When is the tournament?

With nearly 200 community members from various competitive VR games walking around Oculus Connect 6 wearing an assortment of jerseys, that question was heard repeatedly at last week’s Facebook developer conference.

Community members from around the globe were invited to OC6 to talk with developers, try game demos, attend meetings, and gather information from sessions. Since most community members aren’t affiliated with virtual reality through their occupations, most paid their own way to San Jose simply for the opportunity to be a part of the experience. Rather than focus on a specific event this year, Oculus offered community passes to these individuals and last week was more of an opportunity to learn from one another, restructure, and plan for the future.

It appears that the numerous community members who spent money to travel to OC6 aren’t the only ones who have caught the bug for VR esports. Although it might not have been obvious before, people already think of VR esports as a spectator event. During VR League LAN events that took place at the previous two Oculus Connect conferences, people were able to see how physicality could be combined with technology to develop true VR esports athletes. There was positive feedback at the time, but at OC6, people wanted to know when they’d get to watch their favorite VR games being played on stage as they have for the past two years.

As a bit of history, the VR League was established in 2017 as a partnership between Oculus, ESL, and Intel. Season 1 featured Ready At Dawn’s Echo Arena and Insomniac Games’ The Unspoken. Regionals took place at Oculus Connect 4 in October of that year.

When VR League Season 2 finals took place at OC5, there were four games and the grand championship for Downpour Interactive’s Onward took place on the main stage where Mark Zuckerberg gives his welcome speech for Oculus Connect.

Since VRL Season 3 finals took place in June in Leicester, England earlier this year, many people expected there to be a showmatch or an announcement about season 4 at OC6. This wasn’t the case, but progress was made, particularly among community members who have been involved with VR esports from the ground up.

VR Community

Even before the VR League was formed, players were joining teams and organizing themselves for tournaments in their favorite games. People were hosting community days and doing informal training with newer players.

Over past two years, the overall VR community has grown rapidly and opportunities within specific communities have expanded. There are now community days to welcome new players, boot camps to train players interested in competitive VR gaming, player-vs-player leagues, player-organized contests, hang-out time with developers, and much more. Obviously these vary from game-to-game, but more active communities tend to have higher retention rates.

Whether they’re team members, tournament organizers, casters, streamers, or players who help out in their favorite games, community members have had an essential role in the growth of VR esports. Their contributions will continue to create increased opportunities in competitive games and VR gaming in general.

VR Master League

One of the most well-represented community groups at OC6 was the VR Master League. Established in early 2017 by DaKinMan, the VRML is a community-driven platform that features the most competitive VR games available.

NightFiree, DaKinMan, and Manello chat about VR esports.

The VRML is a perfect example of growth brought about by positive player experiences. Sponsored by VR Cover and ProtubeVR, VRML prize pools have consisted primarily of merchandise coupons, accessories, and personalized t-shirts, yet somehow they’ve found the secret formula for success in VR esports.

In 2017, only 24 players participated in VR Master League Onward Season 1. There are 428 players (including reservists) registered in season 8, which began on July 8.

And those numbers are only for Onward. There are currently four other games in the VR Master League:  davevillz’ Pavlov, Caveman Studios’ Contractors, Phaser Lock Interactive’s Final Assault, and Ubisoft’s Space Junkies. Including the registered Onward players and reservists, there are nearly 1,000 players involved in the VR Master League this season. In comparison, there were 451 unique players across 146 teams in the four featured titles of VR League Season 3, which had a $250,000 prize pool.

DaKinMan stated that his time at Oculus Connect was spent meeting with other community members and solidifying relationships. He also spent time talking “about the future of VR esports in general with multiple people.”

Echo VR

Another well-represented community was Ready At Dawn’s Echo VR. There were players present from Echo Arena, a virtual sport that’s similar to Ender’s Game, and Echo Combat, a first-person shooter with numerous modes, weapons, tactical mods, etc. Both games are set in zero-gravity and were created as multi-player versions of RAD’s award-winning Lone Echo.

Echo community members seemed thrilled to have an excuse to hang out again at OC6, despite the fact that there wasn’t a competitive event, but they also wanted to try the Echo Arena demo on the Quest. This was the first opportunity community members had to play the game on the standalone headset that Oculus released in May.

Echo VR Community members wait in line with others wanting to try the game on the Oculus Quest.

Mark Zuckerberg announced in his keynote at OC6 that Quest headsets were selling “as fast as we can make them.” With that in mind, using Quests at competitive VR esports events makes sense. Not only will more people have access to them, but we won’t have to deal with sensors and computer set-ups.

Considering the fact that Echo Arena is the only game that was featured in every season of the VR League and community members have continued to organize their own events (like “Pizza League”) in the absence of a VR League announcement, it also seems to reason that this game will be featured as a VR esport on the Quest in the near future.

I had the opportunity to play Echo Arena on the Quest at OC6 and while there is still quite a bit of work to do in regards to finishing touches (lighting, colors, etc.), the mechanics are definitely there. It didn’t feel a lot different from playing Echo on the Rift, Rift S, or the Vive. I’ve played the game on all of these devices and look forward to playing it regularly on the Quest.

It should be noted that Echo VR will be available as a cross-play title so players who use other HMDs will still be able to mingle with Quest players in the game. The game is set to release on the Oculus Quest before the end of the year.

Outlook

Right now it’s obvious that big changes are ahead for VR esports, but it’s not yet clear what all of those will be.

Competitors and developers at the World Cyber Games, where Phaser Lock Interactive’s Final Assault was featured in July.

There are leagues and tournaments popping up around the globe, more accessories are coming onto the market for VR esports players, and we continue to see the formation of teams and VR esports organizations.

Over the next few months, an increasing number of competitive games (Echo Arena, Onward, Vertigo Games’ Arizona Sunshine, and others.) will become available on the Oculus Quest. I believe we’ll begin to see an increasing number of smaller tournaments and events being hosted by community groups at local venues, gaming conventions, etc.

There was also a representative from high school level VR esports program at OC6 and that community will definitely benefit from the Quest since it’s much more feasible for schools to be able to invest $400 in a headset versus $1,200 or more between a headset and gaming computer.

Meanwhile, the Virtual Athletics League and Collegiate VR Esports League continue to create opportunities for arcades and college-level players. The rapid growth in both of these communities can partly be attributed to the increasing awareness of virtual reality in general, interest in VR esports specifically, and the fact that VR has been made more financially accessible with the Quest.

In regards to Oculus Connect, it was a perfect venue for community leaders and other representatives to discuss the future of VR esports. It’ll be interesting to see how it all unfolds over the next few months as more games become available and communities continue to pursue their passion for VR esports. Either way, it appears that there are changes ahead that will provide plenty of opportunities for growth among current enthusiasts and others wanting to become involved in VR gaming.

 


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