Image credit: ESL VR League

The ESL (Electronic Sports League) has made huge waves in the VR pool lately with Season 2 of the VR Challenger League.

With the climactic run-up to the Season 2 Finale at Oculus Connect 5 now underway, with hundreds of thousands of dollars (USD) awarded to champions throughout the season, you might be wondering how you can get involved with the VR league.

Luckily for you, I’ve spent the past nine months playing games alongside budding league teams, hanging out in Discord channels, and getting involved in the VR fitness universe.

And while it’s not immediately clear if The Unspoken or Sprint Vector will be back again, today you’re going to learn about (how to train for) two of the games that you will most likely see return for Season 3.

Echo Arena

Echo Arena is the closest thing to ball sports in VR, and it plays a lot like a cross between ultimate disc and semi-professional soccer.

You can get started playing for free on the Oculus Store as a Rift owner, or through ReVive as a non-Rift user.

Also, you should be following Sonya Haskins’ regular VR league updates if you aren’t already doing so.

How to train for Echo Arena league matches:

First of all, you need to play a lot of 3v3 team matches to learn the most common strategies that people use in this game.

And I can’t tell you exactly how to win each match, but I can tell you what to be aware of when you’re training.

1. Effective Communication

Whether you’re randomly matchmaking or playing with the same group of players, it’s vital to communicate what you’re about to do.

If you’re planning to split off and go long on the left side of the field in the first five seconds of the round, your teammates need to know that.

That’s so they already know to maneuver the disc to you once you’ve reached the opposite side of the field, instead of blindly throwing it away from the opposing team and hoping for the best.

It’s simple coordination, like in any other team sport. And the more you practice it, the better you’ll understand the dynamics of good teamwork in Echo Arena.

You can very quickly tell apart a team that is composed of lone wolf solo players, vs. a team made up of three synchronized team players. The difference is striking.

2. Buddy Launch Technique

This is an important tactic to learn early on; not only will experienced players get upset with you if you fail to use the buddy launch, but you’ll also be shooting yourself (and your team) in the foot by not coordinating it properly.

What is the buddy launch?

In Echo Arena, you can slingshot yourself off of a moving object to multiply your own velocity. This compounds for each moving object that’s connected.

For example, a player who’s holding onto a player who’s holding onto a player who’s holding onto a launch tube will be catapulted the fastest/farthest, making them the single most qualified “quarterback” or disc carrier for a quick touchdown.

But the buddy launch tactic works in the middle of a round as well.

You may want to speed directly towards the disc, but a better strategy might be to slow down so that your teammate (who’s trailing behind you) can launch off of you and reach the disc much more efficiently.

TLDR; If you don’t understand the buddy launch, and the other team does, your team is toast.

3. Zero-G Verticality

To be effective in Echo Arena, you need to adapt your spatial awareness to everything happening above and below you—as well as everything in front/in back/to the left and right of you.

And everywhere in-between.

When practicing, get used to quickly looking around and taking note of everything in your environment. You need to be able to quickly account for other players and try to infer where they’re most likely going to be in the next 2-5 seconds.

And then you need to change your vector to counter or match the split-second inference you just made.

This is the tricky part of maneuvering and counter-maneuvering in simulated zero-g, where inertia is constantly making things tougher for you.

4. Grappling

The best way to break through inertia is to grab the nearest object and push against it in the opposite direction, quickly changing your course and making it tougher for other players to project your new vector.

Pro Echo Arena players will stay very close to the ground—or to walls and ceilings—so that they can repeatedly grapple surfaces and fake out their opponents.

It’s a difficult tactic to master, as it requires complete spatial awareness of not only the in-game zero-g environment but also your real-life play area.

Becoming an expert at grappling in this game is one of those things that come with practice. It’s a lot like learning to juggle spinning plates on sticks, and mastery puts you ahead of the competition.

Note: Here’s another article from Sonya Haskins (seriously, follow her!) that goes deeper into proper training for Echo Arena.

Advice from the pros:

For this article, I interviewed Dual, the captain of TitaN; an Echo Arena league team that is currently dominating 5th place in the North American VRCL rankings (as of the writing of this article) and holds the #1 position on the North American ESL 3v3 Open Ladder.

I also interviewed SweetPotato, a talented member of the team Don’t Panic!. She has subbed in for and played against TitaN throughout the season.

Gabe: “How did you first get interested in playing Echo Arena competitively?”

Dual: “I first got my Rift shortly after Echo Arena came out and really enjoyed it. As soon as I heard there was going to be a competitive league, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. The other players on my team started playing around the same time. Game- started the earliest of us and played in the first beta. Pizza- didn’t join our team until after Season 1, but we’d spent a lot of time playing with him during the first season.”

SweetPotato: “I first became interested in playing Echo Arena competitively after watching the NA regionals at OC4 last year. I had actually just started playing Echo Arena the week before regionals and saw people talking about it on the Echo Arena Discord. A group of people had actually set up a viewing party in a VR app called AltSpace so I decided to check it out. Seeing those teams play at that level and compete on stage was really exciting.”

