Virtual Reality and Esports: The Future?

There’s been a lot of hype regarding high-profile launches of Virtual Reality (VR) equipment. In general, launches have been met with great enthusiasm. Finally we’ve got something that purports to completely transform the way in which we consume and create content, which is in itself a huge feat. This disruptive technology offers great opportunities for new avenues of entertainment and productivity.

VR: A Disruptive Novelty

The technology itself is very promising. Unlike 3D TVs, which had a lukewarm reception, there’s lots of enthusiasm – and investments – being poured into VR. Still, there are some uncertainties ahead. These VR gadgets are by no means cheap, but they do offer top of the line specs. However, they are still out of reach for the average consumer even in the developed world, with plenty opting to wait and see what will come of it before deciding to plunge and spend their money on a new technology. VR devices also require expensive CPUs and GPUs, and currently, software support is limited. But many leading analysts predict that due to its usefulness, VR will eventually prosper. We agree with the hypothesis and base the rest of our estimates on it.

lol esports vr

Esports and Spectating

Now, let’s focus on a single issue that is most interesting to us: the relationship between VR and Esports (and gaming in general). Just like any sport, Esports consists of both competitors and spectators, and both stand to gain a lot from VR. As it stands today, it seems that most of the benefits are reaped by the spectators, who have a much more immersive experience as a result.

Dota 2 already has VR tools available for download and used for spectating. Such technology was also used during their The International tournaments. Several companies have sprang up to make VR content more available, such as VREAL, Silver.tv and Boom.tv. VR spectating markedly increases spectator engagement and makes for a more positive experience overall. The huge field of view allows for more information to be displayed to the viewers. Spectators of FPS games, such as CS:GO, now have the opportunity to watch the action in real-time; the viewer is literally put inside the game world. Silver.tv has experimented with CS:GO and League of Legends 360-degree spectating, among others, and the results are more than promising. The maps basically feature several cameras that the spectators can tune in and watch, akin to watching a live football game.

Esports and Gaming

When it comes to Esports gaming with VR technology, there is less development in that area. Games such as MOBAs and RTSs are very difficult, if not impossible, to be played in VR – as stated in the introduction, VR really is a disruptive technology, unlike anything before. That is why we feel VR will carve its own niche with games specially tailored for an amazing experience, and certain games (such as RIGS: Mechanized Combat League), played via PlayStation VR look very promising.

VR games tend to make players more active. This could increase viewership as events would be perceived as less ‘boring’, with players moving instead of sitting for the duration of the tournament. There are lots of health benefits to exercise, which could give Esports more legitimacy as, indeed, a real sport in the eyes of many people. Esports has had plenty of difficulties in being recognized as a legitimate sport, and this could just be the push it needs. Of course, changing just for the sake of recognition is wrong, but it is also unwise to ignore the health benefits, as the professional players spend easily more than 12 hours per day sitting, which is in itself very unhealthy.

vr esports match

Demographics of Esports and VR Users

While currently the number of both Esports fans and those who own VR is rather small – the demographics are very favorable. Both Esports and VR share a similar user profile: male, 16 to 30 years old and with above average earnings. Newzoo data show that about 24 percent of occasional Esports viewers and 52 percent of Esports enthusiasts plan to buy a piece of VR technology. Conversely, buyers of VR technologies tend to dabble in VR themselves: 63 percent of all potential VR buyers in the US watch Esports at least occasionally.

The interest in VR is highest among those who could be classified as gamers. Such consumers already own several pieces of gaming equipment (top end PC, gaming keyboards and mice) and VR equipment is a nice and logical addition to them. There are differences in spending habits among countries. Newzoo reports that Canadians are the most generous and would generally opt for the more expensive solutions like HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, while Spaniards for example, with high interest in VR, do tend to be more frugal in their spending habits, selecting cheaper (but more limited) VR solutions.

Issues Facing VR

This fragmentation is very worrisome as the quality of the experience is not at the same level among these devices. Furthermore, only the most expensive solutions allow for any serious gaming to take place. If competitive Esports gaming is to take off, these devices must become more affordable over time, which they likely will. However, Esports spectating can be very fulfilling even with the cheapest of VR devices such as Google Cardboard, which means it could be the stepping stone towards upgrading to a better level of technology and possibly even competing in Esports.

In order for VR to prosper in the world of gaming, Esports itself must break into the mainstream. No matter how fast Esports is growing, it is doing so from a tiny baseline. When put into perspective, the global Esports market is still small compared to the mainstream sports. This is not a negative thing per se, as long as the market is growing, but it does mean that the growth potential for VR is limited with both Esports and gaming in general getting into the mainstream.

Additionally – and adding on to the previous point – the VR community is small. VR is not accessible to many people currently and in the grand scheme of things, a small proportion of enthusiasts are interested enough to adopt the technology. This is a vicious circle, as a small community does not foster the development of new applications and investment that would result in an increase of the user base.

VR also suffers from a dearth of AAA titles made specifically for VR. None of the major Esports game developers currently aim to develop or port such games for VR devices, and we understand the rationale that it would be catastrophic for their ecosystem and that it is generally unfeasible. However, VR cannot prosper without good titles that are well-made and that would serve to draw in new users and serve as a rallying point for the VR community. VR games currently lack substance

Future Avenues & Growth Drivers

The previous section dealt with the factor dragging down the development of VR: But what about the positives?

Well, there’s plenty, actually. We talked about the small community, and that is true. Fortunately, there is plenty of ongoing investment and sponsorships that draws in new users and several large companies have stressed that they see VR equipment as an integral part of future technology – be it for business, social media or gaming. Yes, VR games currently are not as substantial as they should be, but that is because the technology is still in its early years and developers have not had much chance to prepare – we are still in the so-called ‘experimentation phase’.

VR can help boost spectator interest in Esports by introducing new avenues for the consumption of content. The relationship between Esports and VR is mutually beneficial, with VR piggybacking on the expansion of Esports, but also helping Esports develop faster. This means a larger market for Esports betting, more sponsorships and larger prize pools for competitors, and over time – competitions in dedicated VR Esports games are well within the realm of possibility.

Large Esports developers are likely to develop their own platforms for VR spectating and engaging with the established Esports games and the community, if not for outright playing. MOBAs may be impossible to play with VR, but new game modes could very well be introduced as a “sub-discipline” of sorts. Any with some new AAA titles coming with VR support (Alien: Isolation, for example) it is conceivable that such FPS games could be played competitively in VR, with devices such as Vitrix Omni.

With lots of interest, money, and research being poured into VR as we speak, there is little doubt that exciting times await us. We are very bullish on the development of VR. It is very useful not only for gaming, but also general productivity, and as the economies of scale begin to take effect, the adoption should increase as well due to falling prices and general incentive for developers to create quality games and applications.