Why VR Isn't Ready for Esports

Equipment & titles are important

Key Takeaways

  • Virtual reality is unlikely to make much of a splash anytime soon in the growing esports industry. 
  • Streaming services are likely to get more involved in esports, some observers say. 
  • Faster mobile connectivity options such as 5G and 5G Ultra-Wideband milliwave tech are expected to boost the esports industry and allow fans to watch while on the go, observers say.
An esports team at a bank of computers.
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Virtual reality isn’t quite ready for primetime in esports, some experts say. 

Virtual reality and augmented reality could allow players and fans to engage more closely with the game, proponents say. The release of more capable virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Quest 2 is driving more interest in VR. But VR technology isn’t having the impact that was expected in esports.

“People were expecting VR to take a more central role in entertainment, but it won’t take a quantum leap until there are more titles and the hardware becomes more accessible,” Yaniv Sherman, senior vice president and head of US at gaming group 888 Holdings, said in an email interview. “Unlike consoles that try to become a one-stop-shop for entertainment, I think VR has the potential to become bigger than that. While betting on esports is a complementing experience to watching it, VR also has to complement sports, at the crossroads between social and virtual.”

Pandemic Drives Interest in Esports

Esports are growing rapidly, fueled by increased interest, big money, and people spending more time at home during the pandemic. According to one estimate, total esports viewership is expected to grow from 454 million viewers in 2019 to 646 million in 2023. 

Streaming services also are likely to get more involved in esports, some observers say. “AI and streaming services converging with esports as well as other sports will create a new consumer experience at some point in the near future,” Sherman said. “Although we are already seeing companies like Netflix converge into other services, it has not reached esports yet, and I expect this to change in the near future.”

A young person coaching an esports team.
BJI / Blue Jean Images / Getty Images

The problem with VR is that the current focus is on making headsets that allow people to engage physically with software. That’s not what fans are looking for, some observers say. 

“Many confuse the attraction of games to a desire to participate physically in the activities the games simulate,” Hai Ng, the CEO of esports consultancy Spawn Point, said in an email interview. “The adoption of VR will be content-driven, not simply because it may deliver a better simulation.”

5G Will Let You Watch Esports in More Places

Faster mobile connectivity options such as 5G and 5G Ultra-Wideband milliwave tech are expected to boost the esports industry and allow fans to watch while on the go, observers say. But "esports isn’t a 'bleeding edge' industry," Ng said. "As a competitive sporting activity, stability and adoption are key pillars; 'new technologies' don’t always play nice."

Esports is gaining in popularity due to the pandemic, some claim. "In 2020, the whole industry took the next step by going virtual when there were no other sporting events available," Sherman said.

"They took center stage both in the world of entertainment and sports betting. It has subsided back as traditional sports returned, but the growth trajectory will not stop as long as more titles become available—more titles and more betting will come hand in hand."

“People were expecting VR to take a more central role in entertainment, but it won’t take a quantum leap until there are more titles and the hardware becomes more accessible."

The question remains whether esports will see its popularity lag once all non-virtual sports resume when the coronavirus pandemic wanes. "From a fan perspective, [they were] attracted by the lack of other sporting content. Some will stay, as well, as they’ve gotten a taste of the competitive action and content," Ng said. "The pandemic helped break the stigma they may have had, categorizing esports and games as kid stuff."

Colleges are taking notice of the increasing popularity of esports. Lucrative scholarships are available to top esports players. And New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology recently announced a program designed for students to explore the industry. The course offers a sequence of project-based activities and assignments analyzing the basics of game design, marketing, and project management. 

Cutting-edge technology is driving many areas of the economy, but it’s unlikely that esports will be one of them. All you need is a good monitor and a decent broadband connection to sit back and watch.

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