Is Virtual Reality the Future of eSports?

Gaming has become stagnant, and no one can really argue that. When Metal Gear Solid 4 came out, Hideo Kojima stated that he had lost interest in development and wished for gaming to enter a new frontier of sorts. Okay that might be paraphrased a bit, but you get the idea: gaming had to change, much in the way it needed to change between the Atari 2600 and the Nintendo Entertainment system, and I believe it has.

In the past, there have been several arguably embarrassing attempts to bring virtual reality to the mainstream. It first appeared in fiction with books like Tad Williams’ Otherland, and eventually Nintendo tried to whet our appetites by bringing us the Virtual Boy. If you don’t remember the virtual boy, let’s just say there’s a reason for that. Many movies tried to introduce us to virtual reality; do you remember that movie ‘Blank Check,’ where they constantly showcased a huge VR headset and a nonsensical game on a series of CRT televisions ensconced in the wall?

I personally remember visiting amusement parks like King’s Island here in Ohio where they had set up expensive arcades (you had to pay $10-$20 for a ten minute session) where you could play a first person shooter coded for multiplayer and that I was never able to identify. I remember them being cool, but not incredibly immersive, though I could be wrong, about both. There were many other games that were optimized for VR, including one of the Star Wars Dark Forces games – again, can’t remember which one for the life of me. The days of virtual reality, however, seemed to be over.

This turned out really well.

This turned out really well.

 

Where We Stand Now

Virtual Reality is finally becoming mainstream and, let’s face it, it’s becoming more awesome. We’re starting to see the more high end versions of the hardware along with lower end variants that rely on your cellphone. As we move forward, we are left to wonder whether or not VR will come to eSports, and it is pretty much inevitable that it will. With so many companies backing VR these days, it is clear that the technology is not a passing phase but rather something that is here to stay, likely for the foreseeable future. There are several implications to this, which I’m going to talk about in a moment. The big question is whether or not the inclusion of VR in eSports will actually change anything.

The Big Backers

There are huge names backing Virtual Reality, such as Oculus Rift and Valve. Let’s talk about Valve for a moment shall we? Valve recently rolled out the SteamVR operating system designed specifically for the HTC Vive Headset, which is available to consumers right now. When you say that by itself, it doesn’t sound too terribly impressive, but take a look at Valve’s library of available games. That’ right, they’re the developers of two of the most popular eSports games on the planet: CS:GO and DOTA 2. Vive didn’t launch with any eSports games in its library, but there is a good chance that Valve is planning to fully incorporate Vive into the library.

In fact, many are already using CS:GO with the HTC Vive, and new skins are being made entirely in virtual reality. Valve may have started with the push, but the players and community are what will keep it going for the foreseeable future. The one problem I foresee is the fact that the Vive costs close to $800, meaning the average gamer isn’t going to be buying it on a whim. Hardcore gamers are what will keep this trend going until such time as it becomes affordable for the masses – and it will.

Vivew virutal reality

What does VR Mean for eSports?

So what does VR mean for eSports exactly? Other than the fact that players will be playing in virtual reality, of course. That’s a pretty cool concept in itself if we do say so. There are several implications: the first one being the ability to ‘lose yourself’ in the game that you are playing. If you’ve never experimented with a VR headset then you may not know that it has the ability to provide complete and total immersion for the wearer, which is great for filtering out distractions and allowing competitors to focus entirely on their game. This is not only great for practice sessions, but also for tournaments.

The second implication that I’d like to bring up is physical activity. The Omni VR equipment provides a platform on which you’re able to navigate a game world by walking around on a platform and using frictionless shoes. You can jump, you can run, you can do 360 degree rotations rather than actually using a controller to turn. Not only is it going to be more natural, it’s going to involve physical activity, and you know what that means.

The Activity Argument

There are far too many people who argue against eSports being actual sports, and the only argument they really have to stand on is the fact that eSports typically involve no physical activity. The dictionary definition of a ‘sport’ suggests physical activity, which is what leads many to dismiss eSports entirely, and until now there hasn’t been much of a way to argue against it. One of two things had to change, either the sport had to become more physical, or the dictionary definition of sport had to change. If VR truly does become a mainstay in eSports, things are definitely going to change. It may even help to bring eSports to the Olympics, which has been the goal all along, hasn’t it?

omni

On the Other End of the Spectrum

Okay, so getting people more active and creating more realistic games is definitely a good thing, but can you imagine what virtual reality is going to do for spectators? Many eSports fans want to attend events, but they can’t travel to all of the locations where they are being held. That being the case, we end up being forced to watch a lot of the tournaments on YouTube, usually fighting the good fight with the buffer bar.

Well, John Carmack, creator of the original first-person shooter (Wolfenstein, Doom, Quake) recently promoted the idea of having a virtual crowd attending through the advent of VR. Could you imagine being able to slide into your headset and find yourself sitting in an arena of thousands, watching your favorite eSports team? It sounds like something out of science fiction, but we’re very, very close to being able to make it a reality. Not only will it make it easier for fans, it might even make it possible for eSports teams to play from the comfort of their own home or facilities at some point. Virtual reality could entirely change the way we see eSports, and it could very well change the way that we see gaming in general. It’s not just an upgrade, it’s a revolution waiting to happen.

So will this ever happen? I think it will, I think it has to happen. Virtual reality has been a pipe dream for decades with little to no development in the beginning, but let’s face it, there have been significant leaps forward in recent years. Now, with VR coming to everyone’s home, it seems inevitable that it will become part of eSports. It’s going to change the way we watch, the way we play, the way we do everything, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

So where does the world of eSports go from here? It’s hard to say really, but the definition of gaming is going to change significantly in the next ten years. When I was busy browsing the eBay a few years ago, I came across a seller that had a vest, which I came to know as the 3rd space gaming vest. It’s essentially a vest you wear during your gaming session that allows you to ‘feel’ the impact of bullets against your skin, allow you to react faster, and potentially be a bit warier about taking damage.

So here’s the question, where is the line? How far forward do we keep moving with VR? Is it a full body experience? Is it just virtual? Will it eventually be a fully immersive experience that involves neural stimulation? Is this entire thing just going to morph into a real world version of Unreal Tournament at some point? Is it bad to say that I hope it actually does? Okay, we’re getting a bit far ahead of ourselves here, but the bottom line is that VR is definitely going to change the eSports landscape and probably in a good way. We’re going to get more recognition, and let’s face it, you WANT to see a CS:GO player misstep and fall on their face during a knife kill. All of that aside, I think we’re missing the most important question here: when do I get one of these things?

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About Rissa Trent

Rissa grew up on a farm, playing shareware games like Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Operation Comat, Solar Winds, and Kingdom of Kroz. Later she would dabble in Real Time Strategy games, and eventually left home to go on a cross country adventure of self discovery where she found out absolutely nothing. Today she works as a copywriter and games journalist.