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?