Virtual reality eSports, or vSports, have officially begun. Independent development studio VirZoom, which is made up of several former Harmonix developers, used CES 2017 to introduce vSports to approximately 50 media members in Las Vegas at the Venetian Spa Club on January 4.

The concept blends virtual reality and eSports in a new way. VirZoom has created its $400 exercise bike and developed VirZoom Arcade, a collection of games like Cycle, Tank and Pegasus that can be played with the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift or PlayStation VR. VSports allows gamers to put on a headset (HTC Vive is the official vSports partner) and compete against others for prizes. The initial roll[o]ut of tournaments will focus on leaderboard competition, but online multiplayer will be added later this year.

VirZoom has created a nationwide network of vSports Centers, which will allow gamers to gather for competitions and get hands-on experience with both the VirZoom bike and the HTC Vive. Initial locations will span 18 VR arcades, LAN Centers and entertainment centers. And consumers will be able to purchase VirZoom bikes and Vives (separately) if they like.

Spencer Honeyman, director of business development at Virzoom, told [a]listdaily that this network of locations will grow across the country and eventually around the globe. Gamers will be able to compete across these locations, and even from the comfort of their own homes—as long as they own a VirZoom bike.

“Leveraging VirZoom technology and games with Life Fitness equipment harnesses the users’ emotional response in VR and motivates them to move,” Honeyman said. “Using the pedal stroke to operate a car, tank, Pegasus and more motivates exercisers to move like never before—and enjoy themselves while they get a workout.”

Honeyman envisions amateur tournaments and leagues sprouting up over time as VirZoom adds new VR games to the mix and more consumers get hands-on time with the bikes.

There’s also another component to the emergence of vSports. VirZoom has partnered with Life Fitness, a global leader in commercial fitness equipment, to add high-end Discover SE3 exercise bikes to vSports competition. Beginning in Q1 2017, the first health clubs in the U.S. will offer VirZoom Arcade games for offline and tournament play.

“Down the road we’d love to host eSports competitions for players competing on Life Fitness bikes,” Honeyman said.

Amad Amin, product director of digital experience at Life Fitness, told [a]listdaily that virtual reality is directly in line with the immersive experience they want to create on their machines.

“We want exercisers to know that there’s much more they can do than just getting on a machine and hitting the ‘go’ button,” Amin said. “Our goal is to provide an unparalleled experience when an exerciser uses our product.  VR adds a new and exciting component that lets exercisers enter a completely different world and get lost in their workout—and the competitive gaming brings in that fun element that some exercisers prefer when they work out. The gaming element may incentivize people to work out harder and longer as their trying to win the game or reach a specific level—that’s a win-win for us and for the exerciser.”

Entertainment while working out has been a part of exercise for decades now, as it’s common to find TVs all over the gym. The evolution of that was TV screens that attached to the equipment so that each exerciser can choose their own programming.

“The latest products, like our Life Fitness Discover SE3 machines, have TVs built directly into the console, allow for streaming video content from popular content providers, and have 2D virtual reality courses built in,”

Amin believes vSports is a natural fit for guests who belong to health clubs and spas.

“VirZoom provides the ability for an exerciser to get lost in the excitement of being in a game while working out,” Amin said. “They’ve come up with solutions that keep you engaged, and let you have fun, all while getting you moving. The ability to partner with VirZoom speaks to our philosophy of having an open API environment. It allows us to partner with software/tech companies who can only enhance our exercisers experience. For example, we’re not experts in virtual reality, but we keep our doors open to those that are so we can collaborate and create great experiences on our products. VirZoom helps us bring the VR experience to Life Fitness.”

Over time, VirZoom will offer a wide array of VR games to compete in and different entry points into the leagues, tournaments and competition that Honeyman hopes will evolve  in this vSports ecosystem. As that happens, there will be plenty of opportunities for brands to step in and sponsor competition and even target health clubs or other vSports Centers to reach different audiences of gamers and fitness buffs.

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