After having two children, working at a bakery, going through unemployment, and going back to school, Amber Hancock, was, like so many of us, looking for a solution to fitness and to add a spark to her life. While life may bring its stresses, she changed how she dealt with them with VR and fitness! Amber is a SPARC player that used her PlayStation VR for fitness and started SPARC Worldwide with her husband, a renowned competitive SPARC player and trainer.
VRFI: Spending time with our partners and friends with an activity like VR helps lots of people grow closer, build new friendships, and lose weight together. Does working out with your husband motivate you? Have you seen VR help other couples or individuals too?
AH: Working out in my VR playing SPARC with my husband definitely helps to motivate me! Since I started playing, I’ve noticed that my energy level has really skyrocketed. When I wasn’t working out at all, before SPARC, we had the same routine every day. I used to sleep until noon and go to bed at midnight, where now that I’m working out, I get up when the kids go to school and don’t go back to bed.
Now I spend my day with an extra 5 hours in it, and I usually SPARC it up after some housework. I’ve been more engaged in my day, and I’ve seemed to jump-start my creativity and have started painting and creating again. There’s something about a SPARC work out that makes me feel much more energized then I did before. Now I use that creativity to make one-of-a-kind household decor items which I sell on my Facebook page, Columbus Artsy Fartsy. That also brings in a small side income.
I definitely would say playing against my husband is a motivating factor. Everything’s more fun when you get to do it with your best friend, and the competition that it brings between the two of us is most definitely what pushes us both to practice for a little bit longer and play the next match a little bit harder.
He is the main face of SPARC worldwide, with me being right beside him, helping him with any and everything I can along the way. He has trained hundreds of players, myself included. He is usually winning at most every game he plays, and I decided that I wanted to play as good or better than him, and eventually be able to beat him.
I have pushed myself over the last few months to become a top contender right alongside him. Of course, he can’t have his wife beating him at his own game, so that pushes him to train harder and become a better player.
We share many friends in the game, as well as having them as mutual opponents. Almost every player has experienced some sort of weight-loss. Some more than others. Every player has a testimonial that will convince you. Many members have said they’ve given up gym memberships and just commit to SPARC instead.
I’ve only ever played one other couple in SPARC. They only play together, and she used it as a part of her fitness routine. She’s on an Oculus, and he’s on PSN. It’s fun to see the couple dynamic from the outside since the hubs and I play together. They are just like us in game. We tease each other and poke fun at each other, as well as play for bragging rights. We like to joke and say that the loser of this match has to wash dishes or switch the laundry. It keeps the game fun!
VRFI: You mentioned in our pre-interview that after a year of owning a VR set up and some games the weight didn’t fall off. What did you and your husband do differently that triggered the weight loss?
AH: SPARC was what triggered the weight loss. No other games had the same effects. It truly is a sport. There is no playing from the couch, you have to get up and move! The game itself is amazing, but it’s the intimacy of the game that sucks you in.
A lobby is 4 people, as avatars, standing in an arena with two in the court, and two standing outside waiting in the queue. Players can talk to each other, and you really get the sense of being with your buddies. It’s fun having encouraging players with you, pushing you to play harder.
Not sure why, but this game draws the most awesome people! Some are gamers, some are athletes, most are a perfect balance somewhere in the middle. I’ve made some amazing friends in the tank!
VRFI: Did you and your husband change anything about your lifestyle like clean eating, getting rid of sodas, taking supplements, logging calories and macros, or anything else?
AH: The only lifestyle change we made was to our snacks. I started craving healthier foods. Instead of the junk chips, sodas and crackers and cookies, I started buying fresh fruit, raw veggies, and granolas.
I bought bottled waters and one case of soda, instead of two. Now, I drink several bottles of water a day, in addition to Gatorade, and a soda or two. I’ve never been one for dieting or supplements, or any crazy shakes or strict exercise routines.
Our diet otherwise stayed the same. Breakfast, quite often sugary cereals, and for lunch sandwiches with fresh deli meat, or bake at home in the oven fries and chicken fingers. The kids receive a well-balanced breakfast and lunch at school. For dinners, I will cook chicken, pork, or beef, usually with a starch and a vegetable. I love potatoes and pasta! I can’t imagine cutting them out! LOL
VRFI: You’ve been playing SPARC for a while now and say that you play up to 3 sessions a day for 1 ½ to 2 hours per session. How many games can you get in during that time and what parts of the body do you move when playing?
AH: Any given SPARC session can last 30 minutes to as much as 3 or 4 hours. Games in basic mode last 3 minutes, with up to an extra minute for sudden death in case of a tie. At the end of the match, players rotate and you are transported out of the tank, to be queued up outside.
Then the players play for 3 minutes, with the possibility of a fourth minute, before switching and transporting you back in. On and off every 3 minutes. There are approximately 10 to 15 seconds between matches. In an hour’s time, I would say there’s probably 20 games played, switching out for every other match. That is if it’s a full lobby. If there are only two or three people in the lobby, it’s possible to play every game without the three minutes off in between.
Basic mode is often times compared to a boxing match. A ball is thrown by each player, and when you have possession of your own ball you have a shield. The shield can be used to block and deflect the opponent’s ball. You also have mini shields or knuckle guards that can be used to punch the ball. There’s always two balls in motion, so you’re always on the defensive. It helps to take a fighter’s stance; knees bent, fists up, eyes forward.
Once you learn how to do the quick return, which is punching your own ball back instead of catching it, you are continuously punching at 2 balls, much like a boxing match with continuous punching. There is a lot of cardio involved. You are always ducking and dodging, moving out of the way so as not to get hit by a laser ball, and giving up a point.
