The increased acceptance of eSports as a professional sport by both broadcasters and media organizations has proved that successful athletes don’t always need to be a physical presence. Competitive video gaming is one of the stars of the immersive entertainment sector and it appears that virtual reality is poised to play its part.

Washington-based VR arena developer VRstudios announcement that its latest product will allow LBVRE operators to offer its customers the chance to compete against each other in a multiplayer eSports arena is a good indication that digital athletes are the next big thing. According to a press release, the company’s VRcade PowerPlay platform will combine virtual reality experiences and competitive eSports, with players able to engage in unrestricted (and high-scoring) physical action in the arena itself.

Let VR Battle Commence

VRcade PowerPlay can be played by two to eight people – dubbed eAthletes – in a 60ft x 40ft configurable battlefield. Unlike other free-roaming arena experiences that encourage multiplayer cooperation and teamwork within the game, the key to VRarcade PowerPlay is the opportunity for players to battle each other (either individually or in teams), with the matchup live-streamed to an online audience.

Matches can be dynamically configured to suit the skill levels of the competing eAthletes, the company said, with literally millions of combinations of multiplayer game modes and battlefield configurations available. Players are encouraged to use the entire span of the arena as they incorporate their own strategies and tactics to defeat their opponent(s) in what the company describes as “a retro game aesthetic with a futuristic battlefield setting.”

“Everyone recognizes that eSports are increasingly popular and we believe that the release of VRcade PowerPlay is literally a ‘game-changer’. It’s the next generation of eSports that adds true athletic activity over a large format playing field, and it can be deployed by any LBE operator.” said VRstudios CEO Kevin Vitale, in a press release. “While complementary to our other systems and attractions, VRcade PowerPlay creates a whole new category of location-based VR entertainment for both players and spectators. It also opens the door to a number of new business models and branding options going forward for LBE operators and sponsors.”

VRstudios has been a major player in the nascent LBVRE sector, and currently operates 55 VR Arcades in 14 different countries. The company has been delivering turn-key large-scale multiplayer arenas to the LBE industry since 2014, all of which form a complete and efficient installation for venue owners and operators.

The experiences that the company currently offer run between 15 and 30 minutes, although the expectation for VRcade PowerPlay is that the games will mirror the short bursts of action familiar to eSports fans.

Building On The Digital Crowdpleaser

The eSports sector has already proved to be crowdpleaser in terms of online audience figures versus so-called offline sports like football, baseball, soccer or tennis. Over the last five years, for instance, competitive video gameplay has become a worldwide phenomenon, although to date the vast majority of tournaments concentrate on console and PC-based competitions.

In fact, popular console games such as Overwatch now have their own global leagues and team franchises, and player salaries have continued to grow as their status as digital athletes mirrors that of professional sports.

A recent industry report by game-centric analyst Newzoo said the global eSports audience will reach 380 million in 2018 as more casual viewers become eSports fans. By end of the year, revenue from eSports alone is expected to be around $905 million, a year-on-year growth rate of 38 percent. The majority of this revenue will be generated directly through sponsorships and advertising as more brands jump on board the eSports bandwagon.

The combination of eSports and virtual reality is one that is of interest to both content studios and location-based entertainment operators. VR can be an intense and demanding workout, albeit one that takes place in a virtual environment rather than a physical fitness center. And while the various versions of EA Sports’ Madden and FIFA franchises still remain firmly attached to the console market, the consensus is that eSports will make its mark in VR sooner rather than later.

“By design, the eAthletes quickly forget that they are in a virtual experience and move naturally in all the same ways that they would on a real-world playing field, including running, ducking, and jumping to beat the competition,” said VRstudios VP of Creative Development Chanel Summers. “The physical action, range of motion and dynamic competitive match formats definitely qualify VRcade PowerPlay as the sport of the future.”