Earlier this month, Sliver.tv announced its partnership with the ESL and the DreamHack esports tournament series, which commits to plug-in their immersive virtual reality platform into 14 premier competitive gaming events this year. It reflects a significant beachhead for the VR industry, which can ride off the coattails of the fledgling but promising esports industry.
Why is this so significant?
The VR industry is still in its hype cycle, floating and flirting above the ground, trying to figure out how it can root any of its various branches into the mainstream. The forecasts have the industry hitting $30 billion by 2020, but there’s a lot of doubt in the air on whether these figures are more fiction than fact, and whether the trend will die out like 3D TV despite the constant churn of optimistic news.
One of the branches that are expected to root itself into the ground first, and also represents a substantial share of the forecasted revenues, is gaming. But it’s just three years shy of 2020, and we’re not yet seeing the kind of “replayable” content to warrant that level of confidence. Save for eeports, the competitive gaming industry that is powered by interactive livestreaming, and is on track to pass the $1 billion revenue mark by next year according to SuperData Research.
VR is coming along for the ride by enhancing the spectator experience of esports.
In the case of Sliver.tv, their immersive tech integrates into games like Dota 2, League of Legends, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, to offer spectators the ability to step into the shoes of a professional esports player but with the enhanced perspective offered by panoramic 360-degree footage and other game-changing features.
“We recognized early on that the existing esports viewing approach from the player’s point-of-view is not necessarily the best perspective for the audience. Our vision is to transform the esports spectator experience forever.” Mitch Liu, the founder and CEO of Sliver.tv (and former cofounder of Tapjoy), told VentureBeat after raising $6.2 million last August.
You effectively turn into the player’s ghost, though a harmless one.
Silver.tv’s platform is based on a network of virtual cameras that records the full 360-degree range of footage and translates it all into an immersive viewing experience that allows spectators to get much more intimate with the gameplay. They get to enjoy new angles and viewpoints that weren’t possible before — an additional degree of freedom that only cinematic VR can provide.
“Now, viewers not only have a bird’s eye view of all the action and a first person feed, but also all of the statistics to put together a high level view of how a round or match unfolds. All of this is only possible in a VR environment,” Stuart Ewen, ESL product manager, said in a statement back in November when the ESL partnered with Sliver.tv to offer live VR streaming at the Intel Extreme Masters Oakland event.
Thankfully the 360-degree video isn’t the limit to what the immersive tech is offering as the value add, which should sound a sigh of relief for those reading this who already work in the VR industry and are tired of seeing VR content without any interactive elements. Sliver.tv’s VRLiveStats technology pipes in real-time player, team, and match stats that are seamlessly integrated into the VR stream.
It will be interesting to watch how this newly paved intersection between VR and eSports will affect viewership this year. On the one hand, it opens up a new acquisition channel by attracting users who already own a VR headset, especially those like myself who aren’t very impressed by the content that is currently being peddled. We get to suddenly enjoy preexisting blockbuster gaming titles as VR experiences.
The other is how the innovation will affect the current following of esports enthusiasts. How many of them will go out and buy a headset in order to try out the new immersive option for themselves, and how many will continually do so repeatedly after a few tries?
It’s way too early to tell but the fundamental positioning of VR broadcasting in the world of competitive gaming is sound and its future looks very promising, particularly for the VR industry, which is currently on the look out for its ‘killer app’. This might be it.
Amir-Esmaeil Bozorgzadeh is the co-founder at Virtuleap, a sandbox for creative developers to showcase their VR concepts to the world, which is currently running the world’s biggest WebVR Hackathon. He is also the European Partner at Edoramedia, a games publisher and digital agency with its headquarters in Dubai.