How virtual reality could change the esports industry
The gaming industry has progressed at a rapid pace in recent years, and there is no better indicator of that then the current VR boom.
These days, virtual reality is becoming ever more ever-present it tech media – even if the rate of consumer adoption has been slower than many had hoped for. Modern VR development was sparked by Palmer Luckey’s Oculus Rift Kickstarter campaign and was sustained by large companies investing into the scene such as HTC, PlayStation, Samsung, and Google with their own hardware and software. Much like a developing economic market, the VR scene is currently trying to figure out its role with high and low priced models, but that gives companies and consumers a lot of different avenues of experimentation. A lot of the strictly game titles often feel more like “experiences”, with sound that comes from all angles that force the user to be constantly aware of his surroundings, but the experiences more than not blow people away by sheer immersion.
Another emerging field is the world of esports. Esports is on track to become a billion dollar business in the next few years, and much like VR has been experimenting in a lot of different areas.
Superstar cornerback of the Seattle Seahawks Richard Sherman once called VR the “future of esports” and there is definitely a lot of crossover appeal for the two. A few months back, ESL hosted a large CS:GO Invitational event called ESL One NYC at the Barclays Center, which was viewed online by over half a million people.
During the event, ESL partnered with SLIVER.tv to broadcast the match in 360 degrees, to allow VR headset owners to have an all immersive experience. SLIVER.tv has been offering Twitch-level experiences to audiences for a while now, streaming such events as the Intel Extreme Masters Oakland with a live chat and a 360 degree view.
Esports and virtual reality have so much more to offer besides just spectating. Some want to see people play esports on devices such as the Vive, which would certainly be something to watch. While this has yet to be tried on a large scale, it should not be any different from playing a competitive title on a console, PC, or even smartphone.
RealSport recently got to see exactly how an esport for VR may one day work. We were able to play the game Raw Data on the Vive at London’s Meltdown esports bar, where HTC were debuting for the first time the game’s co-op mode. In the game, two players worked together to take down waves of malicious, malfunctioning robots, culminating in a classic ‘Big Boss’. RealSport got to experience first-hand just how well the co-op mode worked, being able to communicate with each other (from opposite sides of a busy bar) to coordinate our strategy to take down those evil robots. Though the demo only lasted a few waves, it was immediately apparent the huge potential there was for an esport in a VR environment.
FPS games lend themselves well to esports – there’s a reason why we feature a lot of CS:GO and Halo Championship Series content on RealSport – and Raw Data is an FPS with team play. We only experienced two-player co-op mode, but why can’t that be six or seven players coordinating in a team? We shot at robots, but why can’t our targets be the avatars of a rival team? The technology may not be there quite yet, but as it continues to develop, there’s no reason at all why CS:GO players couldn’t trade in their keyboards and mouses for a VR headset and hand controls. Just a few minutes with the Vive convinced us that VR can absolutely support team-based FPS esports – and as game developers spend more time with the technology, we’ll doubtless see other genres of esport adopt the platform too.
The biggest remaining question is whether the esports community would want to integrate VR with esports, and my answer is yes. One of the biggest tournament operators in the scene, ESL, used VR to connect with their fans. Even at smaller events such as HCS Las Vegas, Evil Genius coach Ryan Towey used a 360 degree camera to capture a match featuring the EG Halo pro team.
The best way for companies to integrate VR into esports would be to start with offering VR viewing similar to what ESL did with ESL One NYC, but at the events themselves or places people gather such as Meltdown and other bars that cater to esports. In addition, I would like to see a more in-depth approach to spectating besides being a virtual chair. For example, imagine being inside of the map in a game like CounterStrike or Halo, or being able to fly above the map in a game like LoL or DOTA. The immersive spectating options available are endless.
As for people playing games in VR? That really depends on the esport. You would have to design a title for the headset to truly get the best experience, and the current infrastructure is not specifically geared towards playing esports titles on VR headsets. However, with the industry moving at such a fast pace, that day cannot be far off.