Photo Credit: ESL Gaming

While competition drives better strategic and technical skills, players carry their physical progress into the real world.

After watching the explosion of esports into mainstream popularity, to the point where ESPN is proudly hosting its own esports coverage through its otherwise athletics-focused media channels, it’s clear to me that the future is paved for a public consciousness dominated by VR esports.

If you’re not sold on the idea, just listen to top Echo Arena player Tim McGuinness describe the similarities between Echo Arena and regular sports during his interview with BBC News.

Image credited to ESL/VR League

Crossing the physicality of VR with the creative and connective possibilities granted by modern game design, VR esporting represents a “best of both worlds” approach to esports and athletics. I’ve been an advocate of this development from the start; it even says so in my personal blurb at the footer of this article. Granted, it may take some time for modern VR esports and their future counterparts to appear in front of mainstream audiences—even once VR headsets have proliferated through households across the world. A singularity of an event, which, for the record, may not happen for a handful of years to come.

If you’re looking to get fit in VR today, however, you might find that you can juice your headset further by dedicating yourself to a VR esport team. Even if it’s a junior league team and you’re playing your chosen game at low stakes, you’ll gain the benefits of competitive group play.

Image credited to ESL/VR League

But what constitutes a VR esport?

In its primordial state, the umbrella term “VR esports” is tricky to pin down. For instance, there are three separate leagues which split up the prospective VR esports industry and treat tournaments differently. For all intents and purposes, there really is no such thing as a “VR esports industry” yet.

Between the three aforementioned leagues, there is the Virtual Athletics League, the VR Master League, and the VR Challenger League. The VR Challenger League is directly associated with the ESL, which would make it the authority of the three if it opened its gates to point-blank fits such as Pavlov and Beat Saber.

In August, the Virtual Athletics League hosted a Beat Saber tournament across over 100 VR arcades.

That said, everything in VR is currently so new that you shouldn’t worry about any kind of “esport” formalities unless your aim is to go pro. But since “pro” doesn’t even quite exist yet in VR, here’s a good rule of thumb: If your favorite game gets you competing with other people, and it also gets your heart going, then it counts.

Luckily, plenty of people support active VR games like Beat Saber and Echo VR; both titles have budding (albeit lively) communities that already hold tournaments and pit players against one another for sheer spectacle. Both games are notable for how physically intense they can get.

So, for the sake of this article, let’s look at Beat Saber as the model VR esport for cardio training.

Image credited to Beat Games

And what makes Beat Saber special?

According to Twitch streamer Ashley (readyplayervause), who is globally ranked as the 29th top Beat Saber player as of this article’s writing, there is no better form of exercise.

“As an esport, Beat Saber could get there!”, Ashley assured me about Beat Saber’s mainstream popularity over a VoIP phone call.

“I’ve always had an interest in VR, but didn’t have the equipment for it,” Ashley continued. “My manager lent me his personal VR set. He was playing Beat Saber, and he found out the hard way that he shouldn’t have VR at home with a two year old daughter after he nearly smacked her in the face.

“So he gave it to me.”

Ashley lives in Malaysia, where the public is still getting used to gaming as a mainstream hobby, and VR is still widely known for its hype.

Ashley (pictured 4th, from left to right) has competed in Malaysia’s M8 Overwatch league as part of an all-female squad.

“When you tie it to the word ‘gaming’, it comes with a bunch of negative stereotypes,” Ashley told me. “At least where I am, people still look down on gaming and wonder what people who play games get out of it. When you play games like Audioshield, Beat Saber, and anything else that requires you to move, it’s a form of exercise.

“But it’s also my daily exercise. I come home from work, tired, and I can’t be arsed to go out to a gym. I’m in my comfort zone; all I have to do is pick up two controllers, put on my headset, and go.”

Ashley isn’t the first to claim Beat Saber as their daily exercise routine. In fact, when we published a story on Bill Lindsay’s ongoing transformation back in August, he credited Beat Saber as the catalyst that helped him burn 90 pounds.

“It was something new,” Ashley continued. “I decided to stream it on Twitch, and then I found out I can actually play it. I started picking up more games when I started streaming consistently; I still go back to the ones I already played, like Overwatch.

Image credited to readyplayervause

“I figured out I was good at it and that kept me motivated to keep exercising. It wasn’t even about the rankings in general; I just really like Beat Saber.”

But how did Ashley begin ranking in the first place?

“I was not expecting to become one of the top players,” Ashley told me. “You know how some commenters in Twitch streams request the harder songs? I actually beat those songs and I guess they were ranked. I have my viewers who troll me to thank for my newfound success!”

Both esports and VR occupy niches in their own right. Both have sprung up relatively recently in the public eye, and both are growing quickly in terms of lasting mainstream appeal. Meanwhile, the hybrid VR esport is still taking shape as VR developers continue pushing design boundaries on 1st-generation VR hardware.

The quality of visceral physicality crossed with instant connection to other players is incredibly unique to VR. As soon as today, if you own a headset that can play Beat Saber, you can join the community and begin competing against other Beat Saber players for top scores. The idea is that, as long as you’re driven to win, you’re driven to work out.

What’s your favorite VR esport? Let us know in the comments.