How Virtual Reality will shape the future of Esports
Video games and sports could be argued to be at different ends of the athletic spectrum. On one side you have individuals sitting on a sofa with a controller or keyboard in hand furiously clicking buttons while staring at a screen. On the other you have individuals engaging in a physically demanding activity, pitting their endurance, stamina or strength against the opposition in a show of physical and mental superiority.
Esports at a first glance seems to be an awkward imposter in its attempt to bring these two opposing worlds together. It labels video game players ‘athletes’ while revering their skills in certain video games as a significant competitive achievement.
But why should you care about uber geeks smashing keyboards in front of adolescent audiences? Well that audience is on track to surpass 380 million fans worldwide contributing to an industry now valued at just under $700 million by the end of this year. The Esports industry is attracting the attention & sponsorship of global brands such as Redbull, Intel, Microsoft, Sony and a plethora of computer hardware and software developers proudly aligning themselves to teams and televised tournaments with cash prizes in excess of $20 million.
And virtual reality is set to not only be part of this booming new competitive sporting genre, it is positioning itself to bridge the gap between traditional ‘sports’ and ‘gaming’ as it catapults Esports into a more mainstream light.
One thing virtual reality does really well is get the user moving – While in a virtual reality experience you are using your arms, hands and body to explore and interact with the digital world around you. Rather than a lazy mouse click to pick up an object in the digital space you now need to reach out and physically grab it. And that level of precision interaction is seeing leaps and bounds forward as the technology matures, for example hand tracking is seeing a lot of growth while eye tracking is expected to become a norm by 2019.
These ever-improving levels of physical to computer interactions are catalysing the creation of competitive virtual reality experiences that demand not only a certain level of physical fitness to compete, but most importantly a success factor dependent on more traditional sporting values; dexterity, stamina, endurance, etc.
These competitive experiences, are getting the participant out of their seat and physically active, and make for a far more enjoyable spectating experience. Some of these experiences are bringing more traditional sporting activities into the virtual space such as boxing or baseball, while others reminiscent to the 1980s Tron film are aiming for more extravagant forms of competitive sports.
And the sky is the limit with regards to how far you want to blend the physical experience with the virtual one. The multi-user “Zero Latency” experiences, which started out of Australia and have recently opened a branch in MGM Las Vegas sees users walking over 1km in real world distance for the duration of their game.
What form competitive experiences & Esports in virtual reality will take is an interesting future to ponder. One thing is for certain; a new breed of athlete will emerge, I expect them to be exceptionally lean, dexterous and agile, eye & hand coordination will be through the roof as will their reaction time.
Virtual reality will undoubtedly see a strong drive for competitive experiences in the very near future and as the technology and software continues to mature, coupled with the exponential growth of the Esports industry we see a perfect storm forming; the emergence of mainstream virtual reality competitive sports, marrying traditional sporting values.