VR eSports: can it change the way we think about Games Consoles?

By Diane Stickland on 17th December 2018

As a person who loves sports, and participating in sporting activities, I write this with some trepidation.  ‘What next?’ some might say, ‘seriously it’s a lot of nonsense’ from the sceptics amongst us.  But like most things in life, I have challenged myself to be openminded about this new ‘sport’ and researched a little deeper to find out if I too, could be a Virtual Reality (VR) esports athlete.

Problem number one might be the fact that I have no real interest in video games, ok well that’s a fragment of a lie, because I was always the winner in our house when playing Pacman and Space Invaders back in the 80s.  Nowadays, I prefer to leave gaming to my children who have, in my opinion, a slightly unhealthy obsession with games such as Fortnight and Call of Duty Black Ops.

So what is VR esports?  It could be argued that physical sports and video games are on the opposite end of the athletic spectrum: sporting activities are generally both physically and mentally challenging involving a level of aerobic exertion, muscular strength and endurance whereas, let’s face it, you don’t really need to expend too much energy when playing video games from the comfort of you gaming chair (although I believe a loud voice can sometimes be useful).

It all began many years ago with Esports, which has become increasingly more popular over the last ten years.  This involves players taking part in organised online video games, playing competitive games like Call of Duty, League of Legends, Fortnite Battle Royale, and even professionally paid players competing to win tournaments such as League of Legends World Championship. In fact, it has become so popular, that there is talk amongst the International Olympic Committee to consider featuring esports into future Olympic Events!

The growth and availability of online streaming media platforms such at YouTube and Panda.tv has accelerated growth of esports competitions and it has been suggested that by the end of next year, there will be around 427million people worldwide watching some form of esports.  Interestingly 85% of them are reported to be male with only 15% female, all ranging between the ages of 18 and 34.  Given those rising figures, it won’t be too much of a shock to learn that the global esports market generated approximately $493million in 2016.  In fact, it has become so popular over recent years, it’s attracted high level sponsors such as Microsoft, Redbull and Sony, who quickly realised the potential of its success and demanded a piece of the action.

The main difference between virtual reality and esports is simple: virtual reality forces the competitor to move, and I’m not just referring to the fingers operating a control.  VR actively encourages the person to reach out, twist their body, jump and explore the world in front of them, using a headset. This is obviously worlds away from playing esports from your armchair, using the digits on your hands to work your way through the levels. A certain level of fitness is required to effectively play the VR esports, in fact the game Zero Latency has shown competitors to walk over 1k during the game.  It sounds fairly easy, but apparently takes hours of practice and effort to climb the leaderboards, which goes to show, that being a competent athlete would undoubtedly propel the competitor to the ultimate goal, which is to win the game.

A virtual reality arcade in Salt Lake City inspired the conception of The Virtual Athletics League two years ago, where thousands of players took part in a global competition incorporating 168 locations – dedicated competitors spent hours trying to beat their components.  Fuelled by its success, the Virtual Athletics League devised a mission, and that is to attract sponsorship, and incorporate promotional merchandise such as team colours in the arcades hosting them.  A quote from their website articulates it quite effectively: “this isn’t your grandpa’s local bowling league, this is an international community of players who love to compete and make some friends while doing it.”

Those with children will perhaps know how frustrating it can be trying to lure your child away from their X-box for dinner, or to go cycling with their friends in the park.  Although good old fashioned fresh air will always be a winner with us parents, VR esports may perhaps convince us not to be so critical about video games.  Will I ever take part, or indeed show much interest in VR esports hype?  Probably not, but I can see the attraction and appreciate its popularity is gaining momentum towards the next generation.  Going forward, I will undoubtedly rely upon running and cycling to fuel my competitive nature.  I’m not particularly keen on wearing one of those eye gadgets, as I’d almost certainly fall over and twist my ankle, rendering me unfit for any kind of sport, at which point I may be forced to reconsider my options, embrace modern technology…and pick up my son’s X-box control.  What a thought!