According to a 2018 report from the Pew Research Center, 90% of teens reported that they play some sort of game on a computer, gaming console, or cell phone. With the introduction of consumer-friendly virtual reality over the past few years, now they also have the option to play games and participate in VR esports, which combine VR technology and athleticism. Some young people are jumping into this new industry and reaping rewards for their love of gaming.
Jack Dilkens (Kungg), Ryan Norton (Ryan_), and Aaron Weinberg (Jaywalker) met online while playing Echo Arena, a virtual reality game from Ready At Dawn. These young men were intrigued by esports so after seeing posters in the game's lobby advertising the VR League, they made the decision to play competitively. Eventually all of them ended up together on Team Jokr and they’ve won matches against some of the best teams in the league, including world championship team Eclipse.
These 15-year-olds comprise the youngest team in VR League Season 3 and this weekend they'll compete in the North American Closed Qualifier. If they advance, they’ll earn a spot at the VR League Grand Finals that will be held in Leicester, UK on June 8-9. Since they’re from different points in North America (Ontario, New York, and Florida), they would also have the opportunity to meet in person for the first time. But before they can advance to the LAN event, they must qualify in the top two among their region.
While parents and educators have traditionally pointed out the negative effects of gaming, there are many positive aspects. Gaming promotes teamwork, adaptability, decision-making skills, leadership skills, hand-eye coordination, communication, and more. With VR gaming, there’s the added benefit of increased physicality.
“I realize [with virtual reality] instead of sitting down at my desk and playing games,” states Dilkens, “I get physical activity, too, which is much healthier than when I would play normal games on my PC.”
Weinberg agrees, stating that VR esports have taken him away from PC and console gaming and given him “a more athletic approach to video games.”
In order to be one of the best at anything, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication. Top teams in the VR League sometimes practice up to 30 hours per week. Of course that isn’t possible for young people who also have chores, educational responsibilities, and social obligations typical for that age group. Despite the challenges, they play as much as they can and they see benefits from gaming cross over into their daily lives.
“I always feel accomplished when scoring a point or shooting a [goal from] half court,” states Weinberg, “it makes me feel above average and like I’m doing something not many others can do.”
That feeling of accomplishment can be a gift during a stage in life when many young people struggle with self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy. Even for players who don’t quite reach the level that these guys have, playing VR esports has other benefits.
“VR has changed my life,” states Dilkens, “I have met so many great people in Echo Arena that they have become some of my best friends. I can guarantee if I never got VR, I would’ve missed out on so many laughs.”
Virtual reality is an immersive experience and players feel like they’re truly in the game. This creates an atmosphere where it’s easy to make friends and simply enjoy the environment you’ve entered. That has the added benefit of helping with stress and anxiety.
“The game takes away any stress I would have after school,” explains Dilkens, “especially when I play with my friends.”
Virtual reality has the potential to change and improve lives while also providing opportunities. These players enjoy activities like basketball, biking, rock climbing, and disc golf. Their social lives have been expanded through virtual environments and they've earned spending money by doing well in weekly cups. Looking toward the future, they have goals that include college and careers. But for now, they are focusing on the task at hand, which is playing as well as they can and trying to earn a spot at the VR League Season 3 Grand Finals.
Sonya Haskins is better known among the gaming community by the username "hasko7." She lives with her husband and five children in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Northeast Tennessee.