Take 1: Do We Need Virtual Reality Esports

ESL announced earlier today that it will broadcast ESL One New York in virtual reality through a collaboration with Sliver.tv.

“We’re very excited to be able to launch our very first VR live stream from ESL One New York with the help of SLIVER.tv, This new method of broadcasting is going to give viewers a taste of what it’s like to be in the arena at an esports mega event, and give people a brand new perspective on top level CS:GO through an in-game VR camera. Esports helped to pioneer online video streaming, and we couldn’t be more proud to take the next step into the future of broadcast media with this initiative.” – Stuart Ewen, ESL Product Manager

ESL and Sliver are touting the first 360 degree viewing experience in esports but aren’t the first to bring virtual reality viewing to the table. Back in August, Valve and it’s production team brought virtual reality to The International 6. While only in it’s infancy, Dota 2’s VR viewing experience left a lot to be desired. Difficulty traversing the map, non-intuitive viewing angles and controls projected onto the screen seemed to make it more difficult to follow the action than from a standard observer’s point of view.

While to some this may seem like the next big step forward for esports viewing, in a lot of ways VR only juxtaposes many traditional viewing methods and perhaps not even for the better. The first look at ESL’s new endeavor shows anchored camera points around the map where viewers can watch the action, alongside a projection of the traditional observer feed. While the observers feed is most likely being added to help the transition from normal viewing to virtual reality it detracts from the 360 degree experience being pushed by the new technology. With the increase in popularity over the last year and brand new products like HTC’s Vive or the Oculus many people are looking to expand into the VR market as quickly as possible and as with any new product, we are experiencing growing pains. Many gamers and broadcasters are having to relearn how to play, watch and display games from this new angle and have not yet arrived in a place that supersedes the watchability of a skilled observer.

Where virtual reality fails to increase the viewing experience for fans, augmented reality takes over. The two best examples of this again come from TI6 and ESL One Cologne 2016. At TI6 Valve showed off a camera rig that allowed them to project heros onto the stage during the pick and ban phase. ESL’s production staff at ESL One Cologne was able to create floating player cards, logos, stats and more that were overlayed onto shots of the crowd during warmups or pauses.

While no one has figured out the full potential of virtual or augmented reality as they pertain to esports viewing, I will be steering well clear of any “virtual reality experience” for the foreseeable future.

Cover photo by Blake Bottrill