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From our Depsters April 16, 2020

E-Sports & Virtual Reality: Interweaving to spark an industry transformation

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The gaming industry has come a long way since the days of the Commodore 64. Gaming has undoubtedly been one of the clear winners of rapid technology innovation, elevating the experience from a 2-bit, solo activity, to an immersive, global phenomenon worth $160 billion.

Competitive gaming isn’t a new concept; think back to the Pinball World Championships of the early ‘70s with its $1,000 prize money. Fast forward fifty years, and prize bounties run into the millions. The Fortnite World Cup in 2019, which was widely broadcast on mainstream media, had a $30million prize pot, with the 16 year old winner, Kyle Giersdorf, scooping $3m of that. 

It’s an industry that’s just set to get bigger, and entrepreneurs and celebrities alike are getting in on the action. Global rap star Drake has staked his claim by becoming co-owner of 100 Thieves, and Tottenham Hotspur footballer Dele Alli is just as famous in the virtual world as he is on a world cup pitch. 

E-Sports is evolving into a ludicrously rich market

Much like actual professional sports, there seems to be a growing number of fans choosing to watch the experts play rather than play the game for themselves. 84 million, in fact. Swarms of spectators attend live tournaments held in huge venues like London’s Royal Opera House, Los Angeles’ Staples Centre, and the Sang-Am World Cup Stadium in Seoul, South Korea. In 2017, 173,000 spectators attended the Intel Extreme Masters in Katowice, Poland, with an additional 46,000,000 tuning in online. 

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When the 2020 Summer Olympics take place in Tokyo, the e-sports scene will reach a whole new level of importance and spectacle. In September 2019, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced plans to host a tie-in E-Sports tournament that will conclude on the opening night of the Tokyo Games. A decade ago, it would’ve seemed a surreal idea that the e-sports scene would be so closely tied to the world’s most prestigious sporting event. 

Even during the off-season of sport (or concurrent pandemic situations), the e-sports industry offers consumers and viewers high-quality content from around the world at almost any time of day, aimed at adults and children alike. Expect to see more companies and big names jump onto the e-sports bandwagon as it continues to evolve at the very centre of modern technology.

Breaking down barriers in technology

The implementation of augmented reality software and the re-introduction of virtual reality hardware has generated excitement in the gaming world and, by extension, other walks of life. 

Virtual reality could be the game-changer that provides a viable alternative to the more traditional gaming platforms. Virtual reality in gaming is nothing new, of course; the release of the Oculus hardware in March 2016 was initially met with tremendous levels of support and anticipation. But hype died down soon after release, with the original Rift being discontinued in early 2019, in favour of the improved Oculus Rift S.  With the next generation of gaming looming, and the PlayStation4 and Xbox One models being phased out in favour of PlayStation5 and Xbox Series X, consoles remain at the forefront for the time being. 

The current problem with using VR systems, not just in gaming but also for educational and training purposes, is that it comes with both a heavy financial and physical cost to the user. For example, the average price tag of the Oculus Quest model is £400, which roughly equates to the cost of the upcoming PS5, set for release at a £450 price-point. To create and run the necessary software also comes at an extremely high price. 

The monetary cost isn’t the only problem that persists with current VR systems; consumers have complained that VR hardware is uncomfortable and unsightly to wear. There’s also been instances where spending even short amounts of times with the heavy headwear required is enough to induce discomfort, nausea and headaches in the user. Whether you’re a consistent game player or a first-time buyer, right now there’s instantly more appeal in gaming with a traditional keyboard or controller. 

These are, of course, merely teething problems for virtual reality and its affiliated products: as the next generation of gaming arrives, so too will renewed interest in VR and AR systems. Increased popularity is likely to lead to reduced cost, and cheaper components for all users. Soon, the necessary physical adaptations to the VR system will settle the qualms that surround using virtual reality for not only gaming, but more practical, real world functions. 

Although it’s still relatively early days for the applications of VR, the potential is vast.  Outside of the gaming sphere, virtual reality is used as a more cost-effective solution to medical and military training. In healthcare, VR has been able to replicate environments perfect for practising surgery and dental procedures, whilst armed forces have used VR for training and flight simulations. 

The current gaming scene can set a precedent to how technology can be adapted and used by businesses in the future; e-sports’ growing popularity and user engagement is a blueprint for how to grow a once niche market into a mainstream equivalent of the Olympic games, whilst the hopes of VR in the future of gaming are predicted to set us on a path of a more virtual-integrated lifestyle.

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Jaspar Shepherdson — Journalism Student

This article was written in collaboration with Jaspar Shepherdson, a second year journalism student at the University of Salford. During the Digital City Festival, Jaspar joined the content team at Dept to gain industry experience. Jaspar contributes news articles regularly to the student-run Salford Now media website and certainly has a bright future ahead!

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