When we talk about virtual reality and the VR glasses that come with it, everybody’s first thought is of the potential for games themselves—or of how we might experience films with VR glasses in the future. What often doesn’t occur to people is that virtual reality could also be used for live broadcasts—notably in games. However, with the new Dota 2 virtual reality spectator mode, Valve clearly shows that this really does work. Is it possible that, in the future, we will be able to follow eSports and experience everything first-hand with the help of VR glasses? As co-producer of the HTC Vive and developer of Dota 2, the Steam operators appear to be pioneers, having developed a spectator mode for the MOBA which uses the potential of VR glasses.
VR and Dota 2: How it Works
You first start as a spectator in the Dota 2 VR hub—a virtual environment where all avatars of the current game stand in a semicircle along with a large live map, and where the live stream of the commentators can also be seen. The more eventful part is accessed via the map, and the combination of Dota 2 and virtual reality really starts to take hold. You find yourself in the middle of the battlefield and can witness all the action first-hand that you would otherwise only be able to follow and take part in from above. Alternatively, with the help of the Vive controller, it’s also possible to switch position or zoom out so that you are “floating” over the action. The controlling of the Dota 2 VR spectator mode needs all sorts of fine-tuning and adjustments but, on the whole, works exactly as you would imagine it to.
At the Heart of the Action, Not Just Present: VR at Dota 2 International
The update with the virtual reality spectator mode was published to coincide with the biggest Dota 2 tournament, “The International 2016” in Seattle (3rd-16th August 2016) so that, at the beginning of August, all Vive owners could use the new feature. Thanks to VR, the Dota 2 pros are closer than ever before, providing a whole new perspective of the professional matches. With the help of live commentary and the option to position yourself as you like, matches between the top teams, such as Team Liquid, Natus Vincere, OG, Team Secret, Fnatic etc., take on an almost cinematic characteristic. The fact that Dota 2 uses VR for the spectator mode is not only revolutionary for the game itself, but could also represent a huge step for eSports as a whole.
eSports: Spectator Stands in Virtual Reality?
This could also be an interesting concept for other big titles in the eSports arena, and could fundamentally transform eSports as an entertainment product. A feature like the Dota 2 VR spectator mode is also conceivable for countless other games—for Counter Strike: Global Offensive, for example, also developed by Valve. Instead of following specific games, spectators could find a seat in the virtual world from which they can better observe the action, as they are practically in the middle of the battlefield. Equally conceivable are virtual stadiums, whereby spectators could take a seat with the help of their VR glasses, which, for sports games in particular, would help to ensure an authentic atmosphere.
Conclusion: The Hardware is (Still) Lacking
The Dota 2 VR patch is a big step for the broadcasting of and spectator experience at eSports events, as the mode gives further insight into what is possible with virtual reality aside from games and special films. Whether VR in eSports carries through for spectators essentially depends on two factors: On the one hand, on the interest of the developer studios in integrating relevant features into their games; and on the other hand, which is considerably more important, if and when VR glasses will enter the mainstream. As yet, virtual reality is something for fans, as the glasses themselves and the required hardware are simply too expensive for the average gamer. Equally narrow is the target group for these VR spectator modes, and developer studios currently have very little incentive to grapple with them. With the Dota 2 VR spectator mode, Valve is an exceptional case, as the company also wants to push the popularity of the HTC Vive.