What the rise of eSports says about Sports and the future of Virtual Sports.
How VR will democratize physical activity, healthy competition, and teamwork for millions.
The rise of eSports.
Outside traditional sports, competitive team play is growing rapidly. eSports, or competitive video games, are spreading like wild fire in popularity. Colleges have begun offering scholarships for skilled players. Streamers are making as much as TV stars. And there is no shortage of kids who dream of playing video games professionally.
Where physical sports are limited by equipment, arena, and scheduled practice times, eSports are limited only by imagination. Well, that and computer processing power and algorithms that drive player rankings.
Professional sports are huge.
Pro teams scout colleges for players. Colleges scout highschools for players. Schools teach sports to middleschool and elementary school children all in hopes of finding and fostering top talent.
The system of finding and developing world class athletes starts young. If a child’s school has the resources for sports fields, coaches, and equipment then the child has a door opened for them. If the school doesn’t have resources then children have little chance to learn a love for sports.
Intramural leagues can make up for a school’s lack of resources, but these cost parents money. If a child’s parents can’t afford equipment, then the child loses opportunity to learn and practice these sports.
Let’s say a school does have the resources for a few sports. Baseball, football, and basketball to name a few.
Each of these teams only has room for so many players, the fields are only so big and the bench is only so long. Equipment and coaches cost money and the public school system’s budget is inherently limited. We are met with physical limitations on how many children can feasibly be fostered into an athletic lifestyle.
It’s not to say today’s system isn’t efficient as it can be. Millions of children have access to sports and have opportunity to take their sport through college if they are disciplined enough.
Real world sports are limited by physical resources.
Equipment, arenas, and coaches are limited in both quantity and quality. Safe football padding is expensive, soccer fields require large flat open spaces, and great coaches are expensive and time constrained. Not to mention the expenses professional teams incur sending scouts across the country to find new talent.
Video games are digital.
Many popular eSports run on affordable hardware most households can afford. Coaching can be found in the form of streamers, YouTube videos, and online strategy blogs. Arenas pop in an out of existence every time a player clicks “Play”. And players are online playing at all times of day, globally, 24/7.
eSport players can log into the game any time day or night, and chances are they’ll find opponents to play against.
eSport players can play against not only the kids in their neighborhood, but people across the globe.
eSport players’ competitive records aren’t just kept by the school system, they’re kept in an online database accessible from anywhere.
eSport ranking systems are improving every day.
Games like Counter-Strike, DotA, Overwatch, League of Legends all have ranking systems built to match players with similarly skilled teammates and adversaries such that they can practice the game at an appropriate challenge level.
When done right, ranking algorithms help a player learn the game and feel a sense of accomplishment moving up the ladder. The system places players against slightly higher ranked players from time to time and incrementally pushes players to improve.
The problem with eSports is the same problem that’s haunted gaming for decades: The basement gamer.
eSports are video games, and video games are played seated at a keyboard or in front of a television with controller in hand. When played casually games provide a wonderful escape from reality far more engaging than traditional media. Games can even benefit problem solving skills, hand eye coordination, and more. But when played day in and day out the hours of sitting add up quickly.
Sitting for hours on end is detrimental to human health, as can be seen in the rise of standing desk popularity, work out regimes, and diet plans. Once adulthood hits and knowledge workers find themselves spending 40+ hours a week sitting in an office activity levels decline and pounds are put on. What some call a slowing of metabolism due to age is actually a slowing of metabolism due to habit. It just so happens younger people tend to be more active, even if its just daily walks to and from class on campus.
eSports democratize competitive team play for children around the world. But eSports foster a dangerous sitting habit in millions of children during their developmental stage of life.
Working out with video games: accidental fitness with VR
Gamers have never been known for physical fitness. How could they be? Always locked away in a dark basement all day…
Humans need physical activity.
Physical activity improves BDNF, or simply put, physical activity helps you learn. And this is even more important for the developing minds of children.
Check out the book Spark for more on BDNF and how a Chicago school gets top test scores in the world just by having children run amile each morning before classes.
What if we could take the engaging (and addictive) properties of video games AND the benefits of physical activity accrued from real world sports, and give it to everyone with access to video games? We can.
Virtual reality is the next step in sports, physical training, and video games.
VR games played in a room-scale environment have players standing and physically moving around to interact with the virtual world. Objects are reached for, grabbed, and thrown around. Instead of aiming with the small movements of a mouse, a player must engage at least their arms if not their whole body. An eSports player dodges opponents by clicking a mouse, flicking a joystick, or tapping keyboard keys. A VR player ducks, dodges, and bends their knees.
An hour of light VR competitive play burns ~300 calories, and more intense action can burn 500+ calories an hour. Some players are burning thousands of calories playing VR.
With the announcement of the Oculus Quest, we now have an accessible, $399 headset and controllers usable in any space be it inside or out, for full body movement. Add to this the already successful nature of addictive competitive eSport games and we have a recipe to not only solve the sitting problem of video games but also democratize the physical benefits of real world sports.
Virtual Reality is the future of competitive sports.
The digitization of competitive play, or as many aspects of it as possible, is the inevitable next step of sports. We’re seeing it today in the use of statistics and big data, simulations and design, and virtual reality training to compliment a professional athlete’s arsenal. And we will see it tomorrow in the cultivation and recruitment of sports talent.
This is not to say VR will replace real world sports.
VR will be used to enhance existing real world sports via training and technologies like heads up displays. And VR will not replace eSports, just as sports can’t replace the likes of Go or Chess. But, VR and the vSports it will spawn are likely to overtake both eSports and real world sports over the long term if for no other reason than vSports are a collection of all the things that make real world sports and eSports so captivating.
vSports are just what a video game enthralled youth needs to bring healthy physical activity back into their daily reality.