Technology is developing at a rapid pace which enhances comfort and improves productivity. The esports industry is simultaneously experiencing remarkable growth, captivating an unparalleled fanbase across various game titles.
Despite the continued development of the industry, the way consumers have engaged with esports as a product has largely remained the same over the past 20 years. While the overall quality of productions has advanced by leaps and bounds, a fan in 2023 on Twitch or YouTube still watches in much the same way fans did in 2007 on Justin.tv or MLG.
Tim Mcguinness and Christoph Ortlepp are looking to change that paradigm with their new product – Virtex Stadium, which leverages VR technology to create a virtual stadium experience. Mcguinness was an experienced professional Echo VR esport player who founded his own team, and while competing at the VR World Finals in 2019, he crossed paths with Ortlepp, a tech entrepreneur where an early concept of Virtex Stadium was presented and agreed on.
Moving past the conceptual stage, this virtual stadium project rapidly grew to require a full team of specialist and developers. Short after inception, the team rapidly grew to 24 employees and successfully accumulated $5 million from a number of investors including pro footballers Andre Schurrle and Mario Götze.
What is Virtex Stadium?
Virtex Stadium is an online virtual stadium where you can hang out with friends and watch live esports events in a unique way. Watching your favorite team play is already exciting, but Virtex offers a new experience by being able to watch a moment inside of the map with a closeup of the action, among other features.
Though it almost sounds too good to be true, Virtex is making it a reality as by allowing users to jump inside of the map and take full control of the environment to witness all the action unfold from the best viewpoints.
Fans can enter this virtual world to watch live gameplay in 3D, take a seat in the stadium to enjoy the action from a spectator's perspective, or dive into the map itself for an up-close and personal experience. Fans will be able to explore different sites and witness thrilling moments including opening duels, site retakes, and intense clutches all with sound that is intended to emulate a stadium experience.
Unfortunately, this technology is exclusive to CS:GO for now. Speaking about his company to Forbes, Mcguinness says his stint as both an esports competitor and commentator, and attending huge industry get-togethers like ESL One and IEM Katowice, helped shape his vision.
"We always wanted to prove how we could bring any genre of game and deliver it in this sort of medium,” he says, “so for us, a complex and staple FPS title like Counter-Strike was really a perfect next step." - Forbes
Taking it from a concept to reality was done with the help of Skybox, a spectating and analysis solution developed specifically for competitive gaming titles. In collaboration with Virtex Stadium, they’ve been working for the past few years to integrate Counter-Strike maps into the stadium environment. This integration includes real-time data and 3D game recreations, enabling spectators to view Counter-Strike gameplay from any angle.
Additionally, Skybox ensures key modes and tools, such as gameplay features and map control, function seamlessly within Virtex Stadium. This guarantees spectators utilization of the full range of Counter-Strike capabilities while using Virtex.
How to access Virtex Stadium
As of now, the virtual stadium is in beta testing but still accessible through Steam. Users can test Virtex Stadium on Steam by adding it to their wishlist, and they will get notified when live events are scheduled.
According to the developers, the early access will last until September 2023 before the product officially launches. Until then, regular watch parties for different game titles will take place in the stadium as recently seen when they hosted the Valorant VCT Tokyo Masters.
"By the time we leave early access, we want to have different types of stadiums and show different games, with more interesting social spaces for users to hang out in between competitions and events." - Virtex Entertainment on Steam
A step into the Stadium
Once you’re spawned into the world, a few steps forward will take you to the main lobby with sci-fi futuristic theme, decorated with giant screens live streaming the main event.
Going to the right and exploring the vast world, you’ll find a store where you can purchase avatars, props and items using their currency system,
"We’re looking at having two types of currencies: points and credits. Credits being the “premium currency” aka money, to acquire cosmetics. Points will be earned in the app through various actions." - Virtex AMA
The Virtex Stadium offers a unique experience besides watching matches, you can create your own character to hang out with your friends and fans in the lounge area or other interactive spaces such as the plaza, bar or balcony.
The project is without a doubt ambitious and could help shape the future of remote esports viewing, giving spectators the ability to feel the arena atmosphere while hanging with their friends and chatting about the game in the comfort of their homes.
All that, in addition to giving new perspectives and angles to follow the matches from as it could even help teams and analysts to a degree in analyzing the game using the Skybox integration.
Virtex Stadium's overall aim is to enhance the viewing experience and enhance it during lulls in the action with it's lobby and social features. However, as much as the whole concept is exciting and innovative, it can turn to the worst and kill the fun in watching an FPS esport. What makes watching games thrilling is spectating the POV of the best players in the world, it’s the flicks from a player to another, the small details of throwing a nade lineup and especially the crisp headshot kills.
While fans will still be able to watch the official stream on virtual screens, watching from the stands or in the third person angles could have the chance of stymying the overall experience.
As such, when Virtex Stadium leaves its beta it will need to ensure that it creates an experience that keeps fan engagement high and doesn't hinder the game in favor of gimmicks. With that in mind, while the product is free, VR users are likely to try the unique experience, however only time will tell if it is a gimmick or a legitimate way to engage with esports.