Since the "Sword of Damocles", a head mounted display created in 1968, computer scientists have envisioned the creation of a simulated environment that would give the user a sense of presence and interactivity in a 3 dimensional world. Virtual Reality has a wide range of applications, such as allowing medical students to operate on a virtual patient or enabling an architects to walk through their designs before construction.
Naturally, it was those in gaming who were among the first to recognize its implications: the ability to enter the game (as literally as possible) by using body movements as the controller.
The video gaming world played an instrumental role in fueling the development of VR, through a series of trials and errors that began in the early 90s. It wasn't until relatively recent history that VR headsets and games gained a popular following. Although they've started to catch on, there is still plenty of room for technical improvement before achieving mass adoption. But now that VR gaming is on the precipice of becoming more widespread, there could be a number of ripple effects for esports.
I have previously written about the ongoing debate as to whether esports should be considered real sports or not. I argued that 'traditional' esports do contain the necessary elements to be classified as sports. VR gaming makes this debate even more challenging for those trying to draw sharp distinctions between gaming and athletics.
This is particularly true of VR platforms that incorporate omnidirectional treadmills, which provide an even more immersive physical experience. Since the main sticking point of the 'esports is not a sport' perspective is the lack of physical exertion, this development puts the debate to rest. In fact, many traditional athletes could use these tools for their own training purposes.
VR gaming provides a new type of gaming experience that differs from traditional esports games. As more VR games are developed, it could lead to the emergence of new game genres in esports. A range of VR sports, combat, and racing titles might be some of the more obvious outcomes of this new genre, but there is also a likelihood that novel and compelling adventure or strategy titles will be developed. At the moment, VR games are still in a nascent stage and have not realized their fullest potential.
The rise of VR gaming is likely to result in the creation of VR-specific leagues. Initially, it is possible that established esports teams and brands may field their own VR teams. However, these teams may compete in separate leagues and tournaments from the rest of the organization.
While VR gaming could lead to new opportunities and increased engagement, it could also result in a more fragmented esports industry and challenges in integrating VR games with existing esports ecosystems. Due to the substantial differences between PC or console gaming and VR, the integration could also lead to a lack of standardization and increased complexity.
It is more likely that VR, at least initially, will follow the same trajectory as mobile gaming in relation to esports. In the competitive mobile gaming world, tournaments may attract certain segments of a similar demographic, but in most cases, they are only part of the larger esports ecosystem.
For those of us in the esports world today, it would be a huge oversight not to consider the many ways in which VR gaming could change the current state of esports. While there might be many other factors not even considered in the scope of this article, whether VR gaming will have a positive or negative effect on esports as a whole is still left to be determined. In a small sample poll, it seems that many people believe the effect will be largely neutral.