IS IT TIME TO PAY ATTENTION TO VR IN ESPORTS?
In addition to The Next Level Industry Guest eSports Podcast series, there will also be Industry contributions to tnl.media. The first in the written series comes from Corey Freeland, who works on VR/AR Content and Distribution Strategy at Ripple Collective.
TNL Take: Even if VR/AR/MR (or whatever comes next) only achieves 20% of its potential, it will be a massive transformation. As the PC revolution was overtaken by the Internet, which in turn was overtaken by Mobile, the VR industry could be even bigger.
/01 VR AND ESPORTS
A few companies are trying to make this happen:
- VREAL: Raised $3.5M in Nov 2015 to become the "Twitch for VR". Focused on a true VR experience and not 2D viewing or AR.
- SLIVER.tv: Raised $6.2M in Aug 2016. Sliver.tv is focused on taking existing 2D eSports content and transforming it for VR or 360 Video.
- Boom.tv: Raised $3.2M in Dec 2016. (Edit: Currently writing about them) Boom.tv takes the 3D data from the game and allows streamers to call up multi-angle replays for viewers in 2D - however that can also be exported into a VR headset.
VR rights for eSports tournaments are starting to get nabbed up. SLIVER.tv launched at ESL One New York last year and recently announced it has signed deals with ESL and Dreamhack to broadcast several events in 2017.
It’s the first big VR rights deal in eSports and I predict it will be another year at least before VR makes it into enough homes to matter to most consumers. But since we’ve entered a phase of locking in rights; long term stake are already being decided.
/02 AUDIENCE SIZE
Usually the first question is if the audience is big enough to justify a lot of investment in a new technology. However, the hype may have gotten ahead of VR/AR.
(Edit: I asked a 200+ audience at a Gaming/eSports Conference in NYC during a panel who bought a VR device in 2016 and 2 people raised their hand)
Combining numbers posted by SuperData and my own research, there are roughly 6.5MM mobile-powered or tethered headsets out in the world and 85MM low-end models like Google Cardboard (though many of those have probably been gathering dust on bookshelves since they were assembled and tried out on day one).
Assuming a modest overlap of eSports fans and headset owners, there are potentially several million people positioned to watch an eSports event in VR right now - but a long way to match YouTube or Twitch's scale.
This will undoubtedly grow as big companies keep pouring money into new headsets and technology over the next few years.
/03 THE EXPERIENCE
It's still early days and only a few examples have been shown.
SLIVER.tv streamed from ESL One and the experience was pretty decent from my experience. So far, the camera is stationary and the traditional broadcast stream is projected in 2D floating above the map. However, with a full field of vision, there is a lot of real estate to bring in useful and potential sponsorship opportunities within stats and digital elements to improve the viewing experience.
Valve showed off what VR viewing would look like in DOTA2 and can currently be viewed with an HTC Vive:
And at Key Arena during The International DOTA2 tournament, viewers saw the Athletes picking their players in AR:
/04 WHAT'S NEXT?
Companies like NextVR have been working - and spending - heavily to secure VR Broadcast rights for traditional sports. Their biggest deal was made recently with the NBA which allows them to stream live NBA games in VR headsets to anyone with a NBA League Pass.
-Since almost all eSports content is Free (if it ain’t broke), I imagine most fans will take the chance to pick up a headset and watch their favorite teams in a more immersive way over the next year.
-Companies like Blizzard, Riot, Valve, Activision and EA will want to develop in-house solutions once the audience is big enough and making it a more appealing option for brand investment as well.
-I predict this will become a new platform for sponsorship dollars before the end of 2017. (Edit: We will see 1 Brand Deal related to eSports/VR this year)
"Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones. The future is coming."
Mark Zuckerberg, FaceBook Post, March 25, 2014