VR Communities’ Shining Star Sonya Haskins
VR Community Builder and the only North American female player to qualify for VR League Season One NA National Finals, Sonya Haskins, is the Earth, Wind and Fire of VR. Her ultimate goal is to help give opportunities for passionate people working in VR to showcase their gifts and capabilities across this new technology landscape.
I first met Sonya Haskins through Twitter while she was going through immunotherapy infusions. We then met IRL earlier this year at Facebook Developer Conference F8 2019 in San Jose, CA. Her voice in the VR gaming industry is respected, helpful, thoughtful, and full of ideas that bring community together. I sat down with Sonya in social VR to better understand her talents, ambition, and vision for what’s to come.
Who is Sonya?
She is a mother, homeschool teacher, do-gooder in her community fostering over 100 children, VR community builder, and an amazing journalist in the field of VR esports. Sonya has broken barriers in the VR gaming industry as the first woman (and first seated!) gamer to play in the VR League Season One.
Another interesting fact about Sonya is that she is an experienced historian and author of her hometown of Tennessee while she also writes Homeschooling tips and everything you ever wanted to know about the race car history at Bristol Motor Speedway.
What she’s best known for in VR are her gaming skills and community building, specializing in VR Sports — primarily esports and fitness. Her laugh and personality tell us a lot about her genuine sincerity of her ultimate goal to grow the VR community.
What is Virtual Reality Gaming? It is a forum where a person can experience being in a three-dimensional environment and interact during a game.
So how did she get here and what does her future in VR look like?
Let’s start from the beginning…
How Sonya’s Own Community Immersed Her Into VR
Sonya is a mother of five so naturally, she has built her own mini-community in the Haskins home. How did her “mini-community” introduce her to VR? Sonya has two sons in the Army, but it was her oldest son (who was getting deployed to Afghanistan during that time) that wanted to go to Best Buy to grab a few things before he left. Sonya, open-minded and thinking outside the box, noticed a VR headset Oculus demo at the store, she didn’t want to do the demo because it didn’t seem like “her thing” but her son persuaded her to do it. She decided to delve into it. Then her son told her he was leaving his gaming computer behind, she was so amazed by the demo she thought,
“I have to have this; it is the coolest thing ever!”
That day changed her life in many ways. Her real and virtual worlds were colliding and she recognized the potential VR had to change society and humanity. She started playing games that included physical activity like Echo Arena from Ready at Dawn. Then in June 2017, Oculus unveiled its first VR Challenger League Season One, which was presented by three companies: Intel, Electronic Sports League (ESL) and Oculus. It was a brand new competitive VR gaming league that featured two VR titles: “The Unspoken” and Ready At Dawn’s “Echo Arena.” What happened next? Sonya transported into the world of esports as the first woman to play competitively in the North American league and she hasn’t looked back since.
Sonya has been building a virtual community since she put her headset on in 2017 and has been contributing to other VR Gaming beginners ensure their experience was as magical as hers.
For example, an Oculus blog post from Oculus Connect 4 showcased Sonya. It described her initiative to give players a great experience when entering the Echo Arena lobby by having people welcome them and host events like Community Days. This was her idea and on her own time!
“I’d eagerly be a VR evangelist for the Cult of Rift. lol. In all seriousness, I’d love to travel the world telling people about VR. There is something for everyone and it WILL change the world as we know it. We can fix problems in education, healthcare, energy, etc. with VR.”
VR Game Squad Goals
Sonya’s expertise lies in writing and communicating and she is a well-respected voice in the field of VR esports. Her bio when she was Senior Editor at VRespawn states:
“She focuses on highlighting players, promoting teams, and encouraging the growth of VR leagues.” — VRespawn
She went off on her own to fulfill her passion of building a strong, collaborative VR gaming community. Sonya incorporated her expertise into her newfound passion and felt it would be best to use those skills to help develop and grow the VR ecosystem. She began writing articles for different sources like VR Fitness Insider and VRespawn to grow communities and spotlight people who were making a difference in the VR esports arena.
“My goal when I first started was (and still is) to keep pushing people doing great things, to see growth in the community and promote those people working hard in the industry.”
Fast forward to today where she has created a VR Community Builders initiative to help companies reach customers and develop sustainable communities in VR and beyond. It focuses on bringing consumers to communities, building relationships, and highlighting the possibilities while enticing the audience to engage and participate in this exciting new virtual venue.
See one of her talks about how she began building community below from AWE USA 2019.
Oh the VR Places We Will Go…Together!
I asked Sonya how she intends to continue to build the VR community:
“Be engaged all the time, that is really important, be out there meeting people and make new friends online, offline and in VR. We don’t have to live in the same state or even the same continent, and we can still accomplish important goals in virtual reality.”
