Characters inside a Sony virtual reality also wear Sony VR headsets.

Sony Gears Up For Future of Esports Spectating with VR Patent

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With everyone currently hyped over rumors that the PS5 might be released before the end of 2019, you may have missed the news that Sony might have something else exciting in store for the near future. If you’re an esports fan who happens to own a PSVR headset, then you’ll be pleased to know that a ground-breaking new level of esport tournament spectating is on the agenda.

Sony recently filed a patent application with the rather lengthy title ‘Spectator View Into An Interactive Gaming World Showcased In A Live Event Held In A Real-World Venue.’ In other words, it seems the global cooperation wants to seize on the sole rights to create an immersive, 3D experience whereby viewers of esports tournaments can feel as if they are attending the real event themselves through the use of Sony’s VR technology.

An image of the current Sony VR Headset for the PlayStation gaming system from their website.
An image of the current Sony VR Headset for the PlayStation gaming system from their website.

Esport tournaments attract millions of online and TV viewers; the figure estimated to reach 70 million viewers for finale matches by next year. The venues themselves regularly boast attendance numbers of over 100,000. Those esport fans who view the tournament remotely tune in to streaming platforms like Twitch or major sport channels like ESPN.

By combining the experience of viewing an esports tournament from an arena crowd, with the comfort and convenience of watching remotely, Sony may well have secured exclusive rights to the future of esports spectating. According to the filed patent, the VR spectating will be achieved through a range of sophisticated cameras and microphones set up throughout the venue.

It is unclear which tournaments will be accessible through the VR technology, but it will almost definitely be the case that the service will serve as a promotion of Sony’s new competitive gaming platform, PlayStation Plus League.

Has anything similar been attempted before?

Valve, the SteamVR creator and Half-Life developer, previously tested a similar service for the Dota 2 ‘The International’ tournament in 2016. Fans were able to view the MOBA championship through HTC Vive in what Valve called a ‘Dota VR Hub’. This ‘theatre mode’ of the headset allowed for users to meet up with other fans and virtually view the match together on a large screen in a game setting. More impressive yet was the option users had to be transported into the gameplay itself, viewing the action close-up and with a birds-eye view.

Just as with Valve’s execution, Sony’s PSVR would allow for the headset spectator to toggle between viewing the action from an in-game POV, and watching the match on a screen. What makes Sony’s approach different to Valve’s Dota VR Hub is the fact that viewers will for the first time be able to watch the event as if they were attending as an audience member at the real venue. Through a PSVR, fans will experience a fully immersive simulation of being amidst the actual crowd as the tournament streams live.

What does this mean for other virtual reality headsets?

The patent would exclude Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR or other competitors from introducing similar technology, which would mean that virtual reality spectating of esport tournaments could only be enjoyed through a PSVR – at least for the foreseeable future. Whether Sony will in fact succeed in keeping the technology and concept exclusive remains to be seen, as it is unclear for which tournaments the cooperation will be implementing the VR service.

Has VR ever been used for other spectator sports?

This is far from the first time VR technology has been used to enrich spectating experiences. For the 2018 World Cup, BBC Sports introduced the option for viewers to experience the the football matches from the POV of inside a VIP stadium lounge at the venue. The service was compatible through most VR devices, including PlayStation VR, Oculus and Samsung Gear VR.

Sony promotional image showing how much fun their current generation of VR headset can be.
Sony promotional image showing how much fun their current generation of VR headset can be.

Facebook also has its own portal for virtual reality access to live events, known as ‘Oculus Venues’. Physical sport events are traditionally made accessible through the application, however the overlap between esports fans and possessors of VR headsets is potentially bigger and therefore a potentially more successful combination.

Meanwhile, Formula 1 fans can currently view races from the 360-degree perspective of the race audience or from the POV of the F1 drivers themselves. “We’re excited to help fans view F1 in a way never previously imagined, becoming interactive viewers themselves. Formula 1 is a sport in which the details make the difference,” says a spokesperson for the VR firm offering the service.

PokerStars already offers a virtual reality experience for online poker tournaments, whereby the game transpires between real players at a virtual reality casino. The next step would be to allow for VR spectating possibilities, either within those online tournaments, or at real world tournament venues such the WSOP Main Event.

In fact, online casino comparison site LabSlots have listed ‘virtual reality live casinos’ as one of the top innovations on the horizon for the casino industry. VR Live Casinos would allow players to feel as if they were physically present at the roulette wheel or card table, while other players would see them presented through personalized avatars.

Full impact of virtual reality spectating yet to be seen

Sony’s patent only confirms what many have suspected for a long time – VR holds a lot of potential to enrich gaming and spectating experiences, and we’re likely to soon see a growing number of opportunities to experience tournaments as if we were truly present. Naturally, this VR technology will not be limited to gaming, but also likely to include festivals, concerts, or events of historical significance. It’s not too far-fetched to imagine that, in the near future, we can put on a VR headset to immersively experience everything from Coachella to SpaceX rocket launches.

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