The year is 2017 and Virtual Reality is becoming a household name after years of being inaccessible to the majority of the public. Today, Samsung is the only major smartphone manufacturer able to provide a platform for developers and consumers of virtual reality content. Apple is close behind, with plans for augmented reality features in every Apple product. Outside of smartphones, HTC and Oculus are battling over which virtual reality headset is best for the desktop PC enthusiasts; HTC is the market leader. The augmented and virtual reality industry is valued between $40 billion to $162 billion by 2020 and while most industry analysts struggle to determine its true value, manufacturers and developers are already going nuclear with their marketing strategies. Today, the biggest reason to plug in is the birth of VR Esports.
Regardless of how much money the industry will be valued at in 2020, the amount of money companies are throwing in 2017 isn’t a joke. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg plans to invest $3 billion into the industry and so far he’s keeping his word. Facebook is largely responsible for the success of the Oculus platform after they acquired it in March 2014. Prior to being purchased, Oculus functioned as a small manufacturer and developer of hardware but today, backed with Facebook cash, they are an online retailer of digital content that is mostly platform exclusive. Furthermore, Oculus is reaching out to developers and funding them so that they can create awesome, well-made experiences that energize the industry even if it’s only for Oculus. It is clear that Facebook is driving the creation of great content and also determined to make sure they’re the only ones with it.
In the video game and PC hardware industries, there is a lot of market overlap. Gamers typically need access to the best hardware in order to run games, but this can be taken to the extreme with virtual reality content, which often has the most demanding specs minimum specifications.
Some of the best marketing vehicles for these hardware manufacturers are competitive gaming events which demand the best possible hardware and performance in order to guarantee a level playing field. Today’s E-Sports competitions are all played equally powerful Windows PCs which means an equal platform for all competitors but depending on how you look at it, is this at the expense of Mac Users?
“The VR Challenger League is the first VR esports league, presented by Intel, Oculus, and ESL. It will encompass both European and North American communities with regular online and offline competition.”
This event sounds awesome because it’s being backed by a major E-Sports sponsor, Intel, and organized by a long-standing competitive league, The ESL. The games that will be played, Echo Arena and The Unspoken, are Oculus exclusives and will each have a season lasting approximately a year. The competitive season will have online and offline events that will be held at major marketing conventions for Intel and Facebook, while also making appearances at venues known supporting small-time E-Sports. The most important part of the league is the prize pool and given how small the VR community is, the prize pool is actually insane. The winners of the first VR Challenger League event are likely to take home $100K US and the remaining $100K to be split by 2nd and 3rd place. This $200K prize pool, when compared to the first seasons of mainstream E-Sports games, is massive and shows extreme confidence in the ability of the VR Challenger League to draw in an audience and sales.
As previously mentioned, hardware manufacturers sponsor competitive gaming events which is actually more of a symbiotic relationship than a parasitic one. What I’m getting here is that even if it is just marketing, an Intel CPU is in EVERY E-Sport official desktop computer. Having an equal playing field in terms of hardware and peripheral specs is incredibly important. This makes the idea of a single platform, a single VR headset, more attractive because it will be fair to all competitors. This is the best reason I can give Intel and The ESL for choosing to side with Oculus, which demands single platform, despite the smaller user base and mediocre product.
The HTC VIVE is objectively, a superior product out of the box, and has a larger market share. There is no reason for The ESL and Intel to marginalize 2/3rds of the VR Community. .History shows that this is the first time a smaller platform, Oculus, and platform-specific content, their games, have ever been used in a competitive E-Sports event with this kind of prize pool. Games like League of Legends, Dota, and Hearthstone have all had major success and launched on a large, open platforms which make use of the entire PC Gamer Market.
Any game trying to become an official E-Sport needs to be platform agnostic otherwise they are hurting themselves by marginalizing other players, resulting in the Kobe Bryants and Michael Jordans of the VR world playing on opposite platforms.
This VR Challenger League is a great injection of adrenaline into the competitive VR industry considering how small it actually is. There is definitely organized play on both platforms, but until now there hasn’t been any experienced sponsors, publishers, or organizers ready to jump into VR. This is clearly a coordinated marketing campaign or as I like to call, A Cash Grab.
Yes, I do own a Vive and even though I know I could technically play in the league, it’s not right that we allow this kind of behavior into competitive gaming. This event was announced at least 2 weeks before the Oculus Rift Price Drop and the Echo Arena, a game being played competitively, was recently made free to play so that everyone could get into and hyped for the VR Challenger League.
The VR Challenger League is a marketing campaign for all those involved, but I hope that Intel isn’t locked into a contract with Oculus that will prevent from being able to partner up with other VR companies and digital retailers.
The truth is, VR might just take over the way we play games in the future and even if you don’t own a VR motion headset, you might just be using a headset as a replacement for a monitor. Facebook has it in their best interest to invest so heavily and aggressively into any VR related market that they are clearly a future threat to the Valve, platform-agnostic digital retailer.
I want to remind you that platform agnosticism is already here and Facebook is ok with it, even if that means they not going to sue developers who are undermining their platform specific strategy. Facebook is a company that will likely function like Apple in the future, and have an exclusive product and app store which you will have to assimilate into if you ever wanted to participate in one of their many services.
That service today is the VR Challenger League.
So does Mark Zuckerberg hate VR? … NO! He wants to win VR and will do ANYTHING to do it.
Go Buy A Vive and Support Valve, who supports a VR Neutral marketplace. (Amazon Affiliate: http://amzn.to/2xusHdl)