We’ve come a long way from the days of Pong and Pac-Man. Anyone who remembers taking a fistful of quarters to a garishly lit arcade will barely recognize gaming as it exists today. Massive online communities powered by machines as advanced as the Playstation 4 or the Xbox One are commonplace, and the industry is moving faster than perhaps it ever has. And in a time of rapid change, there’s one area that’s set to explode and change the world of gaming entirely - VR.
The applications of VR stretch far wider than gaming, but its in entertainment that the technology will reach the mass market. Alongside this VR boom, the eSports industry is showing its grand potential. Despite growth slightly slowing, the market for competitive gaming is set to pass $1 billion in 2017, 74% of which will consist of eager sponsorship from companies looking to cash in on a nascent field.
As the global eSports market attracts more brands and advertisers, it is ballooning in value. Some professional gamers now take home cheques bigger than that of professional footballers. By virtue of eSports being largely the realm of the younger generations, the growth of the industry has gone largely unnoticed among many. In the years to come, though, expect to see public gaming becoming commonplace as dedicated television channels and major competitions grow in stature.
Given its naturally close link with technology, eSports is an area in which experimentation will thrive. Traditional sports broadcasters are experimenting with VR, but it is far easier to virtually render a game world than it is a live sports match, for example. In many ways VR and competitive gaming are a perfect fit; the technology is there, and if VR can make eSports that little bit more immersive then the possibilities for the industry will multiply.
One company setting the pace is SLIVER.tv. The company’s VR Live Cast and Live Replay platform - launched in December 2016 - are helping eSports broadcasters offer fans a new way of spectating. Currently supporting Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends, and Dota 2, the technology offers real-time VR spectatorship, with machine learning employed to identify key moments in the gameplay for slow motion replays.
‘SLIVER.tv’s VR Live Cast technology helped us introduce live VR spectator experiences in eSports at ESL One New York and Intel Extreme Masters Oakland in impressive fashion,’ said Stuart Ewen, Product Manager at ESL. ‘Broadcasting Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and League of Legends in-game footage in a VR environment is something that would not have been possible without SLIVER.tv’s expertise. We’re looking forward to watching this technology grow and evolve as we broadcast more and more events in VR.’
VR is being used in traditional sports too, but its application so far has been reasonably limited. In training, players can be put into ‘real’ situations on the field with the use of VR to practice decision making. Spectators have been offered court-side seats to particular NBA games in VR, and the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics featured some solid VR coverage.
The immediate popularity of VR in eSports may be unsurprising giving its introduction into an already technologically driven industry, but it bodes well for its future in traditional sports. Whether it’s Counter-Strike or the NBA, fans want to get as close as possible to the sports they love, and VR can offer otherwise unattainable access. SLIVER.tv has found its niche among a growing industry, and will likely balloon in value alongside it. As other sports broadcasting bodies experiment with VR, and the likes of Facebook Live accommodate the tech, expect to see eSports’ example followed across industries. eSports has the unique luxury of its fans embracing change. If spectating in VR proves both enjoyable and profitable, though, conventional sports broadcasters will follow SLIVER.tv’s lead and dive in.