The 17-year-old arrived home, slipped off his shoes, and looked around his room, which had been cleared of all but essential items. He was eager to hang out with his friends and excited to see if his sport team could finally defeat their greatest rival so he stepped onto his gaming mat, picked up his VR headset, and entered the playing area.
In an historic moment for immersive tech and sports, following a decisive vote of the International Racquetball Federation (IRF), the VR racquet sport game Racket:Next (aka Racket: Nx) has become a fully sanctioned sports discipline of an IOC-recognized global sports federation.
With this recognition, which becomes effective April 1, 2022, Racket:Next becomes the first electronic game to become an official global sport.
Probably since the dawn of time, humans have enjoyed sports, meaning that they’ve enjoyed physical activity where they compete against others for entertainment. That basic idea hasn’t changed because people naturally want to know who can run fastest, jump farthest, swim the longest, etc.
Other things have changed, however.
While some sports require no equipment other than perhaps some good running shoes or swimsuit, others require a bat, ball, racquet, pads, helmets, etc. Historically, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing athletes pick up a basketball, put on ice skates, or prepare to toss a javelin. That’s their equipment.
VR headsets are the necessary equipment for VR athletes.
A headset is the tool through which a player enters a VR game and in the case of VR sports, they compete, socialize, give high fives at the end of a match, and congratulate the other team on a job well done. Some athletes walk onto a court, step onto a track, or jump into a pool. VR athletes enter a virtual arena or other play area through the headset.
The best VR athletes possess the same traits as professional sports and Olympic athletes. They set goals, persevere, work well with their team, demonstrate leadership skills, etc.
When the IRF (Colorado Springs, USA) originally signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Racket:Next developer One Hamsa (Tel Aviv, Israel) and the Metaverse Sports Association (San Francisco, USA) in July 2021, IRF Secretary General Luke St. Onge stated at the time, “When we realized what this combination could mean not only for our federation but for all of racquet sport, we jumped all over it. This will be a game-changer both for us and for world sport.”
As predicted, the collaboration has had positive results. In addition to the decision to sanction Racket:Next, the IRF has been asked to participate in the e-gaming pavilion at The World Games in Birmingham, AL in July. The IRF is also a candidate to participate in the Olympic Virtual Series later this year.
Many of us have been anxiously awaiting this exciting moment and according to Metaverse Sports Association CEO Victor Bond, who drove and facilitated the agreement, “This is a marriage made in future-sport heaven: a world-class developer and a unique, successful, and wonderful game with a fully global international IOC-recognized sports federation that has the vision and the grit to not just look around the corner but to go there. This is one big step in our collaboration and one gigantic leap for the new technology of sport.”
“This first-ever sanctioning act supports Racket:Next’s core design principles as a fully athletic and visceral game,” added One Hamsa CEO Assaf “Usul” Ronen.
Let’s cut to the chase here and discuss what all this means. The ultimate recognition of VR sport would be widespread acceptance by the broad majority of people and the recognition of Racket:Next as a sport is the first important step in this process because it distinguishes the game from an esport.
Esports require tremendous skill and top players possess many of the same wonderful, admirable characteristics of traditional athletes.
But traditional esports are very different from VR sports.
The component that’s missing from traditional esports is physicality, but VR sport players duck, jump, dodge, and make quick movements just as they would in traditional sports. In fact, the only real difference is that they’re experiencing the game in virtual environments and they’re using different equipment than most people are used to. It’s actually fantastic to experience as a player as well as a spectator.
When some people think of VR games, they immediately revert to a prejudice mindset with visions of “couch potato” gamers or unsocialized individuals who have no skills beyond video games. The fact is that in many cases VR sports burn as many calories, require as much movement, and encourage social interaction as much as any traditional sports.
Oculus/Meta Quest 2
Let’s talk about equipment for a moment.
In much the same way people might choose different brands of running shoes, tennis rackets, or skateboards, VR athletes have options for their equipment. Some people prefer tethered headsets like the HTC Vive or Valve Index while others prefer standalone headsets such as the Oculus Quest 2 (marketed as Meta Quest 2 since November 2021).
When the Quest 2 was released in October 2020, it provided consumers with a new, improved option to play VR sports. The headset exceeded industry expectation when there were an estimated 2.4 million headsets sold in the first three months after it became available. To provide perspective, it took 5 years for Sony to sell 5 million PlayStation VR headsets.
One of the reasons this matters is because VR gaming is rapidly gaining appeal among people of all ages, backgrounds, regions, etc. Portable headsets such as the Oculus Quest 2 make local, regional, and worldwide events more possible since athletes can easily transport these from one competition to the next.
Awareness of and access to events online and in person increases popularity of VR sport, which in turn increases opportunities for diverse and inclusive communities in the Metaverse.
Other VR Sport Games
You don’t need to enter a virtual world to see where all of this is headed. Sports are evolving. People recognize that sports can involve skis, sleds, and even skateboards. Now they’re becoming more open to the concept that technology might play a role in sports where the basic components of competitiveness, entertainment, and physicality are present, and a player’s equipment consists of controllers and a VR headset versus gloves and a helmet.
Some have criticized esports that traditionally focus on first-person shooters, but Racket:Next isn’t a traditional esport or even a virtual esport. It’s a VR sport where the focus is on skill and agility with a virtual racket controlled by one’s hands via the touch controllers.
Other games such as Ready At Dawn’s Echo Arena or Crytek’s The Climb 2 also fall under the category of VR sports that require a lot of physicality and have no gun component.
All these games are great examples of future sports, but the fact is that Racket:Next is the first to receive the official designation as a sport and we congratulate them on this historic moment.