The Future of E-Sports lies in VR
According to research firm Newzoo, the number of E-Sports fans will grow from a current estimate of 256 million to a staggering 345 million by the year 2019.
In 2015 an average 1.7 million E-Sports broadcasters streamed every month on Twitch TV, generating 241,441,823,000 minutes of content. Professional players practice for up to twelve hours per day and a range of companies offer boot camps, coaching support and competitive game strategy to players keen to improve their game.
Perhaps it’s not surprising when you consider the prize money on offer. The International Tournament, hosted by game developers Valve, offers prize money in excess of $18 million. Without spectators, sport is just a game and E-Sports are a huge spectator sport. And with spectating comes betting: in March figures for bwin showed a 312% increase in betting turnover for E-Sports compared to 2015.
Valve are responsible for creating two of the most popular online battle arena games in the world: Defence of the Ancients (DOTA) and Counter Strike: Global Offensive, and Valve developer, Chet Faliszek is very excited about the way in which VR could shape the future of E-Sports for spectators and players. Valve launched their VR operating system Steam VR for the VR headset HTC Vive on April 15th, together with fifty games and hundreds more in development.
As yet there are no VR E-Sports games but these will come. Watching people play VR is entertaining, maintains Chet. The image of the physically unfit video gamer may be shattered forever by the demands of VR: it’s physical and to be successful, competitors will need to be physically fit. For the spectator VR offers the opportunity to be part of an audience without the need to be part of a crowd: wearing a helmet, seeing what the player sees, switching between players, sitting in a virtual stadium.
Breakthrough technology doesn’t always catch on, think 3D TV, but the consumer profile for VR and E-Sports fans has considerable overlap. They are early adopters, prepared to spend money and they know their technology; it’s likely that hardcore gamers are going to constitute the bulk of demand for VR E-Sports in its early stages. It’s estimated that VR could be worth $40 billion by 2020. Facebook have already invested over $2 billion in VR development and their Oculus Rift headset has over a million users.
Some E-Sport games already offer VR support, like Alien Isolation, and some have been built entirely with VR in mind, like EVE Valkyrie. There’s even been a VR tournament: the VR E-Sport Cyberpong was livestreamed to Twitch earlier this year. It’s the headsets that are perhaps the stumbling block at the moment, you don’t want to be buying a new set for each new game. Are the existing titles best suited to VR development, after all, Dota2 is played from an aerial perspective? It seems certain that VR E-Sports is a breakthrough technology which will definitely catch on but we may have to wait until we get a consensus on a headset which enables new titles to realise the full potential of VR.