Virtual reality, augmented reality and the growth of esports

Our world is constantly being re-shaped by advancements in technology – from PCs to the internet, to mobiles, to tablets. With every new technological transformation, our lives have become a little bit easier and the world has become a lot more accessible. Today, all eyes are on the new-yet-not-so-new kids on the block: augmented reality and virtual reality.

 

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality refers to an immersive digital world completely cut off from the physical one. It is built on ideas that go as far back as the 1800s, but the term was first used in the 1930s by Jaron Lanier. Today, after nearly a century, it has gained massive traction, with people scrambling to get a taste of the complete immersive VR experience. Leading the way is the gaming industry, which has proven to be the first-adopter of all things visual and tech, and has already created products that leverage the potential of AR and VR technology. Additionally, as an industry, it is not satisfied with just the basic offering, and is striving to push the envelope to achieve richer, more immersive, personal experiences.

According to statista.com,

The VR industry is growing at a fast pace, with the market size of virtual reality hardware and software projected to increase from 2.2 billion U.S. dollars in 2017 to more than 19 billion U.S. dollars by 2020. Another forecast projects revenues from the global virtual reality market to reach 21.5 billion U.S. dollars in 2020.”

Currently, competitive gamers have an average PC spend of USD 1500 – 50% more than users who do not game. Keeping this in mind, a full gaming rig with premium VR, estimated at around USD 800, with VR headset and games, is well within the budgets of competitive gamers. Cost of hardware is predicted to fall further. The cost of an Oculus Rift is now USD 399, while the new Oculus Go is even more affordable, with a USD 199 retail price having launched in May 2018. In fact, 200 million+ consumer VR head-mounted displays are expected to be sold worldwide by 2020, implying that more and more people will be turning to these technologies and making them a staple for entertainment, be it esports, films, or music.

 

 

Augmented Reality

Unlike virtual reality, which is completely cut off from the real world, augmented reality blends the virtual and physical worlds. Due to its easy accessibility (via mobile or tablet), AR has caught on faster than VR amongst the masses. Augmented reality has been growing in popularity amongst the developer community since 2006. However, it was only in 2017 that the industry received a significant boost, when AR exploded into the mainstream with the release of Pokemon Go and AR development kits by Apple and Google.

Pokémon Go was the first memorable instance of mass AR consumption. A location-based AR game, it had more than 100 million downloads in its first month of launch, reportedly earning $10m per day at the height of its popularity. Due to its mass appeal, it attracted more attention and investment. But why did it work? First, it brought our favourite Pokemon to the real world, in a sense; secondly, it promoted a sense of community by bringing people together. Most of the break-through technologies have done much the same.

The best part about AR games is that they introduce elements in our otherwise ordinary world. In Pokemon GO, a pokemon could be hiding behind a chair or a dustbin on a street that you pass daily. It gives us an opportunity to build a new world on the foundations of our current one.

According to insightssuccess, “With the new advancements in AR, players can scan a room with their devices and create a 3D map of the walls and furniture. Gamers can place their virtual characters and objects on real tables and shelves, while other players can view the scene and join via their own devices.”

The proof of the popularity is in the numbers. There are approximately 200 million AR-compatible devices on the market, with this number expected to increase 10-fold, to 2 billion, by end-2019. In addition, billion-dollar investments in wearable technology firms such as Mirror Labs and Magic Leap are forecast to bolster the size of the AR addressable market, in addition to taking immersion to the next level. Add to that the Hololens initiative from Microsoft coupled with Apple’s acquisition of Vrvana (a VR/AR eye-tracking “crossover” company) and Akonia Holographics (which develops lenses for AR glasses), and the future of augmented reality looks exceptionally bright.

Advertisers are already engaging with AR to disrupt traditional digital marketing with immersive, interactive AR content. A case in point is the Jaguar Land Rover AR experience that created a simulated driver cockpit experience for potential customers.

Needless to say, AR has significant potential to serve not only as a vital acquisition funnel for VR game technology and content, but also as a brand new stream of views and revenue for game streamers who are struggling to differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive market.

