VR eSports? Now that VR (virtual reality) headsets are making their way into the hands of consumers, the important question becomes VR software. What will people chose to do with VR? The answer may be in one of the hottest areas of gaming—eSports.
The numbers for eSports are compelling, as Newzoo shows the market for eSports jumping to $463 million in revenues for 2016, growing 43 percent from last year. The audience is huge and growing, with Newzoo seeing 131 million eSports enthusiasts and another 125 million occasional viewers who tune in mainly for the big international events. Newzoo projects eSports to hit $1.1 billion in revenues by 2019, an enviable growth rate that VR would like to share.
There’s plenty of excitement in the industry about the connection between VR and eSports, as well as sports in general.
“At Newzoo we believe the biggest commercial potential for VR is on the spectator side,” said Newzoo CEO Peter Warman, speaking with [a]listdaily. “Watching an NBA game live from Jack Nicholson’s seat or walking around on the battlefield itself during a DotA2 or CS:GO final are two examples. In that respect eSports brings to VR what sports does. That appeals to a larger group of people than playing VR games itself. Vreal.io is a start up purely focused on in-game spectator VR. Very exciting stuff. There is at least an equal amount of people that would like to watch others play as play themselves.”
“It’s important to distinguish between the eSports gameplay and the eSports viewing experience,” Patrick Walker, the vice-president of insights and analytics at EEDAR, told Redbull.com. “One of the many use cases predicted for VR is the ability to attend live sports games remotely. In a similar way, there’s a lot of opportunity for VR to create a new type of viewing experience even using the currently successful eSports game genres. In addition, it’s very hard to predict what types of experience will emerge on new hardware after developers learn what works best. The mobile phone games of the mature 2016 market are very different from the available games in 2008. Therefore, I think there’s also a lot of opportunity for new eSports to emerge that are built from the ground up with VR gameplay in mind.”
That immediate potential for VR experience of sporting events (whether eSports or traditional sports) should be easy to realize, but the more complex issue would be creating VR experiences that are eSports in themselves. Does VR lend itself to the creation of an eSport? Are there benefits for eSports fans? Could eSports actually be a driver for VR adoption, considering the dedication of eSports fans?
“Yes, VR definitely offers potential for eSports,” said Joost van Dreunen, CEO of SuperData. “The audience for competitive gaming skews toward tech-savvy, enthusiastic gamers; the kind that will pay a premium for an enhanced experience. And already do we see Valve experiment with the way it displays DotA2 tournaments, providing a bird’s eye overview that is (more-or-less) interactive. Obviously it is early days, but the cross-pollination between eSports and VR is powerful.”
Chet Faliszek, writer and virtual reality evangelist at Valve, spoke with Fortune about a future for eSports through HTC Vive. “While we have The International and events where people are watching people play games, it is fun to watch someone play a VR game because they’re physically moving around in this space and making these motions that people can understand what’s happening,” Faliszek said. “It lets a broader group of people watch. It’s great spectator sport.”
That sounds promising, but Faliszek believes the prospects for the future are even greater. “VR eSports is first going to be about spectating,” Faliszek said. “VR changes the game so radically. You’d need to make a game built from the ground up, and we’ll see games made for eSports.”
Perhaps from Valve? That would seem to be right in line with the company’s interests.
Meanwhile, Sony has made it clear that eSports and VR are going to be an important combination for the upcoming PlayStation VR headset, which Sony is launching this October. Sony has been demonstrating RIGS, a fast-paced combat game where giant mechanical suits do battle in virtual arenas.
“A contender like Sony is also making in-roads by cultivating titles for its PSVR that build on the current vocabulary of competitive gaming,” van Dreunen noted. “A title like RIGS is an obvious example. However, while eSports may play a part in the adoption of VR, it is a convincing enough platform in its own right to reach mainstream acceptance.”
Marketers are likely to support VR eSports as a cutting-edge way to add an impressive sheen to brands. We’ve already seen great marketing interest in both VR and eSports, so combining the two should surely draw brand marketers like flies to high-tech honey. Major publishers looking to make a mark in eSports seem eager to oblige with VR eSports, as an interesting angle that can help launch a new eSport.
Watch for existing eSports to being to take advantage of VR in upcoming competitions. Providing a VR experience in addition to the excitement already surrounding a major eSports event would definitely get a lot of eSports fans looking into VR equipment. With mobile VR being relatively inexpensive, many fans could be experiencing eSports in a new way in the near future.
More elaborate VR presentations of existing eSports would require some serious work on the part of developers, but the results could be very compelling. Imagine being able to watch a League of Legends battle in VR, with complete control over your viewpoint as you move through the battlefield seeing the action from any angle you desire. Or a Call of Duty or Halo with VR spectator capability—not to mention Star Wars: Battlefront, which is already getting a special PlayStation VR experience this fall.
Yes, there’s plenty for fans and marketers alike to look forward to as eSports becomes part of the range of VR experiences, and perhaps even one of the key drivers for hardware sales. Watch this (virtual) space closely for the next breakout hit!