Gabe: “What about Echo Arena made you know you needed to play competitively?”

Dual: “Before playing Echo Arena, I enjoyed some competitive games (Starcraft, Heroes of the Storm, Overwatch). Echo Arena seemed right up my alley because of the physicality of it. I am also into extreme sports, and Echo Arena feels like the closest thing to that in VR.”

Gabe: “What sports are you involved in?”

Dual: “I am an aggressive inline skater and a skateboarder.”

Gabe: “Would you say that those sports have helped you condition better to win in Echo Arena?”

Dual: “That and playing other competitive games definitely helped. Competitive games teach you positioning knowledge and how to be a good shotcaller. Extreme sports helped with the fast reaction times and movements you need to boost with players quickly (especially things like the opening joust doing a 6-man launch).”

Gabe: “How closely do you believe your athletic performance affects your performance in Echo Arena?”

SweetPotato: “I think it definitely affects your ability to play; particularly at a competitive level. It’s really easy to work up a sweat and it can definitely affect performance the longer you play as you start to get worn out.”

Gabe: “How long did your team take to start flowing together?”

SweetPotato: “We actually decided to become a team because of how well we flowed together.”

Dual: “Well we started in the beginning of Season 1. Game and I started playing together because we found that we got along with each other, and both of us seemed to have a positive attitude. Our team wants to be the best, but overall we like to focus on having a good time. If we aren’t having fun then we wouldn’t want to play. So we don’t want to be so competitive that it gets us stressed out.”

Gabe: “Have you ever found you’ve won against teams that aren’t having fun together for that reason?”

Dual: “Yes, we’ve seen teams lose when they let the game get to them.”

Gabe: “What’s the most useful advice you’d tell a new player on how to play well in a team?”

SweetPotato: “Communication. You have to talk to your teammates constantly. I’d also say scrimmaging with other teams is really important for new players. There’s only so much a player or team can improve in quick matches.”

Dual: “Teams shouldn’t treat a competitive match the same as a quick play match. Every time we leave the tube, we have a plan of what we are going to do and where we are going to be. We force our opponents to play our game and adapt to us. Every team needs to come out with strategies like this and test them against other teams. In general, doing something random without a plan will not end up in your favor against a good team.

Also, new teams should have one member record themselves when they scrim so that they watch their replay later on and learn where mistakes might have been made. Those new teams also shouldn’t be afraid of asking a more experienced team to scrim. The players want to see the game grow, so most of us would be glad to play a new team so they can get experience.”

Gabe: “How important do you think it is to flat-out lose a ton of matches when you first start playing, versus going in wanting or trying to be the very best?”

Dual: “Well, likely if a new team starts playing some of the more practiced teams right now, then they should expect to lose a lot. It is important to play teams and lose though because that will help you grow.”

Gabe: “What’s the number one way to get hyped before a ranked match?”

Dual: “Usually we warm up in a private arena and practice passing, or we play another team before the first match. During each match, we just remind ourselves to have fun and stick to the plan.”

 

And that’s a wrap for Echo Arena!

If you’re interested in getting a team together for the VR Challenger League next season, take a trip to the registration page here.

Onward

Onward is a popular mil-sim VR FPS, created by prodigy indie developer Dante Buckley, who was able to found Downpour Interactive on the game’s relatively wild success in the VR space.

Closing up Season 5 of its VR Master League championship, Onward is heading to Oculus Connect 5 with a $60,000 take-home prize next month.

It’s also one of the stickier VR games currently out there, with some Steam players tallying hundreds or thousands of hours spent in the game.

How to train for Onward league matches:

As with Echo Arena, you need to get into team matches and play them as often as you can in order to keep your competitive edge.

Each match is based around 5v5 skirmishes where once you’re shot and killed, you’re out for the rest of the match.

The pacing in Onward can be slow at times with players literally crawling, hiding from and outmaneuvering one another.

Most of the competitive rounds center on a game mode called Uplink, where one team is trying to get to an objective and fire off a 7-digit code while the other team does everything in its power to stop them.

Here are some things you should know as a new player.

1. Choose Your Loadout

Figure out what your best playstyle is, and practice using that playstyle until you can do it in your sleep.

If you want the most versatility, go with the Rifleman.

If you want superiority at close range, go with the Specialist.

If you want to be a sniper, go with the Designated Marksman and use a ProTube.

And if you want to terrify or distract opponents with suppressive fire, go with the Automatic Rifleman.

2. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

If you aren’t seeing a pattern, you haven’t been paying attention.

Learning to communicate well enough to win rounds in Echo Arena is tough.

It’s arguably tougher in Onward, where not only do you need liquid-clear communication between 5 players, but trying to communicate conventionally in the middle of a match can give away your position and spell your death.