 

The market for both realities

Augmented reality and virtual reality will be most widely used in the gaming industry and, with the increase in number of both casual and professional gamers, their future seems to have an abundance of lucrative opportunities. The two technologies add a fantastical element to gaming, making it seem both ethereal and personal. VR and AR provide opportunities for people who are both gamers and athletes. A case in point is HADO, a Japanese firm that has been hosting an annual VR/AR competition for the past few years. In 2017, it expanded into other SEA countries including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Its second official international tournament, the HADO World Cup, saw 12 teams from three different countries competing for the championship title. You can check the promo here.

 

Thus, undeniably, the convergence of these two technologies will help make the future of esports brighter than it already is.

 


Virtual reality on esports tournaments spectatorship

The football players enter the field. There are loud cheers. Someone next to you accidentally spills some of their drink on you. But you don’t care. You’re too busy cheering for the team, adding to the already thunderous applause and hooting that has engulfed the stadium. At this moment, until the next 90 minutes or so, you are part of a movement, alongside strangers who feel like family.

Watching sports in a stadium is different from watching it on one’s laptop, alone. Typing to connect with friends while the game is on could result in you missing some action. Talking to friends is much easier. This is why, when going on-ground to see a match is not possible, people have viewing parties. Sports spectating is essentially about coming together and enjoying the game. Unfortunately, esports, which has around 500 million fans with ⅔ being spectators, doesn't essentially provide a stadium-style experience and friends aren’t always free to travel.

Virtual reality helps bring the feeling of camaraderie and oneness back in not just esports, but any game. It enables us to experience “stadium-style” viewing from the comfort of wherever-we-are. As we don our VR headsets or glasses, we are transported into a world full of action and fellow fans, seated across us, next to us, behind us. We can turn to them and talk without missing the game. We can see our players in action just a few feet away. Our cheers become part of the crowd again.

However, VR brings more than just stadium-style spectating to our homes. It enables us to switch between multiple stadiums. Since games are being viewed on a platform we control, we can easily “switch the channel”, without losing out on the viewing experience. Another interesting capability of this technology is allowing us to experience the game from the athlete’s point of view. Virtual reality heightens the immersive spectating experience by letting us see what a player sees at any given point of time in the game.

Lastly, since it brings ‘stadium-style’ viewing back, it also helps us make new, genuine friends. How do we know they’re the friends we want? Mostly, because you can see exactly how they behave during the game.

Data

Esports spectating in VR is a treasure-trove of psycho-graphic data. Since VR mirrors our real-life actions, researchers or gaming studios can see exactly when people start losing interest, the number of times they get distracted, their fidgeting habits, their preferred ‘look’, the angle of their most-held gaze, their body movements and so on.

The above, peppered with the spectator’s involuntary verbal cues, gives researchers valuable insights into an individual’s as well as a community’s behavioral and linguistic patterns.

 

Monetisation

The presence of rich psycho-graphic data provides earning opportunities for spectators and game creators. The Facebook-Cambridge Analytical scandal has raised awareness regarding privacy breaches. People want to know where their data goes. In a VR world, spectators can allow brands to document their experiences in a given game or situation, for a certain time, at a certain cost. The game takes a cut of the spectator’s earnings, but the spectator keeps a bulk of the revenue. This way, people have direct control over which brands have what information and are able to benefit financially in the process.

While spectators get paid for data, gaming or esports stadiums get paid for targeted ad distribution. Think of an on-ground, physical stadium. There will always be a few (sponsoring) brands that stand out because of their logo placement along the base of the stands. Brands in stadiums have greater recall value for the spectators because their ads are not constantly moving and there is no scope of ‘scrolling’ through them or dismissing them. This is primarily due to the static nature of the ads and the fact that they appear to be non-intrusive, while simultaneously making an impression on the spectator’s mind. Ad distribution or display is further enhanced with the help of psycho-graphic targeting. Since the game already has its own set of psycho-graphic data, it can show different ads to different people at the same time, in the same spot. For example: A gadget-loving person who is sitting across Hoarding A might see an ad for the latest mobile, while a person sitting right next to him/her might see an ad for a new item in a different game because they just earned a massive amount in that game. The ad on the hoardings can also change based on the mood of the individual spectator.

Virtual reality, undeniably, opens doors for rich, immersive spectating. The question is – how good can we make this experience?


Virtual Reality: A closer, more understanding world

The PC brought the digital world to our homes, the advent of the internet made a wealth of information accessible, while the mobile made it portable and promoted connectivity.  The next wave of transformation comes in the form of Virtual Reality or, as it is fondly and lazily known, VR.

