With esports being the huge business that it is, it only makes sense that virtual reality (VR) and VR devs will want to take a bite of that juicy apple! The first steps have already been taken in that direction and ESL’s VR League and Virtual Athletics League are among those paving the way. However, the minimal prize funds and lukewarm viewer interest are a clear indication that perhaps the market needs a bit more time to evolve. Without going too much into the technicalities, let’s take a look at some of the most obvious yet critical factors holding VR esports back.
A topic that keeps popping up with regard to VR esports is the difficulty in making a spectacle out of it. Granted, watching traditional esports where we’re used to seeing the athletes sit pensively at their PCs isn’t that thrilling either. What is thrilling though, is seeing the battles on the big screen – the viewer can always see how well his or her favourite is doing and can cheer them on. All of the action, all the athletes, are right there on the screen, going at each other.
In VR, it’s a bit different. Let’s not even get started with the fact that many think a person wearing an HMD and flailing around wildly looks a little silly. The more important “problem” for esports is the fact that VR is a first-person experience. Even if the first person views of all individual athletes are broadcast onto a big screen, there is still a lack of emergency and tension. But tension – you know that moment when the opposing team ALMOST grabs the football or, in esports, when only one member of the party is still alive and somehow manages to take over the opposing team – is at the core of all sports. There’s a reason why we hardly ever have first-person views in movies – the viewer just doesn’t get into it the same way they do when the scene is filmed from a third-person view. The same applies to esports.
The solution to this problem actually isn’t all that difficult. What we as viewers and devs need, is a spectator function that adapts the VR experience into a spectacle. Ideally, of course, this would be part of the game but creating a separate app to run the game would suit perfectly. Some core traits required would be the possibility of third-person views and a free-roaming camera option. Of course, this creates the need for someone really good at live editing, but people do that for a living, so it’s hardly a hindrance. Camera smoothing might also be on the top of the list of requirements. Although the athlete playing doesn’t notice it, the micro-jitters of the head and hands translate to pretty annoying shaking when broadcast onto a screen.
Obviously, there are a ton of other technical aspects to take into account, but you see where I’m going with this. For seasoned VR enthusiasts, these are well-known problems that all factor into the relatively low adoption rates of VR. They are only magnified when viewed from the esports perspective.
If VR esports hopes to convince athletes, viewers and, perhaps financially most importantly, sponsors, the issues discussed above should be on the top of the to-do list for those driving VR forward. Luckily Oculus, HTC, Intel and HP, to name a few, have all shown clear interest in boosting VR onto the same level with traditional esports. The fact that ESL has also taken VR under its wing let’s all those devs hoping that their game will be embraced by fans as the next VR esports staple sleep a little easier at night.