Esports isn’t just a hobby; it’s an industry. A billion-dollar industry.
Rather than follow the path of traditional esports, some students, like high school senior David Robidas, have chosen to compete in the growing field of VR esports. When they play competitive VR games, students reap beneficial leadership, social, and management skills along with physical activity.
Since virtual reality puts the user in an immersive environment where you can interact with your surroundings as if you would in physical reality, it increases the sense of presence. Unlike traditional gaming platforms where you’re simply looking at a flat screen, with virtual reality you actually have the feeling that you’re in the game.
VR esports players take their training seriously, which means studying their opponents’ playstyles, learning new strategies, and spending hours practicing individually and as a team. Players commit to the games just like they would any other sport or activity.
“I’ve participated in marching band for all four years [of high school],” says Robidas, “and have held some of the highest leadership positions across my years. I think the experience from growing a marching band from the beginning of the season all the way to the end parallels the experience I’ve had while practicing and growing as a team with Orbit.”
For the most part, Robidas plays Ready At Dawn’s Echo Arena, a multiplayer VR esports game that pits teams against each other in a virtual arena. The objective of the game is to pass or carry a disc around obstacles, while also avoiding being stunned, and score in the opponents’ goal. It sounds easier than it is.
“I became involved in virtual reality esports in early 2019 with the weekly Echo Arena cups,” states Robidas, who had purchased an Oculus Rift in autumn 2018. “Originally I just played with a few friends who I found on Echo Arena and while we didn’t place as high as we wanted, it fueled my drive for competitive gaming.”
Robidas played with a few teams and then joined Orbit in late 2019. His team practices regularly and sometimes works on specific skills sets for hours at a time.
“It’s extremely rewarding to see it fully payoff in competition games,” he states.
Echo Arena VR Master League Season 1 began on February 3, but players and teams can sign up at any point throughout the season on the VR Master League website.
“As one of the younger members of the community,” states Robidas, “I can speak for many of the younger players here in saying that Echo Arena not only creates a safe-haven for creating friendships and camaraderie, but a competitive environment that pushes people to new goals and experiences.”
It’s not only younger players who feel this way. Since VR is an immersive experience, most VR games have some sort of Code of Conduct that try to keep toxicity and inappropriate behavior to a minimum. This has helped make the overall VR community experience more appealing to everyone, regardless of age, gender, etc.
Practical Benefits of VR Esports
Just like the 14-year-old high school freshman who is managing his own VR esports team, Robidas says he reaps many practical benefits from competitive VR gaming.
When playing competitive VR games, players practice leadership skills, teamwork, management skills, and more. In addition, while traditional esports gamers can possess a great amount of skill, they’re largely sedentary while VR gamers are physically active.
There are benefits for mental health as well, as Robidas points out from personal experience.
“One of the benefits I have seen in myself from playing competitive Echo Arena has been my mental strength,” he states.
When he first began playing VR esports, Robidas says he would become angry at himself and his gameplay when he made mistakes. Eventually he realized that he needed to move beyond the past and not focus on errors he made, but instead he should find a way to fix them.
He began to listen to the advice of his teammates and through this camaraderie, he began to improve his gameplay and attitude. This helped his own mentality and he also began to encourage his teammates more as well.
“Through VR esports, I’ve learned to fight every game like it’s the grand championships,” he states, “and compliment for successes rather than degrade for failures in game.”
In addition to band, Robidas is a student pilot and he’s very close to obtaining his pilot’s license. He’s also a member of his school’s trivia club and he competes in programming competitions on a national level through the school’s Technology Student Association.
Future of VR Esports
When asked what he thinks the future holds for VR esports, Robidas has a positive outlook.
“Coming in always as the underdog scene,” he states, “virtual reality in the giant world of esports has always been a close and tight-knit niche. I think that through these bigger virtual reality games such as Echo Arena, Onward, and more, virtual reality can and will become one of the bigger scenes in the esports community.”
The esports industry reached $1 billion in 2019 and estimates put it on track to reach $1.8 billion by 2022, according to Newzoo. We’ve seen growth in the traditional esports industry now for over 30 years, but most of this has come during the past few years. Consider the fact that the esports market was valued at $463 million in 2016 so it has doubled in only three years.
VR esports is only a small part of the esports industry, but it will continue to grow, particularly when you consider the tremendous success of the Oculus Quest in the fourth quarter of 2019. Facebook’s all-in-one standalone headset has been outstandingly successful, and in many places it’s on backorder until March.
In anticipation of the influx of new players on that platform, developers are currently scrambling to finish Quest versions of games like Echo Arena, Downpour Interactive’s Onward, and BigBox VR’s Population One. Each of these is perfect for competitive VR gaming so once we have these titles and others available on the Quest, the VR esports industry will see exponential growth.
Meanwhile, players enjoy competitive VR on the existing platforms and the industry continues to push forward. Robidas believes now it’s a matter of letting others know what’s available.
“We need to convince and prove to the general public of virtual reality’s capabilities,” he states. “This consists of keeping our production value high in competitions and introducing larger organizations into the competitive scene.”
As the VR Master League, the VR League, and others continue to improve the player and spectator experience, VR esports is certain to experience continued growth.
For young people like Robidas, the combination of technology and physicality will continue to create an allure that draws them into this emerging field. It’s the community and the challenge to better themselves that keeps them here.