There’s a serious ab workout from the constant ducking and stretching. Your arms are always moving, trying to catch or deflect a ball and score on your opponent. We always say that if you don’t feel like you’re doing Kung Fu in your living room, SPARC fu, as we call it, you’re not doing it right. You should be working up a serious sweat if you’re really pushing yourself.
Advanced mode is played differently, there are no knuckle shields, only the main shield during ball possession. In this case, instead of aggressively going towards the ball to punch it back, there is a lot more ducking and dodging, making you much more mobile. This game mode is often compared to fencing, as it is a back-and-forth rhythm, attempting to get your laser ball to your opponent before their ball returns and they possess their shield to block your ball.
VRFI: Why is SPARC so motivating to you and the players in your league?
AH: One of the things that we love so much about SPARC is the gameplay because you become addicted to the physical workout and the exercise. If you take more than a day or two off, you start to get a crazy yearning to play the game. You start to crave the rush you get from the exertion of playing a match.
The thing that really sells it and motivates people to come back is the intimate bonds and relationships you form while you’re playing. Most people who get in and play regularly thrive off of pouring everything into that tank, in that game, and giving it their all. You learn to have a certain respect for players who you have good matches with.
You end up connecting with these people and getting to know who they really are. It’s just like you’re really hanging out with them, so you become friends. We get to work out and hang out with close friends at our convenience, from our living rooms. I’ve met some of the most awesome people playing this game and look forward to hanging out with most of them on a daily basis.
These days, SPARC Worldwide is sponsored by CCP, the company that makes the game. So the idea of winning and collecting a prize is also a motivating factor! The potential that the game and community possesses are endless!!
VRFI: Do you have any tips for people that want to lose weight or get in shape with SPARC?
AH: Sure! First of all, keep in mind that it is a virtual laser ball, and it’s not force that you throw the ball with to gain speed as much as it is the fullness of the motion you use. Straight arm windmill. You do not want to injure yourself throwing the ball hard to try to make it go fast. Fluid motions.
Be prepared to sweat! The game is excellent cardio and oftentimes leaves players out of breath and drenched in sweat. Make sure you keep a bottle of water on hand and stay hydrated. Also, don’t get discouraged at the beginning of your SPARC career.
We have lots of legacy players around (who will happily train with you) and they are top tier players. There’s so many because (as we like to say) once you play, and get hooked, you never leave. Everyone spends the first month or more, two or three sometimes, losing nearly every match. It’s a rite of passage, LOL! There is truly no better training or practice than playing against players at a higher skill level than yourself.
Try to take something away from every player that you play, learn something from each of them, and when you do lose, notice what you did wrong to allow points and make necessary adjustments. It’s either love it and never leave or not your thing and you never play again (which is rare). I always tell new players “Welcome to the rest of your life!” I also like to joke that due to the style of gameplay, basic mode is arm day, and advanced mode is leg day.
However, there are a couple of players who bring a whole new level of play and turn basic mode into arm and leg day. My advice would be to play these people, push yourself just a little bit harder each time you get in the tank to train. Also, make sure you stretch good before you get in. No good can come from skipping that step. Always warm up.
VRFI: Do you play or know of any other games for VR that are just as active?
AH: I acquired my PlayStation for the sole purpose of playing SPARC, and I love it so much I have yet to play anything else. But I hear from other players that Sprint Vector and Knockout League are good I’ve also had it recommended to try Climbey on Steam. I hear it’s a great workout for your arms.
VRFI: Do you work out and train outside of VR?
AH: I don’t do any kind of workout outside of SPARC. I do your typical adult things like yard work and playing with my kids, but that’s my regular routine and not stuff I would consider being a workout. Although, sometimes, maybe once or twice a week, I do like to take a walk around the neighborhood; my kids ride bikes and I follow behind them.
VRFI: What does training for SPARC competition look like with a team?
AH: Training looks different with every team. It’s determined by the team leader, who is in charge of organizing and training their players. Some team leaders are more strict than others, and demand practice or playing a certain amount of time during the week or day. Typically, the team leader instructs the team members on techniques and moves while they play a match; they just play with instruction basically.
As I previously mentioned, my husband Matt has trained over 400 players. He pretty much has the same rundown for each of them. There are a couple of drills that he likes to run with players where they do not throw their ball, they simply deflect his ball with his or her knuckle guards. If he scores more than five points on them in the 3 minutes the match lasts, he makes them get back in and do it again. He’ll do it as many times as it takes for them to score less than five points. Then he gets in the tank with you and tells you to just play a regular match.
The improvements the drill makes are immediately noticeable, as it teaches you to depend on your knuckle guards and improves your defense drastically. If done in the Advanced Arena, it is the same but you dodge instead of deflecting, just don’t get hit. The ball will get bigger and bigger as the thrower gains strikes from throwing the ball straight down the strike zone, and the bigger it is the harder it is to dodge. You dodge it until you get hit, giving up a point, then it resets the strikes to zero. A round is played to 4 points and can be extremely exhausting. Most team leaders do what they can to make it fun, and not so much work. of course, most of our team members are addicted and will play anyway, anyhow, any time.
VRFI: Where can our readers find and join your worldwide SPARC league?
AH: Our web address is sparcworldwide.com, and in addition, our community can be found in several places: Facebook, Discord, PSN (PlayStation Network) Communities, Twitter, and soon, will be available on Steam Communities and Reddit! We also stream live on Twitch!
VRFI: Thanks for sitting down to chat with us, Amber!
Life may throw us some curve balls but Amber’s story shows us that how we deal with them is half the battle. We love that a VR game like SPARC not only helped her and her family become healthier, but it influenced her husband and herself to become a team that helped others get fitter too.
How does VR help you get fitter and healthier? Let us know down in the comments or tag us on social media!