High school students JayWalker and Kungg of Echo Arena team Jokr prepare for VR League Season 3 finals in June 2019.

The High School VR League continues to introduce immersive esports to high school students across North America and announces the Echo Arena Zone War tournament with a 6-week mini-season starting July 12 that culminates in a Lightning Final on August 29.

Ready At Dawn’s Echo Arena has been blazing a trail for competitive VR since it was released in July 2017 and featured in the Oculus-sponsored ESL-run VR League at Oculus Connect 4. The game continues to grow as a popular option for VR enthusiasts and esports fans, but it’s of particular importance for those who want to see immersive esports at high schools.

Set in a zero-gravity virtual arena where players must duck, dodge, and jump in physical reality, Echo Arena involves a tremendous amount of physicality that make it more reminiscent of traditional sports than a computer game. The fact that Echo Arena incorporates a disc rather than a weapon makes it appropriate for educational institutions or parents that might prohibit any esports involving guns.

Students and admins of the High School VR League have wanted to incorporate Echo Arena since the league was established in the summer of 2020, but ultimately the decision was made to build the community and focus on other games such until there was a firm leadership team in place to help design the best possible experience.

With the uncertainty of the pandemic and millions of students away from the classroom, it also meant that schools couldn’t coordinate team members so Beat Saber, a single-player rhythm game, made more sense. Although multiplayer was introduced to Beat Saber in October 2020, for the purposes of competition, students recorded best runs and submitted scores individually. This was a perfect game to feature during lockdown for the inaugural season of HSVRL.

As they say, though, where there is a will there’s a way! HSVRL students and leaders were determined to see Echo Arena in the league so they began running Lightning tournaments in early May. These were short-term events that enabled players and admins to experiment with registration requirements, sign ups, format, etc.

Since Echo Arena involves quite a bit more structure for tournaments to run smoothly, it was important for the league to test the waters and see what would work best with the still segmented groups of high school students across the continent. There are plans to expand to Europe in the future, but it takes time to introduce new opportunities to educators and students.

Desire to Connect

“As HSVRL looked at our past and future with VR esports and Echo Arena specifically, we wanted to keep our focus on our end goal,” stated Tyeron Hammontree, Founder of the High School VR League. “Since the beginning of HSVRL, the intent has been to mainstream VR at high school campuses. This means teams made up of players pulled from the finite student body at school campuses. This is the case for all school-based teams but not yet the case for most VR esports which are mostly virtual.”

Despite the negative effects of the pandemic, it has helped educators around the globe recognize advantages of virtual learning. Now that people are more aware of options such as immersive tech for education, they also are more open to the possibilities of immersive training, social activities and options for physical fitness and gaming. This further opens the door for VR esports.

According to a report from UNICEF in March 2021, “schools for more than 168 million children globally have been completely closed for almost a full year” due to COVID-19. With schools closed, families and children have largely been dealing on their own with stress, trauma, disability, loss, educational responsibilities, etc. This has resulted in higher rates of depression, addiction, mental illness, and suicide. Without getting too much deeper into that topic, most of us can agree that the experience has made many people recognize how important it is to interact with others as well as to have access to education, entertainment, and fitness options when you can’t leave home. It’s understandable how a light, portable headset such as the Oculus Quest 2 that enables people to be immersed in a reality that can provide all those things might be particularly attractive in the middle of a pandemic.

It was during this time that the High School VR League began to see more students stepping forward to volunteer in the community and help build the league. They simply had to find a way to build the league that would allow players of various skill levels to compete in such a way that would make it fun and enjoyable for everyone.

“Our solution is to create all new virtual  teams for HSVRL that are geographically separate in a similar way to campus teams,” explains Hammontree. “To do this we will use the school district for each player to discern their time zone and randomly assign them to a team. Using the school district allows us to gather this information without gathering personally identifiable data. Creating new teams in this fashion also allow us to have various ranks of players on the same team and play each other in a competitive yet fair space with the campus teams.”

“We’re pretty excited about how this will allow us to bridge between virtual and campus-based teams and we look forward to a high school league that is beginning its push into high school campuses across North America.”

Thus Echo Arena Zone War was born.

Format

Students sign up for Echo Arena Zone War alone, they’ll be assigned to a team in their zone, and once the season begins, players will participate in one to three matches per week with their team.

  • Echo Arena
  • 4v4
  • Solo sign up
  • Best of three 10-minute rounds
  • 1 to 3 matches per week

Students can register for the Zone War tournament through the HSVRL Discord server.

When registering for teams, HSVRL asks for Oculus and Discord usernames, the player’s school district, and the state or province in which the district resides. According to Hammontree, since “the link between a person’s self-created identity on Oculus or Discord is unique and disparate to any private information held by the district or school, [thus it] does not generate a HIPAA issue of privacy based on the privacy practices of US and Canadian public schools.”

Dates

Registration for the six-week season of Echo Arena War Zone closes on July 4 at midnight PDT. Matches begin on July 12, giving teams a week to practice together before the first matches begin on July 12.

  • July 4: last day to sign up
  • July 12: matches begin
  • August 22: season ends
  • August 29: Lightning Final

Community

As always, we encourage you to become involved with the communities that interest you. If you’re a student, educator, or administrator interested in competitive VR gaming opportunities for students ages 13-18, please reach out to Tyeron Hammontree via the High School VR League website. We also recommend the High School VR League Discord server. Introduce yourself, ask questions, and enjoy meeting others in the high school VR community!

If you’re interested in Echo Arena and VR esports outside the high school realm, join the overall Echo VR community on Discord or Facebook.


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