March Madness has been one of the most exciting sports events since 1939, but I had never heard of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament before my junior year in college, when I had the great fortune of being friends with some of the best college basketball players in the nation.

We attended King University, a small Presbyterian-affiliated college located in Bristol, Tennessee, and I spent much of my time helping the basketball team learn how to conjugate verbs, decline nouns and form sentences in Spanish so they could pass the required language classes.

Meanwhile, they were focused on basketball so they talked about all the great players, the best teams, upsets, plays, how to deal with injuries, and everything else related to the game. The 1991-1992 season was a fantastic year to learn about this sport because it was the 100 year anniversary of basketball and our little collegiate team ended up sweeping the conference tournament and traveling to Texas for the NAIA national tournament. Our men’s basketball team for King College, as it was called then, finished the season with a 28-3 record and over half the wins had a greater than 15 point win margin. It was exciting to watch these guys play and I marveled at their skills.

During this time I learned to appreciate television sports viewing as well. Growing up I had never watched basketball on television. Literally never. I wasn’t familiar with the rules or terminology, but I wanted to learn so I began watching games with the team and ultimately began writing sports features for our college and local county newspaper.

We watched East Tennessee State University, another local university team, defeat Arizona in an upset and we cheered Duke to the championship. Several of the King players were from North Carolina so they were thrilled as they watched Duke beat first one team and then another, ultimately claiming the 1992 NCAA National Championship Title. Truthfully there was more focus that spring on basketball than Spanish.

Meanwhile we also watched NBA games and they discussed Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson, Clyde Drexler, as well as other players and coaches. The Chicago Bulls had won their first NBA championship the previous season and my friends were thrilled when they claimed a second championship in 1992, proving that their win the previous year wasn’t some sort of fluke. The Bulls were definitely the world’s best basketball team.

It was one of the most exciting years in the history of basketball and March 1992 was a fantastic, fun time.

March Madness 2021 will be unlike any previous seasons with continued restrictions in place due to the pandemic. The rules have changed regarding location of events, number of attendees, and masks.

One thing that hasn’t changed is a passion for the game.

Photo by Alyssum Mormino on Unsplash

Origins of Basketball

In 1891, James Naismith was faced with some restless students at Springfield College, known at the time as the School for Christian Workers or “YMCA Training School” (which has never had no formal ties with the YMCA movement).

Rather than simply requiring students do more of the usual winter activities such as marching or calisthenics, he decided to create a new game. Initially he wanted boxes, but the school janitor gave him peach baskets instead. A man was positioned near each goal to tend the basket. He’d pull the ball out of the basket and toss it back to players until a few years later when someone came up with the idea to cut a hole in the bottom.

It didn’t take long for basketball to become an incredibly popular option at YMCA’s around the country. High schools and colleges quickly followed suit and basketball was officially recognized as a permanent winter sport by 1905.

Today we see changes taking place in regards to how we view sports, esports, fitness, and entertainment. The natural evolution of these industries has been jumpstarted by a pandemic that makes us question what’s important and how to ensure that we still have access to the things that mean the most to us.

Esports requires different skill sets than traditional sports. While traditional sports typically require agility, speed, strength, stamina, coordination, and other overall physical skills, there are many skills that overlap for esports players such as quick reaction times and good hand-eye coordination. The best players in both sports and esports also exhibit strong skills in areas of communication, teamwork, multi-tasking, and perseverance.

VR esports combine the best of physicality and technology. The growth and evolution of this industry over the past several years has been amazing and we’ve been able to witness VR esports competitions in everything from first-person shooters to more traditional sports such as soccer to entirely new sports like “ultimate frisbee” in zero-gravity.

Photo credit: ESL / VR League

VRstudios Sports

One company determined to help find solutions to current challenges is VRstudios, a tech company that provides experiences for consumers at home while encouraging engagement with location-based or family entertainment centers, commonly referred to as LBEs or FECs.

VRstudios provides tools for entertainment center operators that help build their reputation as a desirable destination for VR esports competitions, tournaments, and other events. Their focus is traditional sports, which they refer to as Real Sport Esports ™, because consumers can readily relate to these activities.

VRstudios’ inaugural release is “Hoops Madness,” a VR basketball game players can enjoy the game at home as well as at participating venues. Honestly I’ve been waiting for someone to jump into this field a bit more with exactly this sort of product so I was excited to see this talented team take on the challenge last year and continue to push forward.

Hoops March Madness

Hoops Madness was released for early access on Steam in September 2020 and the first Hoops March Madness event officially begins March 3 at ePLEX, an 18,000 sq ft arena with two locations in the southeast built specifically for amateur esports.

“Our inaugural VR sports title delivers real sports action, true, heart-pounding, fun in a unique VR basketball experience with realistic virtual ball handling that lets players bring their home-honed skills to their favorite family entertainment center and keep the competition going,” states Kevin Vitale, CEO at VRstudios.

How to Participate

Players can register online or at the ePLEX facility for the Hoops March Madness event and practice their skills at home, then join others throughout the month of March for some fun competition at Magic City ePLEX in Birmingham.

Participating in the event in person gives players an opportunity to meet fellow VR and basketball enthusiasts and could lead to the formation of virtual basketball clubs or teams in the near future.

  • Where: ePLEX Magic City in Birmingham, AL
  • When: Wednesday – Sunday, March 3-31
  • Where to Watch: ePLEX Twitch
  • Sign up at the facility or on the ePLEX Facebook events page.
  • Prize pool:  $300, $200, $100

Just as people experienced basketball for the first time in the last decade of the 1800s, we’re experiencing the evolution of VR esports in this decade. Events such as Hoops March Madness will continue to grow if we invest in the communities and the overall ecosystem.

“We’re not waiting for anyone,” states Michael Strawbridge, CEO and founder of the ePLEX, “we’re doing it.”

In addition to the Hoops March Madness Event, Strawbridge states that ePLEX has plans to continue this evolution towards real sports esports as they engage youth organizations and organize events at the facility.

Connect with the Community

One key factor for success is engagement with the community. This is true of sports in general and particularly so of esports, including VR esports. VR Fitness Insider regularly publishes articles on this topic so we encourage you to follow our social media platforms and watch for news about Hoops March Madness type events as well as other opportunities in the VR community.

You’ll find others interested in Hoops March Madness as well as future real sports events designed for immersive reality through ePLEX.