Oculus is preparing to take virtual reality to the next level: eSports, and it is partnering with ESL to showcase the potential of VR eSports at competitions such as ESL One in New York last month and the recently concluded IEM Oakland. The game featured as a potential eSports contender is The Unspoken, a competitive urban fantasy game developed by Insomniac Games exclusively for the Oculus Rift.
The Unspoken pits two players against each other in head-to-head competition—each using Oculus Touch controllers to summon spells to throw at their opponents or defend against them. Although the game is still in development and doesn’t officially launch until December, it is the ideal demonstration for how VR can be brought into the world of eSports.
Insomniac Games’ chief brand officer, Ryan Schneider, recently spoke to [a]listdaily about The Unspoken and how it could pave the way for virtual reality to become an integral part of the eSports industry.
“The Unspoken has enjoyed critical praise and excitement from all who have seen or experienced it since it was first revealed earlier this year,” said Schneider, detailing how the game came to be featured at events such as ESL One. “That has led to opportunities from many sectors—including the ESL—to showcase The Unspoken at ESL One and now IEM Oakland as a benchmark for the future of competitive VR games.”
Schneider explains how player reactions to the game have been strong. “They enjoy The Unspoken’s depth and strategic choices, but really it’s the sense of immersion that gets them the most excited. It’s one thing to experience a competitive game from a top-down or limited FPS (first-person shooter) view. It’s entirely different when the fast-paced action literally surrounds you. We think it’s the first game that really delivers on the fantasy of being an all-powerful mage who can physically cast spells.”
When asked what opportunities VR opened for eSports, Schneider said that “there are opportunities from all perspectives. Players can become the first to master the fastest-growing segment of the games industry. How exciting would it be to not just be a pioneer of the VR eSports movement but also its greatest player? Spectators can find a way to be closer to the action than ever before. Imagine seeing critical gameplay decisions from an entirely different perspective, which in turn can make spectators more knowledgeable and even better players themselves. Brands will find a way to connect with the community in deeper ways by virtue of the medium’s immersive nature. Every day, we learn about how brands are innovating within the world of VR. The opportunities just continue to multiply.”
Schneider also thinks that eSports could lead to faster adoption of VR technology as long as it’s done well. “If eSports players and fans feel like they’re getting something crammed down their collective throat for the sake of novelty, it could de-position VR as nothing more than a fad,” he said. “That’s why we’re approaching this from a very grassroots level, seeking game feedback from experts and the most passionate players. Certainly though, the potential is there to grow VR adoption because you have a huge base of PC players hungry for fresh, competitive experiences. On the surface, nothing in gaming is hotter at the moment than VR/AR and eSports. Marrying the two is inevitable.”
If marrying VR and eSports is inevitable, we asked if Insomniac was developing The Unspoken with an emphasis on eSports in mind. “We’re primarily focused on making The Unspoken a great competitive game, period,” Schneider replied. “One of the better ways to do that is to demo The Unspoken at events like ESL One and IEM Oakland. Go to where the most passionate players already live. We can absorb and incorporate valuable player feedback there for future versions of the game. So, we’re not attending to push an eSports agenda—we’re legitimately there as part of a broader plan to make the best competitive game possible.”
That being said, The Unspoken still has high potential as aSport. “The things that make The Unspoken a stand-out competitive game could help it resonate as an eSport,” said Schneider. “The Unspoken offers variety in its character classes, multiple and unique spell types, and the complexities associated with when to summon each spell along with critical gesture-based movements.
“What’s especially exciting to me is that the potential here for players is to be on the ground floor of a new way to play sport altogether—kind of like learning to play basketball at the time it was first invented. From a spectator perspective, we’d be able to offer fans a center court, front-row seat to the wonder and danger inherent in an urban magic fight club.”
Given how The Unspoken is a modern urban fantasy, we asked if there were opportunities for brands to be integrated into the arenas if the game were to be adopted as an eSport.
“That’s a tricky topic,” Schneider replied. “We’ll never do anything that either detracts from or doesn’t add to the player’s experience. That said, we are already working with trusted partners like Intel and Nvidia to ensure we’re delivering game content that can be fully optimized on the most sophisticated of gaming PC rigs.”
With the incredible success of movies such as Doctor Strange, the timing is perfect for a game like The Unspoken to reveal itself. We asked if the movie’s popularity could indirectly promote the VR game. Although Schneider hasn’t seen it yet, he does believe that a paranormally themed movie set in an urban locale could help The Unspoken. “The same can probably be said even for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” said Schneider. “It just goes to show that there’s still a healthy appetite for the world of arcane magic, and that kind of fantasy can play out in many different forms.”
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