Virtual reality was once again the talk of Las Vegas during CES 2017. In addition to current VR headsets such as Sony’s PlayStation VR, Facebook’s Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, new entries are coming to market from companies like Lenovo, Asus, HP, Dell, Acer and Vove.
“The difference between last year and this year was there more hype and not much was known about VR and this year it’s settled in a bit,” Brad Allen, executive chairman of NextVR (which livestreamed The Game Awards in VR last year), told [a]listdaily. The good news for content companies like NextVR, which streams sports and entertainment in VR and creates original 360-degree video packages, is that all of the major players that have headsets in the market, and the new ones that are coming all need content.
“Livestreaming is at the highest interest level, especially with sports and music, which are two things we’re focused on with NBA and Live Nation,” Allen said. “We’re expecting this year to be amazing with more live events livestreamed in real stereoscopic VR. Everything is about live video now.”
ESports has become a focal point for the livestreaming industry with companies like Sliver.tv, Jaunt and NextVR entering the game. NextVR is part of the Axiomatic group, which acquired Team Liquid last year. “We’re very focused on eSports for 2017,” Allen said. “We invested in Team Liquid. The eSports demographic is perfect for VR. There are 100 million MAUs on League of Legends and it’s global, which very much fits into our strategy. We’ll be creating the product around that—much the way we’ve created product around NBA games.”
NextVR has been livestreaming an NBA game in VR every week this season. “When we started out two years ago, it was more about displaying and showcasing our technology as opposed to building a product, but the NBA games are full-on production,” Allen said. “We have sideline reports and commentary and graphics to keep the audience engaged and keep the headset on.”
Even the current NBA season has evolved quickly with VR livestreaming, going from the beginning of the season with half court cameras and different angles like cameras on the backboards to adding all the storytelling elements they’ve incorporated today. “We’ve seen the average time people spend watching games in VR grow from the high single digits to now 35 minutes before someone takes off the headset,” Allen said. “Considering that the headsets are still not sleek and lightweight, that’s incredible.”
Allen said the same elements of building in storytelling and full production around a live VR sports event can be applied to eSports. “We’ve learned from the NBA production that the [eSports] audience wants to be entertained more so than just the initial wow factor of sitting courtside,” Allen said.
NextVR has relationships with Riot Games as well as MLB, which owns BamTech, the company that will be streaming League of Legends games. “We’ll be having discussions with those guys,” explained Allen. “We’re doing some testing. Sliver.tv has been doing some things in VR and we’re bringing in some gamers and seeing what they like.”
On the production side, Allen said that going to the arena is similar to doing an NBA game. “I went to the League of Legends Finals with Peter Guber and other (Axiomatic) guys at the Staples Center and it was amazing,” Allen said. “Everyone was dressed up as characters and cheering like Kobe was making a shot—except they’re watching a video game on a big jumbotron video board.”
Allen said the challenge of eSports is not just putting a camera courtside, it’s “How do you get into the game and be part of the game in a way that captures the energy of being there in the arena?”
NextVR recently launched on Google Daydream, and Allen said his streaming service will expand to other VR platforms this Q1, including PlayStation VR. NextVR has also worked closely with Fox Sports over the past few years. At CES 2017, Fox Sports was featured in the augmented reality demo of the new R-8 and R-9 Osterhout Design Group (ODG) smartglasses.
“At some point, all those technologies will come together, and AR and VR will all become mixed reality,” Allen said. “And livestreaming is needed for all of them. We’re excited about all of these other form factors and different ways of adding livestreaming to the mix.”