VR: A quick introduction

Virtual Reality, undoubtedly, makes it easier to traverse the world without moving from our spot. We can be on the hills of the Himalayas or walking beside lions in sub-Saharan Africa; we can visit our parents at home while working in a completely different continent; we can scour the southernmost tip of the world without fear and without training; we can be at a stadium, high-fiving a fan next to us, without leaving our couch; we can float in space without becoming astronauts.

Most importantly, virtual reality brings us closer. It takes us into the world of another, helps us open up to them, and helps form intimate bonds despite the lack of physical connection.

Of media and empathy

Many industries, particularly the news and media, have utilized VR to give people a sense of the devastation and emotional distress during natural and man-made disasters in other parts of the world. BBC UK, additionally, has created a few VR experiences in the form of stories to help people experience the life of a migrant and the mind of a rebel. This encourages empathy in people. For most of us, a disaster happening half the world away is a mere distraction. VR puts us front and centre in the lives of another person. Interaction becomes easier because the suddenness of familiarity is balanced by the knowledge that this is happening “online”. People feel safer talking to a new person. They also tend to let their guard down and become more open.

“…empathy doesn’t go quite far enough and VR’s true magic is the ability to induce intimacy between people.” Peter Rubin, author -  Future Presence: How Virtual Reality Is Changing Human Connection, Intimacy and the Limits of Ordinary Life.

While we are essentially not present physically, our mannerisms are replicated in the VR world in real time. Hence, interactions become more real. The line between VR and reality is also slightly blurred by our brain and it is possible to completely immerse oneself in this digitized reality.

Of safety and health

As VR brings impact of disasters closer home, it also has potential to ease the process of help. VR simulations are already used in training armies for all possible scenarios. If extended to more people, it can create an easily-accessible and educated group of first responders, aware of how to interact with people in need of aid.

In addition, seeking therapy becomes easier. In times of distress, particularly depression, people do want to ask for help, but appointments are difficult to make. In other cases, they cannot bring themselves to move and act. Access to therapists on a VR platform would help the patient as well as the therapist, who will be able to see the patient’s reactions and hear their words as though in the physical world. Alternatively, they would be able to reach out to others like them or just other friends via VR. While there is nothing like a warm hug to calm the nerves for most, a conversation and just “going out” to meet people can do wonders. Virtual reality encourages that without forcing the person to muster enough energy, something that might take days to happen without help.

Making education accessible

Schools too would benefit. Student exchange programmes would become more accessible as students experience classrooms abroad without leaving their homes. This enables those unable to fund travel or those with linguistic barriers to get the same opportunities as their more financially privileged counterparts. In the physical world, a foreign exchange student without knowledge of the host country language will not be able to understand the course material or fully appreciate the culture. With virtual reality, courses and conversations can be translated in real time, breaking linguistic barriers. Underprivileged students and families are also able to travel the world without paying for airline tickets, visa, and more.

A closer world

Virtual reality gives us the opportunity to befriend the 7 billion+ people out there faster and more intimately, without compromising security and without having to travel. This takes the stories of billions of people to each other, creating a world that is closer, more understanding and, perhaps in the future, more trusting.

Virtual reality doesn’t just help one connect with others. It has great potential to help us understand ourselves. The better we know ourselves, the better we understand the world. Isolating ourselves in a crowd to get some space or just introspect becomes easy with VR. Acting different scenarios out and experimenting with all our dreams becomes possible and helps us understand what we really want, without putting our future in jeopardy. Virtual reality, interestingly, has massive potential to record and store our actions, acting as a means of storing our memories (Black Mirror, anyone?). Interestingly enough, it is, as of now, the closest we have come to a symbiotic blend of technology and people.

 

The obstacles and the hope

The VR industry does, of course, have a few hurdles to overcome, the most hindering being the size of the wearable technology and the cost of a device. However, cost of hardware is predicted to fall and that will, in all probability, encourage more people to adopt this exciting platform. Additionally, there will always be detractors of anything new, but if the past is any indication, technology only brings the world closer. And VR will be no exception.

Advancement in technology has always worked towards the benefit of the human race. All we have to do is remember not to abuse it. So, embrace VR for it is definitely a step in the right direction, but don’t forget your immediate surroundings while exploring the environs miles and, maybe, even light years away.