National Esport Professional Association announces a charity cup to raise awareness and funds for the Special Olympics. Featuring Ready At Dawn’s Echo Arena, the LAN sporting event will be held at Busch Stadium’s Redbird Club in St. Louis on March 18-20, 2022 and will continue to blaze a trail for professional competitive VR esports and raise awareness of VR platform’s inclusivity for athletes.
With the introduction of headsets such as the Oculus Quest 2, VR gaming has become increasingly popular for fun and fitness. In addition, many games are particularly well-suited to competitive esports and the potential for growth in this area of the industry is huge.
Virtual reality enables a user to be immersed in a game or environment with the sensation of presence that creates a feeling that you’re actually in an arena, on a field, etc. Esports traditionally require teamwork, problem-solving skills, strategic thinking, leadership, etc., but in addition to these skills, since VR requires physicality to move, duck, jump, throw, etc., there’s an athletic component that’s not present in traditional esports.
“The introduction of virtual reality and the associated athleticism required to play many games has really established the ‘sport’ part of esports,” states Tony Cartwright, Founder and CEO of the National Esport Professional Association (NEPA). “Since the early 70s, esports has been associated with playing video games competitively, but with game controllers and keyboards, the term “sport” seemed out of place. When VR launched, there was much more of a physical requirement to play competitively, giving rise to the phrase ‘VR sport.’”
A former Fighter Weapons School graduate in the F-15C who retired from the US Air Force as a Lt. Colonel/Command Pilot in 2016, Cartwright founded NEPA, LLC in April 2021. He then began recruiting professionals familiar with esports and virtual reality, as well as skilled players from the popular VR game Echo Arena, to build the league.
“NEPA was created to develop VR sports into a traditional professional organization,” explains Cartwright. “Where many esport professionals are determined by winning a league or tournament, NEPA is designed to represent the collection of VR sport athletes that train and play at an elite level.”
Echo Arena was the first title selected because it’s truly the first VR game in the digital medium that’s similar to traditional team sports. Launched in June 2017 by Ready At Dawn, a gaming studio that was later purchased by Facebook, Echo Arena has been a flagship in the realm of multiplayer VR games.
“Echo Arena requires team strategy, physicality, communication, and teamwork to be successful. What is most interesting about the game is that much like traditional team sports,” says Cartwright, “the only way to get better and compete at a higher level is through practice, both individually and as a team.”
Special Olympics Collaboration
According to Cartwright, the Special Olympics was a natural partner for NEPA’s charity efforts. The Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities, providing them with opportunities to compete at an elite level.
In the world of VR, there are no limitations placed on athletes, and immersive environments level the playing field so that anyone with a desire to compete can do so. Since many VR games, including Echo Arena, can be played seated at basically the same level of play as that of a standing player, this creates accessibility that doesn’t usually exist in traditional sports.
Mac Dougan, Assistant Director of Digital Initiatives for Special Olympics Illinois, points out that from the onset of the Special Olympics esports program, they’ve made a conscious effort to make video games more inclusive and the collaboration with NEPA supports that concept through VR gaming.
“Whether it’s for individuals with intellectual disabilities, physical, or no disability at all – gaming should and must be for everyone,” says Dougan. “VR … is incredibly vital to moving that needle forward on inclusivity.”
Like most people in society today, Special Olympics athletes would benefit from the physicality required in VR games. Since the Special Olympics encourages physical activity and healthy lifestyles, the idea of VR games greatly appeals to the organization for the potential to improve overall wellness of their athletes.
“The opportunities are endless for Special Olympics and VR games,” states Dougan. “The whole idea of being able to be an active participant in the games that we’re playing is huge.”
He is also eager to see Special Olympics athletes have access to headsets so they can experience other games such as tennis or baseball through the lens of a VR headset.
“Not every athlete will have access to a tennis court, or is able to travel on a constant basis to a practice, but VR can bring that experience right to their living room. That is nothing short of amazing.”
Charity LAN Event
The first annual NEPA Charity Cup will feature an all-pro tournament for the professional Echo Arena teams from NEPA as well as open brackets for any teams that want to register. Individual players can also register and be placed on a team.
- March 18-20, 2022
- Redbird Club at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri
- Single player entry fee: $50
- Prizes will be awarded to finalists and semi-finalists of each bracket.
If you’re interested in providing sponsorship for NEPA or the charity cup, please reach out through the NEPA website.
We will continue to post regular updates on VR Fitness Insider and as always, we encourage you to engage with the community as well.
Check out broadcasts of NEPA pro team games on the VR Sports Network (VRSN).