The Future of VR eSports: VR Challenger League Season 1
Virtual reality has been a dream come true for sci-fi enthusiasts and tech junkies alike. With the advent of the first VR headsets for home use at the market, gamers revealed themselves as a significant market that the VR industry has set its eyes on. Trying to tap into the gaming market’s potential has proven slightly trickier than with traditional eSports, which is why events like VR Challenger League are particularly important – not only for the industry but also for the gaming community.
VR eSports Rising against eSports Domination
eSports have had their fair share of fans, fame and good fortune for a while lately. Tournaments dedicated to specific games like Dota 2 or League of Legends have been on the books for a few years now and they keep going strong. There are several events currently scheduled for the rest of 2018, like the Blast Pro Series taking place on June 24 in Instanbul, Turkey, the ELeague Counter Strike: Global Offence Premier in Atlanta, USA, on July 21-25, or the International Dota 2 Championships in Vancouver, Canada on August 20-25. Other tournaments are set to take place in China, France, the UK, Sweden, Hong Kong – all over the world, in a nutshell. The fact that eSports are firmly established as a solid market is further proven by the fact that online bookmakers like Betway take bets on the outcome of eSports tournaments just like they do for traditional sports, featuring games like CS:GO, Dota 2, League of Legends, Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm, while they specifically mention famous teams like Cloud9 and Evil Geniuses. But while eSports seem to be dominating, VR eSports are lagging a bit behind.
According to a 2017 survey, 53% of participants interviewed claimed they were not very interested in the technology and 43% found VR devices too costly, while 14% had concerns about motion sickness. Of those actually looking to buy a VR device, 7% will go for the Samsung Gear VR and another 7% for the Sony PlayStation VR, while 5% opt for Oculus Rift and 4% for HTC Vive. Yet the VR gaming market is just as complex and fascinating, with games ranging from those designed to woo the classics fans, like Ubisoft’s VR Star Trek: Bridge Crew, all the way to simpler games specifically developed for a VR platform like VRChat – consider it a real-life VR Sims experience, where you explore whole worlds while connecting with other players.
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VR Challenger League: Off to a Great Start
This is precisely why we need more events like VR Challenger League to help propel this fascinatingly complex and exciting emerging market from niche to blockbuster. Its Season 1, spread out into four different events, just wrapped up with the Finals in early March 2018. The verdict? That we should be seeing a Season 2 soon, as the event challenged our understanding about what VR eSports are and how they can be collectively enjoyed. Organised by big names like Oculus, Intel and ESL – with all the credibility they carry – the VRCL had two games feature on its first season: Ready At Dawn’s Echo Arena and The Unspoken by Insomniac. Both excellent choices, as they are tremendously fun but at the same time present very different ways to experience VR gaming – Echo Arena was chosen as a multiplayer game and The Unspoken featured individual players.
— VR Challenger League (@VRChallenger) March 4, 2018
Gamers from all over the world competed for a total prize pool of more than $200,000 in prizes and cash. The tournament unfolded in online ESL matches taking place each week, where players stacked points that allowed them to proceed to the four regional qualifiers. Those who did in North America met at Oculus Connect 4 to battle it out in Echo Arena (with team ec.LiP.se claiming the top spot) and in IEM Oakland for The Unspoken, where Reukifellth prevailed. In Europe, qualifiers were held at Dreamhack Winter in Jönköping where Yawning Soldier was crowned the winner for The Unspoken and at ESL One Hamburg for Echo Arena, with team Jacks ranking first. Other players and teams continued to play weekly to accumulate points to advance to the finals with the regional winners. At the Finals, held in Katowice, Poland. Interestingly, none of the regional winners made it to the Grand Finals of The Unspoken, where Charizard won the title of Grand Champion, while both regional winners Jacks and ec.LiP.se battled it out in the Echo Arena Grand Finals, where the latter team won the coveted prize.
In its first run, the VR Challenger League showed professionalism and potential, as it gathered crowds, kept the excitement going and built momentum. Now, we are just waiting for Season 2 to live up to this gradually evolving legacy.