How will VR change esports?
Esports and virtual reality are two areas of tech that are often considered to be recent innovations. Yet both can trace their history back around half a century.
In 1968, computer pioneer Ivan Sutherland created the Sword of Damocles, a head-mounted device that was effectively the first VR headset. Less than four years later, students at Stamford held the first ever computer game competition, with a free subscription to Rolling Stone magazine for the tournament winner.
Over the intervening decades, both disciplines have advanced dramatically along their parallel paths. But now, both are becoming part of the mainstream entertainment scene. esports has almost 300 million regular fans and a further 350 million occasional viewers, while VR is finding more and more gaming applications, from flight simulators to casino games like the ones shown here.
Esports and VR will inevitably intersect sooner rather than later. But what will happen when they do?
The future of esports or a passing fad?
VR esports leagues already exist. But just how significant they are depends on who you ask. Some feel that, like the growing importance of mobile, a move into VR is an inevitable next step, and it is a case of when, not if.
Others, however, are not so sure. VR gaming requires a different set of skills to traditional esports, so the idea of it completely superseding PC and consoles seems a stretch. VR technology is not advanced enough to provide fair gameplay and competitive integrity due to the inconsistencies of the movements and other variables.
The right games
The ESL has created a league dedicated to VR esport, meaning the tournament organizers are clearly taking the concept seriously. But when esport fans take a look at that league they begin to understand why its evolutionary process will probably run parallel to conventional esport.
It all comes down to the games being played. The most popular esports games, like Dota 2, CS:GO, League of Legends and so on, don’t have VR versions. So when fans look at the new VR league, what games do they see?
Echo Arena, Space Junkies and Onward are not exactly household names. Right now, this is the biggest constraint to the growth of VR esports. It will never be anything more than a small niche until there are games available that capture the imaginations of both the gamers and the fans.
The other potential stumbling block concerns the equipment. With a console or a gaming PC, you know where you are. But VR is still a developing technology and the gulf between what we see as accessible, mass market equipment and the very best available is like night and day.
You can’t compete in F1 with a three year old Ford. Similarly anyone wanting to play VR esport at the highest level will need the best equipment. While this is being worked on, it’s currently not readily available for competitive players.
Either way, VR esport is here and its popularity and influence will grow over the coming years. But don’t expect that influence to profoundly impact esport any time soon.