Despite applications for the technology in sectors as varied as medicine and travel, the potential of virtual reality (VR) headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive hasn’t been fully realised yet. The high cost of entry and the need to overcome things like motion sickness has kept the march of progress at a canter.
However, one of the more interesting uses for VR – the spectating of live events – became something other than mere theory in 2016. Here’s a quick look at VR spectating and how innovators hope to take fans to the ball game without leaving the house.
While online gaming might not be the most fashionable hobby out there, eSports or competitive video gaming is one of the fastest growing entertainment industries. ESPN indicated that 205 million people were involved in either watching or playing in eSports in 2014, with events centred on games like Overwatch and League of Legends.
Live eSports resembles the large-scale events put on by the NBA or WWE, with celebrity players, professional teams, and huge prize funds for the victors.
But how does VR fit into all that? Back in July, Valve announced a new VR spectator mode for online battle arena Dota 2. The software includes two different views – an immersive, battlefield-level view and a “theatre” mode, in which the viewer can see the match through a TV screen, along with the details of the combatants and miscellaneous other statistics.
It’s about as close as entertainment gets to VR spectating in 2016, but gaming is aided by the fact that titles like Counter Strike: Global Offensive are already virtual worlds. The real trick, therefore, is to get fans into the seats at live eSports tournaments, where they can interact with other spectators and professional players.
While it might be hard to shake the image of casino gaming as card games and slot machines, the industry is actually one of the more forward-thinking out there. For example, BitCasino.io, a provider of live blackjack, a game playable here, now allows its players to choose where their dealer is located, meaning that there are no limits on play imposed by time zones or languages.
As far as spectating is concerned, casino has a lot in common with eSports, in that the true innovation lies in getting players in front of pros in a tournament like the World Series of Poker. Organisers could even scale the price of admission depending on where the viewer wants to sit, from the stands to the table itself.
The one question that remains for every company with an interest in VR is how to get spectators to behave once they’ve taken their seat. Will the lack of a physical presence mean that trolls and “griefers” enjoy the same anonymity as they do on internet forums or will the ticket price deter inappropriate conduct?
Traditional sporting events already employ 360-degree cameras to give players a unique, adjustable view of a particular match. For example, at this year’s Six Nations tournament, the BBC posted short videos of Wales’ match with Scotland on Facebook; the videos could be dragged with the finger or mouse to change the viewpoint.
A similar technology is called Strivr. A coaching tool used in the NFL, Strivr provides VR recreations of particular moments in a game so that they can be analysed by players and officials. The downside is that the technology doesn’t work so well with sports that aren’t based around set-pieces, like soccer. While they’re still an exciting development as far as immersion goes, Strivr and 360-degree videos – even of entire matches – are still a long way from VR spectating, simply because they use pre-recorded footage.
Finally, given the number of variables involved (modeling the way the wearer’s head moves, for example, and working out where to place cameras to account for their viewing angle), live casino and sport are a bit of a pipe dream at present. For now though, you can at least watch highlights of Match of the Day using Google Cardboard and YouTube’s VR mode.
It’s better than nothing.