How Augmented and Virtual Reality Could Affect Esports
Published on April 29, 2023
In the summer of 2016, the world got it’s first taste of consumer usable, mainstream, beloved augmented reality with the release of Pokémon Go. The game spread like wildfire throughout the globe, maintaining a huge player base even today.
Pokémon Go is not an esport and would have to make major changes to become one. However, the game does leave some precedent for what augmented and virtual reality can do for esports in the future.
The technology is growing ever closer, with AR now being a default for products like the iPhone X. Truly innovative and cutting edge, it’s difficult to predict where exactly virtual reality and augmented reality will take us.
It seems like a time when VR or AR are entirely ubiquitous is still in the distant future, but it will come. The question for esports fans is this: what will augmented and virtual reality do for esports?
The esports community has already seen the first inklings of virtual reality. In 2017, Oculus teamed up with common esports sponsor, Intel, and the Electronic Sports League to create the .
At this point, the league seems to be a novelty above all else, being showcased at several ESL events. The league supports two games at the time of writing: Echo Arena and The Unspoken.
What we’ve seen from the league so far is promising. The players are more active in their role, navigating the games with more physicality. The viewers don’t benefit much from this, however.
The viewing experience is much the same, as players are seen navigating the games on screens that show what’s happening in game.
However, ESL has been working to change the viewing experience starting as early as 2016. It was reported in April of 2016 that ESL was beginning to work on virtual events where viewers could join alongside ESL events in a digital arena.
I would expect that this technology will also enrich the viewing experience by creating in-game spectatorship. Just like you can go to an arena to see actual football, you’ll soon be able to step into a virtual one to watch Madden.
Black Box VR is outside of the esports realm for now, but also something esports fans should keep a watch on. This virtual reality company helps people to have a more intense workout by allowing them to play a virtual reality game.
While the technology is more likely to come to gyms before it comes to esports, I would expect that VR games will be played similarly.
The only certainty with virtual and augmented reality technology is that it will increase the level of physicality in esports significantly and eventually lead to a more exciting game play experience. With players using themselves instead of an extension of themselves, there’s more room for player skill to play a factor.
Augmented reality may help to create more physical esports in a much different way. If you tuned into Cartoon Network in the 2000s, you likely remember the Yu-Gi-Oh! cartoon/anime. While they were playing with the same cards that were printed on cardboard, arenas in the show would create physical representations of the cards.
Star Wars toyed with a similar idea in dejarik, the sci fi version of chess played by Chewbacca and C-3PO. It’s reasonable to expect that augmented reality will lead to great possibilities for traditional games to become even more exciting.
The first company to create a card game that uses AR to recreate the experience shown on Yu-Gi-Oh! will be very rich.
Finally, I expect AR and VR to be the nail in the coffin for traditional sports. As the two work in combination to create a more exciting spectator experience, there will be a fever pitch.
Traditional sports, like football, have managed to survive because of the raw physicality. This physicality will now be brought to esports, but with no margin for error.
The concussion controversy leading to the NFL’s lowest rated season in history will never be a thing in virtual reality — the esports themselves will never lead to injury. I’m not expecting traditional sports to go away entirely, but I do expect more people to tune into the Madden Esports League final than the Super Bowl in the near future.
Augmented reality will almost certainly make a splash in the esports community before virtual reality does. I expect that within the next few years a company will create a “heads up display” technology that will be the foot in the door for mainstream VR and AR tech.
That technology will make it easier for fans to keep up with stats, navigate around events and become immersed in esports culture.
Virtual reality’s most immediate affect will certainly be to bring the esports community closer together. Because virtual reality is so interesting to esports fans, but remains unavailable to the general public, it will likely begin in a shared space. In fact, we’ve already seen this with the rise of VR lounges throughout 2017.
When the ESL spectator technology comes out, it’s a near certainty that these will convert into a sort of “esports bar.” People will be able to use virtual reality technology to watch and become part of the event while being surround by real people with similar interests.
Where esports spectatorship has been mostly a private hobby in the past, there will now be a pillar upon which local communities will be built.
Both AR and VR technology will be great for the esports betting community as well. Augmented reality technology should greatly streamline the experience of online betting. Keeping up with scores and odds will now be much more passive, which will be a great convenience for anyone who loves esports betting.
Should “esports bars” become a thing (which they almost certainly will) the opportunity for esports betting will also greatly increase. Betting is so ingrained in sports culture that it seems almost impossible to have one without the other. Not only will this be great for the casual bettor, but could lead to a payday for the esports betting pro.
The two are being worked on by tech companies across the world, meaning their day of ubiquity is always on the horizon.
Both an entrepreneurial esports fan or a savvy esports better will have a field day if they find themselves on the forefront of AR and VR. The two will rework everything, and the early birds will get the worm.