VR Shining Stars: Earth, Wind, Fire and VR
“You’re a shining star, no matter who you are. Shining bright to see…What you could truly be!”
— Earth, Wind & Fire (Shining Star Lyrics)
I asked Sonya what is her ultimate goal for VR? She responded: “Connecting”.
“The ultimate goal is to get the word out to bigger companies like Oculus and HTC. I try to connect people and interview them to get their name out. Working with bigger companies allows me, as the person on the ground floor, to give these bigger companies the influencers they need to promote the product in the right light with the right evangelists. Not just the top followers, but the passionate people out there working in VR daily.”
“Everything I have done the past two years has been volunteer work. I have not been paid. Working 50–60 hours a week to help build a community of people (organically) that are growing these opportunities for others. I sincerely strive to help people capitalize on an opportunity to showcase their gifts in VR.”
We are the VR World…
“There comes a time
When we heed a certain call
When the world must come together as one….
We are the world
We are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving
There’s a choice we’re making
We’re saving our own lives
It’s true we’ll make a better day, just you and me”
I asked Sonya since she started, what changes has she witnessed in VR?
Sonya: It’s been a wonderful experience to see the growth and development. It’s almost like having a child and you’re seeing it grow up. I’ve seen some challenges, but we work together as a family and grow together by learning to work together to find solutions.
But…one of the biggest things we have learned in VR, is it’s all about community. People say VR will take away humanity and disconnect them. It’s absolutely not true. If you have someone who has their face staring into a Smartphone all the time, it’s very disconnecting. For example, while we are sitting here in social VR I look up at you, and it’s like — there’s Navah! Might be millions of miles away, but sharing the same space. Now that’s the power of presence.”
A key takeaway is that VR brings us together. This is how we move toward reconnecting and making greater relationships as people and toward a common purpose. When we meet in physical reality after we’ve first met in VR, a beautiful thing transpires. We drop labels and judgments that seemingly cause serious issues and negativity in today’s society. In VR, we tend to open up with each other and accept all personalities, characteristics, and behavior. What we aren’t distracted by or concentrated on is the real things happening in real life.
Now more than ever, people are divided and evaluated on a number of levels and labels: race, gender, nationality, age, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, skin color, social class, financial well-being, and the list goes on. We are segregating ourselves. In an era where everyone seems to agree that we need to take care of our planet, it’s ironic that when it comes to taking care of our fellow humans, we’ve lost LOVE for one another (kindness, patience, humility, acceptance, etc.)
In VR, there is no regard for where you came from, what choices you’ve made along the way, whether you have mental or physical deficiencies, what language you speak, what commonalities we have, etc. VR is inclusive and makes us all come together and share anything and everything. This is how we move toward reconnecting and making greater relationships with people.
“To me, Virtual Reality removes the labels, but keeps the HUMAN.”
Create Virtual Footprints
Sonya won’t admit she has created specific communities but she definitely encourages and promotes it. She says building a community takes a village. She does all she can to help spread the word of kindness, peace, and helping people grow together, feel welcome, and share ideas and expertise. It’s all about people and in VR, we can see the body language. We forgot the human aspect in 2D games but can take pride in this new technology and focus on community building and spotlighting people who are making a difference.
What is Sonya Working On Now?
Two Primary Objectives:
Community Building — Pro Bono work! Reach out on social and express your actions, thoughts, and intentions by sharing, writing, performing, communicating. We need the bigger companies to see what this growing community is up to and how far it can go.
VR Consultant: Larger companies wanting to do events or need a consultant for Virtual Reality can now reach out to Sonya Haskins.
* In development: Sonya is working on a non-profit called Community Builders, where larger companies can come in and give donations and partnership levels to use resources to encourage people in VR to grasp the technology and look inside themselves to offer great ideas and interesting projects.
The Future of VR (Continual Work-In-Progress)
- Tournaments continue like VR esports, but what I’d like to see is more events geared toward different games — such as bigger gaming events focused on VR, not just developers, with different game options like a Beat Saber or Onward tournament.
- Another area of growth in the future will be more use of VR in healthcare and education.
- VR levels the playing field. A growing Elderly community in VR esports such as more people 60 years old plus members in leagues, community, fitness, and healthcare.
Shout out to David de Jong and what he is building with the Senior community. Check out an interview I did with him earlier this year talking about how he is changing the VR Elderly community.
Sonya Haskins is unquestionably a bright shining star in VR. It’s VR evangelists like her that will help build a better, stronger, kinder VR community.
For more of my interview with Sonya Haskins, check out the replay in social VR platform Facebook Spaces:
Get connected with Sonya Haskins, VR Community Builder Extraordinaire on Social.