VR is impacting many industries, but none more so than the world of gaming.
VR is impacting many industries, but none more so than the world of gaming. Between 2014 and 2016, $3.5 billion was invested in VR, while the worth of the VR industry is expected to be $30 billion by 2020, and $80 billion by 2025. Although there already are VR video games on the market, the next big step for VR into gaming appears to be eSports.
The eSports Industry
The eSports industry has been growing exponentially since its first big break into mainstream entertainment over a decade ago. According to Statista, the number of people around the globe who are aware of eSports is predicted to rise from 809 million in 2015 to 1,572 million in 2019. At first led by the popularity of StarCraft, the biggest eSports games now include League of Legends (released 2009), Dota 2 (2013) and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (2012). Tournaments such as The International for MOBA Dota 2, the Evolution Championship Series for fighter games and the Esports Championship Series (ESC) for CS:GO are broadcast to a global audience, allowing people to immerse themselves in the games. Will VR in eSports create an even greater opportunity of doing so?
An Entirely VR eSports League?
The VR Challenger League has been conceived by Oculus, ESL and Intel, with a $200,000 overall prize pool. This move comes after the positive reception of the first national VR eSports competition, run in eighty Microsoft-owned stores across North America in May 2017. The event was the result of efforts from companies Intel, Asus, ESL Gaming Network, Insomniac Gams and, of course, Microsoft. Using the Oculus Rift VR headset, players competed in Insomniac Games’ The Unspoken, an urban fantasy spellcasting game released in November 2016 and earning a score of 8/10 from IGN.
The VR Challenger League is set to feature The Unspoken, as well as space game Echo Arena (developed by Ready At Dawn Studios) as its opening games, culminating in 2018 at the Intel Extreme Masters event. The VR Challenger League will span North America and Europe, claiming to be “the highest level of VR eSports competition”. Yet although it may be the only entirely VR-centric eSports league, other eSports are beginning to incorporate VR technology.
Silver.tv technology offers panoramic 360-degree footage for those viewing League of Legends, Dota 2 and CS:GO. The panoramic view is generated around a certain player’s character that you follow through the game; furthermore, instead of replacing the bird’s eye view of the game, both viewpoints can be accessed. ELS Product Manager Stuart Ewan has revealed that, via Silver.tv’s “VRLiveStats”, viewers may also access “all of the statistics to put together a high level view of how a round or match unfolds. All of this is only possible in VR”.
The Future of VR in eSports
Valve have reportedly been considering using VR in Dota 2 eSports. Similarly to Silver.tv, the Dota 2 VR Hub has been introduced, which allows you to wonder around the battlefield, jumping to wherever the action is going on using the mini-map in the VR Theatre. Therefore, through VR, you can feel as if you are watching the game live from the arena, or actually jump inside the game itself as the action unfolds. Ben Kuchera believes that the Dota 2 VR Theatre is “a better way [to watch Dota 2] than viewing matches on your television or PC”. As of August 1st on Betway, the Dota 2 eSports tournament The International is seeing betting odds of 4/1 for Virtus.Pro to win at the finals, with Team Liquid’s odds close at 5/1. As The International tournament progresses, it looks to become more and more exciting to witness, especially from the close-quarters perspective provided by the VR Theatre. Valve also produced a VR demo in which you explore the Secret Shop, although as of yet the game is unable to be played fully in VR.
Contrastingly, instead of bringing VR to video games as we know them, Australian company Zero Latency is aiming to deliver an active VR gaming experience. To achieve this, they are aiding the establishment of gaming arenas around the globe spanning 2,000-4,000 square feet, to enable physical movement whilst in the virtual space. The arenas are reminiscent of laser tag, as you enter equipped with a replica gun attached to a backpack – the difference is the VR headset. Bob Cooney, head of global business development for Zero Latency, explains that “Our vision is to continue to build a big, big footprint of these epic social game spaces and bring people together to play games in a social environment.”
There is hope for the future that more eSports will incorporate VR. It is perhaps the games not yet created, though, that hold the most VR potential, as it is these that can be built from the very beginning to use VR technology. As a technology that is “enhancing the spectator experience of esports”, VR looks to be an indisputable future for eSports.