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With virtual reality, you can now watch esports from a crowded virtual arena

With virtual reality, you can now watch esports from a crowded virtual arena

Esports tournaments tend to get sorted into a bunch of different categories depending on importance and location and participation, but every one of them is either online or offline. Online tournaments are played as a series of the same custom games an average user might play with friends—if necessary there might be some infrastructural changes to prevent lag or other disruptions. Offline tournaments are held in specific places, like The International in Seattle, or ESL One in July in Cologne. Teams travel to those tournaments and their computers are all connected together by cables. Lag—if it’s not outright eliminated—is reduced as far as possible, and teams from China can play fair, unobstructed games against teams from Brazil.

An online tournament has no specific physical site.

Both types are broadcast: the offline tournament from a centralized location where all the players are, and the online tournament from one node in the wider network the game is being played on, meaning that an online tournament has no specific physical site. In some ways the game’s lobbies or its map become the closest thing to a space in which an online tournament is held. I’ve never been to an offline tournament, but for viewers like me, the fact that I can watch online and offline tournaments in the same way—often with more control over my viewing experience than someone in the arena—makes that feel like less of a glaring omission.


Sliver.tv and ESL are about to add another layer to this with a plan to broadcast ESL One New York in VR. Like the Dota VR Hub, the Sliver.tv broadcast of CS:GO will feature VR versions of “in-game virtual cameras,” but will also seek to replicate “the thrilling experience of being surrounded by thousands of other esports fans at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, NY.” There might be reason to believe that people who watch esports overlap fairly significantly with people who watch VR, and that’s part of what ESL and Sliver.tv are betting on. According to the press release, “over half of esports enthusiasts and 24% of occasional viewers are planning to buy VR devices in the near future, compared to 12% on the online population.”

A virtual representation of a real space in which viewers are focusing on a virtual space.

Viewers who choose to watch VR coverage of the inside of Barclay’s arena will get a virtual representation of a real space in which viewers are focusing on a virtual space. The in-game cameras presented in VR seem more likely to bring viewers close to the maps the games get played on, but in a hectic game like CS:GO, it’s hard to say whether that will be a comfortable and barfless experience.

There are a lot of different viewing experiences on offer for ESL One next weekend—more than there are for almost any other event. Twitch.tv is a pretty cheap option, but if you’re quick you might still be able to buy a plane ticket to NYC for less than a VR headset costs.

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