VR gaming continues to expand around the globe and the Hinge Municipality is collaborating with VR Rhythm League to present the Papara VR Esports Tournament in Muğla, Turkey from March 22-26. Featuring Beat Saber and a prize pool of 5,000 TL, the 5-day competition is the first major VR esports event in the country and hopefully a welcome respite among some considerable economic and social issues.
During the first qualifiers, there were 72 participants between the ages of 8 to 52. It’s pretty common to see such a diversity of ages among VR esports competitors since virtual reality tends to level the playing field and give everyone an equal chance of performing well despite age differences or physical challenges.
The competition will continue this week with dozens of competitors and the tournament will continue through Friday in amateur and professional categories.
VR Rhythm League
In addition to the Hinge municipality and Papara, a financial technology company that has grown rapidly since it was founded 2016, this tournament is organized through the collaboration of the VR Rhythm League.
“We live in a period where we witnessed the history and development of VR esports,” states Cem Gedik co-founder and CEO of VR Rhythm League. “We continue to work to create a system in which all the athletes who are passionate about this work will be rewarded and everything is in their hands.”
Essentially the VR Rhythm League is a professional tournament system Gedik founded with software developer Furkan Kiyikci that allows companies, arcade owners, sponsors, etc. to create competitions – such as the Papara event – with the tools provided. Rhythm games currently supported are Beat Saber, Pistol Whip, Synth Riders, Audica, and Audio Trip.
Gedik had been involved with esports for many years, but when he played Beat Saber in 2018, he was impressed with the physicality of VR gaming.
“I was playing games and doing physical sports,” he states. “It was like competing in traditional sports so I thought I should pass it on to anyone I could reach.”
Within a week, Gedik left his engineering job and turned his gaming room into a business, which he very cleverly called VR Gaming Room. Gedik began introducing virtual reality to others and he actually insisted that everyone who tried VR play Beat Saber, a popular rhythm game that involves slicing cubes that come towards you in a direction indicated on the cube.
Over time he began building a community and he “created a system for talented and ambitious players to improve themselves.” Gedik organized weekly contests, set up a training academy, and encouraged players to let others know about VR gaming.
“In our country nobody outside of us was aware of rhythm games,” Gedik says. He tried reaching out to companies and he contacted university sports departments, but he says “all doors were closed.”
While VR has continued to expand around the globe, it has been a bit more challenging for people in Turkey to obtain hardware and software for some of the most popular games. Economic problems include high inflation, increased taxes, and a devaluation of the Turkish lira. This might not seem like something many Westerners would be concerned about, but the thing about virtual reality is that it’s a fantastic tool for bringing people together.
In immersive reality, we can remove labels and simply enjoy the environment, the competition, or the journey we’re on together without regard to skin tone, religion, sexual preferences, etc. If we all work together, we can do amazing things, but when there are specific groups struggling to join us in the virtual universe, it’s a reminder that we’re just not quite there yet.
To put it into practical perspective, if I want to purchase Beat Saber, the game Gedik shares with visitors to VR Gaming Room, it costs $30 USD in the Oculus store. Based on average income for people in the United States, it’s going to take between one and two hours to earn that amount. (A 2019 Economic Policy Institute report cited the median wage in US as $19.33 per hour. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this had risen to $24.60 per hour in the fourth quarter of 2020, based on an income of $984 for a 40-hour work week.)
According to a 2021 report from Salary Explorer, the average worker in Turkey earns around 45 lira per hour. A game I pay $30 for in the US costs around 237 lira in Turkey, so it would take the average Turkish worker a little over five hours to earn enough to purchase the same game.
Even if you’re not terribly concerned about the impact of that for one game, imagine if someone wanted to purchase other games or song packs or anything else. They’re going to have to work nearly five times as long for each game, experience, or piece of hardware.
Granted, I’m looking at numbers based on the Oculus store. Some companies such as Steam have adjusted the rate so that it’s more affordable for Turkish citizens to purchase games, but there are problems with that system as well.
A big one is that frequently people don’t have the money to purchase PC gaming systems and they want games directly off the Oculus store. Of course it’s a similar issue in other countries since gaming PCs are expensive, but imagine paying over four times more. A better option is a wireless headset such as the Oculus Quest, but then someone either needs a PC to play via a Link cable with Steam or they have to pay higher prices and purchase the games on the Oculus store.
It seems like Oculus could simply adjust the prices like Steam does, but then some unscrupulous people would try to use a VPN to scam the system in order to purchase for a lower price. A lack of integrity by some hurts the people who would most benefit from adjusted prices.
The solutions aren’t simple and I don’t have the answers, but definitely I have admiration for the fact that the VR community in Turkey refuses to give up.
Growth of VR in Turkey
The Papara VR Esports Tournament is the latest piece of evidence that the Turkish population is interested in immersive technology, but it’s not the only indication. Last week the VR/AR Association announced the opening of its Turkish chapter and there are several Turkish companies focused on VR technology. Here are a few.
Founded in Istanbul in 2016, RealityArts Studio has made amazing progress as an independent gaming company. With support from companies like Microsoft Turkey, Nvidia Turkey, HTC Vive, MSI Turkey and an Unreal Dev Grant from Epic Games, RealityArts Studio co-founders Ismail Kemal Ciftcioglu and Bahar Baziki have been able to present projects like Voidrunner, a space-based FPS shooter, and The Stranger VR, a VR combat game set in a sci-fi world.
Featuring a unique locomotion system, I had the opportunity to meet these guys at an event in San Francisco and I was quite impressed with the product that uses motion capture to track user movements with a wearable sensor network that converts the movements into VR environments. Founded in Istanbul by Tugra Sahiner in 2016, WalkOvr is headquartered in San Francisco, California.
Located in Istanbul, Vemaker provides an immersive option for events, training, and collaboration with conference areas, meeting rooms, etc. Users can customize their experience with personalized avatars, make gestures that allow for ease of conversation, and choose different interface options.
How to Support Turkish VR Gamers
If you want to learn more about VR gaming and esports in Turkey, keep an eye on VR Fitness Insider as we cover VR esports around the globe. Also reach out to the VR/AR Association in Turkey, the VR Gaming Room, VR Rhythm League, or one of the other businesses in Turkey that’s striving to keep emphasis tech and gaming in the country.