games is how expensive virtual reality systems are.
They can be incredibly expensive, and not everyone can afford one.
With it being so expensive not many people can play the games and fall in love with the concept.
Most people will just use their PCs, video game consoles, and even their mobile phones whenever they want to play video games.
What makes esports so popular is the fact that everyone feels like they have a chance to make it big. Video games are so widely consumed; everyone has access to at least one game. Making it easier for people to imagine playing video games professionally.
I honestly can’t think of one person that has a virtual reality headset or game for me to try.
Another issue virtual reality developers are having to overcome is the limitations of technology.
Even if an esports athlete wants to try virtual reality most of them say they can only play for about 20 minutes before beginning to complain about eye soreness.
As we have seen, to be a top esports athlete these players are having to train for 8 to 12 hours a day. So only being able to play for 20 minutes doesn’t benefit them.
They can’t enjoy the product if it continues to give them medical issues.
This is one problem I do believe will be resolved. As more people and companies continue to develop the product I’m certain they will find a way to limit any medical issues.
Scott Gillingham is Intel’s Gaming and esports lead. He had this to say about esports athletes and their relationship with virtual reality, “I think the overall esports players, they’re not all rushing to do this…that’s a slow process. But the ones that have done it have [had] a great experience, [so] there’s a definite future there with VR coming.” – PC Mag
Obviously, Gillingham sees a future where esports and virtual reality can coexist. He would be one of the people to trust as his department continues to develop and push virtual reality forward.
Beyond just having eye soreness esports athletes are slow to adapt to virtual reality because it affects their popularity and bank account.
Some of the top esports athletes are able to support themselves financially through their corporate sponsorships, and streaming feeds on Twitch and YouTube.
Professional esports athletes are able to earn money from Twitch because they’re so good at playing popular games. And general consumers want to see the top athletes play League of Legends and Dota 2.
If an athlete switches to a virtual reality game, they may see a significant drop in their followers because not as many people are wanting to watch. Which means less money. Even the prize money is significantly less in virtual reality esports leagues.
Esports athletes need to see the financial benefit before they’ll jump on board.
Even if you’re able to get fans watching VR esports, what’s the best way to broadcast a VR tournament?
TheWarOwl is a content creator on YouTube and had this to say about esports problem with broadcasting virtual reality matches, “The art of curating spectator experiences for esports titles like Counter-Strike has already been figured out, but crafting a VR viewing experience presents a new set of challenges. In a traditional esports viewing experience, a production staff is responsible for guiding the spectators’ focus by showing them what is important. This allows the viewer to relax and enjoy the show without missing anything.” – Venture Beat
TheWarOwl went on to say, “VR is unique in that it allows the user to decide what they want to focus on by physically turning their heads. I predict that even for future VR esports titles, most viewers will still prefer to watch a guided experience on a 2D screen, even if that 2d screen is inside a virtual reality.”
All TheWarOwl is saying is that the general public has gotten used to viewing esports one particular way. We enjoy being able to see from a variety of perspectives and being able to control what we watch.
With virtual reality, you are more restricted and locked in on what you’re able to watch at any given time. It’ll be interesting to see how esports handles future broadcasts of their product.
A lot of technological advancement, public opinion, athlete opinion, and financial growth will need to happen for virtual reality to be as popular as expected.
This doesn’t mean people aren’t up to the challenge. But bridging the relationship gap between virtual reality and esports is not going to be easy.
How VR is Growing in Esports
The most significant way that virtual reality is trying to grow in esports is by getting more well-known game developers involved.
I’ve always admired how fans and players can be so dedicated to specific companies and their brand.
They are incredibly loyal and will try whatever products video game developers release.
Blizzard Entertainment is a prime example of a beloved game developer. This is why esports is desperate to try and get some of the most trusted names in the industry to design virtual reality games.
They know virtual reality needs a real ‘AAA’ title to really bring in the casual fan.
There’s not a game currently out there, or one that we know of, that could change virtual reality and the esports industry.
But you never know what they’re working on behind closed doors.
In addition to creating and designing games, esports organizers are also trying to build momentum for the industry by organizing specific virtual reality leagues.
