Credit: Skokene Entertainment
- The Virtual Athletics League has acquired HP and HTC as corporate sponsors.
- The league will organize tournaments in virtual reality arcades across the world.
- Esports tournaments can serve as a customer retention tool for VR arcades.
- HTC Esports and computer hardware brand HP have signed on as corporate sponsors for a virtual reality (VR) esports league. The Virtual Athletics League (VAR) will host tournaments for a variety of games in VR arcades across the world.
In addition to one-off tournaments, the VAL will organize team-based events for arcades to compete against one another. The eventual goal is to create a city-based VR esports league akin to the NFL or NBA—or the Overwatch League .
VAL founder Ryan Burningham says that participation in the league can provide a boost to customer return rates for VR arcades. At his arcade, Virtualities, located in Salt Lake City, Utah, Burningham began hosting esports tournaments two years ago. “Normal customer return rates hovered at around 20%,” Burningham said in a blog post. “For customers who attended our VR esports tournaments, that rate skyrocketed to over 50%.”
VR esports have a long road ahead before reaching the level of established PC and console leagues. In general, the bulk of an esport’s viewership comes from the active player bases of the games being broadcast. The high cost of VR equipment has limited the potential player base of most games utilizing it, thereby restricting the viewer market for a VR esports league. The space required for each competitor to play a VR title also limits the scalability of open tournaments.
Further, VR games have an inherent challenge in designing their broadcast. Regardless of the game’s graphics or spectator appeal, the actual competitor requires space to move in order to actually play the game. It will be difficult to create a compelling sports narrative around athletes trapped behind a visor making odd gestures as they play.
Of course, with his corporate sponsors in tow, Burningham is preparing to face these challenges head on and work towards making his league into the next big thing. “Our hope is for each arcade to eventually have things like jerseys, dedicated teams, professional casters and a Twitch fanbase,” he said. “With the sponsorship from HP, inc., HTC Esports…competitors and spectators alike can compete and engage with esports on a whole new level.”