August 26, 2018
We’ve all at one point, or another heard that friend, family member, or whoever question the entertainment value of the competitive video gaming scene. I can respect that uncertainty. I get it – spectating competitive video games like League of Legends, Call of Duty, or Rocket League isn’t for everyone.
What I see this issue boiling down to the abstraction of physical movement and relatability. The lack of engaging physical action in the most popular esports games is a hard hurdle to get over. If you’re not a gamer and don’t know the rules or strategies of a game that’s being played in an esports competition, it’s hard to relate to. With physically-based sports, it’s simpler for the average person to connect with. I can watch someone playing Soccer, Football, or Volleyball and instantly be able to compare myself to them in a physical manner. Do I feel like I’m more athletic than them? Would I be able to do what they just did? Everyone can ask themselves those questions and have at least a basic idea of what the answer would be, whether it’s a deluded answer or not.
Don’t get me wrong I’m aware that many traditional sports like Football and Basketball have deep levels of strategy involved in them as well, but we can all find some baseline comparison of ourselves to the players regarding physicality. It’s a more rooted, natural comparison that gives us someplace to start. Do I think we should continuously be comparing ourselves to others? No, but I think that is what holds a lot of appeal to sports fans of all kinds. It’s fun to ask those sorts of questions, and we can all appreciate an advanced level of physical performance because we have a solid understanding of the limitations of our bodies.
Video games are a different beast. With video games, you must be familiar with the game’s genre even to have a sense as to how you would stack up against someone else, let alone a professional player. The level of strategy in esports games is often broad and harrowing to jump right into. There are physical components like being able to use your mouse to acquire targets in your scope and the rapid pressing of buttons in succession, but that has a somewhat shallow appeal to physical comparisons. There is absolutely skill involved in something like the actions per minute taken by a professional Starcraft player and correlating those physical actions with purposes, but it’s a difficult task for the average person to compare themselves to that right from the get-go. We just can’t know up front all the limitations of a video game’s world like we do with our bodies. I can understand how from a perspective originating outside of the video game community it seems like there isn’t a natural place to jump in and start learning.
This is where I think VR comes in. People might not be able to understand the complete ins and outs of a game if unfamiliar concepts are in the mix like spells, abilities, cooldown timers, etc., but the physical component of VR offers a baseline that we’re all familiar with – the physical limitations of our bodies. With VR it is still applicable to question whether you could handle the same physical movement another person just performed. We can use this commonality to provide traditional sports fans with a point from which they can begin their understanding.
What traditional sports fans should get excited about is VR can provide them with tons of new takes on some of their favorite conventional activities. Sports like Tennis, Basketball, and Archery can all play similarly in VR to their traditional versions as to not be too deterring but include new factors considered too dangerous for conventional sports. Exploding arrows, anti-gravity, sprints with hazardous obstacles and more all suddenly become a possibility when VR is incorporated.
That isn’t to say VR headsets don’t have their quirks that would hinder a sports scene like desyncing issues that could very well end up being the difference between a win and a loss. The technology still has a long way to come and only time will tell just how involved VR can become in the sports world, but I think there is massive potential for it to bridge the gap between traditional sports and esports.