The league that’s leading the way for virtual reality is the already mentioned VR League by ESL.
VR League has been around since July 2017, and have seen healthy growth in their popularity.
The VR league has some mighty and influential companies backing it. Both Intel and Oculus are supporting the league financially and with technology.
Their website provides an excellent description of their league, “The VR League is the world’s first and biggest virtual reality esports league. Our goal is to push the state of esports forward through innovative gameplay and the physicality of VR. We are building a community where developers, teams, and players can thrive for many years to come.” – VR League
Having a league like this is what’s going to take virtual reality to the next level.
They need an influential ambassador to continue to get fans excited for their product.
Virtual Athletics League
The other league that’s fully embracing virtual reality is incredibly unique.
It’s called the Virtual Athletics League (VAL), and it was started in 2016 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
What makes this particular league so unique in esports is the fact they solely operate out of virtual reality arcades.
Arcades will always have a special place in my heart. My brother and I would play video games at our local Pizza Hut and movie theaters when we were kids.
There’s just something special about being in an arcade with all the different video games.
When I found out about the Virtual Athletics League, I got more excited about the concept of virtual reality in esports.
There are now over 160 virtual reality arcades participating in the league around the globe. They are always hosting tournaments and are open for the public to enjoy.
In my humble opinion, this is where virtual reality can really take off with the general public. I can’t spend all the money necessary to buy a virtual reality set, but I’m happy to spend money every so often to go play at an arcade.
It’s a great way to build excitement and to tap into young virtual reality talent as gamers go to these arcades.
The league became official this past year in October 2018 when they signed sponsorships with HP, Inc. and HTC Esports.
According to HTC Esports, “With the sponsorship from HP, inc., HTC Esports and new developer tools like LIV, competitors and spectators alike can compete and engage with esports on a whole new level.” – Vibe.com
With these companies backing their product it’ll be easier for them to continue to build more arcades and host more tournaments.
Collegiate Virtual Reality Esports
The last virtual reality esports league that’ll hopefully make virtual reality more popular with the general public is the Collegiate VR eSports League.
It’s an incredibly young league that still needs a lot of growth but definitely has potential.
The Collegiate VR eSports League held their inaugural season this past year in the fall of 2018. It was a success, and they hope it continues to grow over the next few years.
The goal of the Collegiate Virtual Reality eSports League is to create a community and sports program at universities for virtual reality athletes.
Not only would it be fun for students to be able to participate on these teams for their university but there’s also the potential for students to get scholarships in the future.
For right now the league is too new for there to be any scholarships available, but if it continues to grow in popularity, I’m sure it won’t be much longer.
A Different Kind of Athlete
Virtual reality does have one advantage that other esports video games will never have…the ability to appeal to a different sort of athlete.
Esports athletes are most well known for their quick reflexes, decision making, and endurance. But the type of athletes that virtual reality is appealing to have different strengths.
Some of them look like what you would expect from a professional athlete. They are toned with great dexterity, stamina, and strength.
Because of its physical nature, virtual reality esports athletes look more like track stars or basketball players. Virtual reality simply requires more moving and standing which appeals to a different demographic.
Virtual reality can be more of physical activity, and these types of athletes are seeing the benefit to it. As the sport continues to grow, it’ll only get more physical as athletes climb and jump on different things within the game.
By being able to tap into a different pool of athletes will only help virtual reality to grow in popularity.
Aspiring esports stars will love having the ability to use their athletic gifts while playing the video games they like.
Esports only needs to figure out how to incorporate PC gaming, console gaming, mobile gaming, and virtual reality altogether to create a genuinely unstoppable league. I’m sure that’s easier said than done!
But, between esports continual recruitment of top game developers, the creation of more leagues, and virtual realities ability to attract a different type of athlete, It’s only a matter of time before we see a full inclusion of virtual reality in the esports industry.
My next mission…Google the closest virtual reality arcade so I can try it out.
What’s the best virtual reality set for the home? The most well-known company in virtual reality is Oculus. Their most popular product is the Oculus Rift. You can find the Oculus Rift + Touch Virtual Reality Headset only for around $350.
Featured image courtesy of Marco Verch