The kind of communication that you’ll be doing is between and before actual matches, where you’ll learn each map’s weak points and learn to predict what your teammates might choose to do in any contingency.

3. Use the Shooting Range

Onward has a shooting range and free-roam mode that give you the space to explore the maps and practice shooting targets for as long as you’d like.

The victors of combat in this game are usually the player who can draw, aim, fire and reload the fastest.

Teaching yourself to become a quickdraw is vital for winning engagements, and the better your hand-eye coordination, the more accurate you can expect to be.

4. Play Pickup Matches

Even if you’re playing solo, it’s good to get a feel for the game. You may even run into other established teams, who you can learn from playing against.

It’s also important that you develop your own playstyle and understand your own relationship with the game.

Some players are more aggressive and take risks that other players won’t take or expect anybody else to take.

Meanwhile, other players are completely undetectable until the end of a round—when they make their move.

The excitement of Onward is in the mind-games that players employ against each other.

Advice from the pros:

For this article, I interviewed Thund3rPilot, the captain of Globochem, which is currently the #1 ranking Onward team in the entire world.

Gabe: “How did you get into Onward originally?”

Thund3rPilot: “My brother (Auto) and I always have played games together, and when we got VR this was the first game that really stuck out to us and had us consistently playing.”

Gabe: “What got you and your brother into VR?”

Thund3rPilot: “We loved the level of immersion that it offered. Especially for a game like Onward, it’s just a crazy departure from playing a mil-sim on a 2D screen. Being able to move around and feel like you are there is like nothing else, and marksmanship actually comes into play in a much different way than with a mouse and keyboard.”

Gabe: “Do you think that this kind of experience is a good way to get families to bond together?”

Thund3rPilot: “Oh definitely. Since I moved away from my brother’s city, it is one of the ways we can hang out. It really helps us spend time together and stay close.”

Gabe: “Do you think Globochem would have been as successful if you didn’t have your own personal family in with you?”

Thund3rPilot: “It’s interesting because my brother and I are the foundation of our team. Everyone we have recruited since has been able to take that foundation and find their true power position. We offer many openings for our teammates and I think the way Auto and I are able to flow together in-game without talking is one reason for that. We know each other very well, and how we will act in most situations (sic).”

Gabe: “What do you look for in new recruits?”

Thund3rPilot: “It’s funny because we look for people first and foremost who want to have fun and have a strong mental fortitude in tough situations. We look for people who thrive under pressure. We have come back from a lot of bad situations and that is the reason, because each of our members responds very well to high-pressure situations. Often we end up recruiting people who are consistently in our lobbies and who don’t quit when we beat them a lot.”

Gabe: “Would you say that it’s better to lose a lot as a beginner rather than immediately going in wanting to be the best?”

Thund3rPilot: “Most certainly. It varies between teams but it can take some significant time to really flesh out what everyone’s role should be and what formations work the best. You have to play together A LOT to get to the high levels of competitive Onward. You have to be able to know your teammates well enough that you can almost predict their movements and know where they are looking/guarding at any given moment.

After a while, you begin to really flow as a team and then you can work as a unit and take it to a whole new level. I would just say don’t be discouraged by losing. The best teams in the world lost a ton before they rose up.”

Gabe: “When you are about to play with your team in a ranking match, how do you get prepped?”

Thund3rPilot: “For Onward matches I always run for about 30 minutes before, to get myself warmed up. And then I run drills in the shooting range that involve movement, quick draw practice, and just a lot of target shooting. This process makes me feel completely ready once the match begins. My team does a similar process to prep, each a little different.”

Gabe: “Do you have a regular training regimen that involves lifting or HIIT?”

Thund3rPilot: “In Onward, you need to be fast, quick on your feet, and have lightning fast reflexes to navigate the crazy landscape that is competitive Onward play. You find yourself moving a lot while playing Onward. You have to be able to go prone in a split second and then get right back up and be able to take a shot. Being in good shape has been one of the things that has helped me perform to the best of my ability. I run most days and lift a few days a week. Playing on this level has made me increase the amount of exercise I normally do just because I want to be at my very best. It has been really great for my health.”

Gabe: “As a beginner, if you wanted to get into a team today, where would you start looking?”

Thund3rPilot: “I would start on the Discord in the team finder channels as well as the league channels. On top of that, start playing in lobbies regularly. Find a group you have fun playing with and make a Discord for yourselves to organize and plan.”

 

To get your own Onward team registered with the VR Master League, go here.

And to join the official Discord channel, go here.

Conclusion

It’s an exciting time to follow the VR Challenger’s League as it approaches the grand finale of its 2nd Season.

Today, you learned the tactics used across league favorites Echo Arena and Onward. If I left anything out, and you’d like to make a suggestion, please do so in the comments.

Season 3 is right around the corner soon, and it’s not too late to form a team and start practicing.

If my interviews are anything to go by, the top league players in the world would love to play with you, welcome you into the community, and help you out.

Are you planning on joining the VR Challenger League or VR Master League next season?


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