North America Takes World Title in Intel’s VR Challenger League and Other News

It’s been two years since the HTC Vive released the first high-end virtual reality headset. Since then, we’ve seen the rise of Rift, cryptocurrency-inflated hardware prices, the entrance of Microsoft, and the humble beginnings of VR esports leagues. While the platform and medium hasn’t exploded into every gamer’s home, we’ve seen steady growth and continued investment from both entertainers and educators. But what’s happening in the world of VR right now? Let’s take a quick look.

1. Ec.LIP.se and Charizard Take Home VRCL World Title at IEM Katowice

Nearly a year after the Oculus Rift hit consumer’s hands, Intel in partnership with both ESL and Oculus announced the first VR esports leagues. The VR Challenger League featured two games: The Unspoken and Echo Arena.

The Unspoken pits two opponents against each other in a magical dual of both wits and strategy. Players can pick from various classes and earn new magical spells and objects to up the ante. But everything eventually comes down to strategy in a best of three arena style battle to the death.

Echo Arena is an Ender’s Game-esque game of frisbee. You play an Echo Unit derived from the single-player Lone Echo by Ready at Dawn. Armed only with your fists, wrist boosters, and a jetpack, you must work with your two other teammates to score against the other team. Stun your opponents with your fists, gain possession of the disk, and score. It sounds easy, but it’s harder than it looks as you must think in three dimensions and deal with zero gravity physics. That disc will fly straight (forgetting there is no gravity is a rookie mistake).

For 24 weeks both leagues battled it out every weekend in single elimination brackets vying for a $50 per player prize and points toward access to the grand championships at the Intel Extreme Masters in Katowice, Poland, the world’s largest eSports expo. Players from North America and Europe could participate in their respective leagues, a mid-season regionals contest allowing one team per region automatic entry into the finals.

Competition was fierce this last weekend (March 3-4th) as Charizard blasts Flushgogo off his platform to take first after a grueling day of battling four other magicians.

Jacks and Ec.LIP.se were both regional champions in their respective regions. And it showed on Saturday night as Jacks took Ec.LIP.se to the third round in Echo Arena twice before losing and conceding second in the world championships. Ec.LIP.se is the world champion of Echo Arena until next year when their title is up for grabs in VRCL season 2.

2. The Oculus Rift Overtakes the HTC Vive

From the get-go, the Oculus Rift lagged behind the HTV Vive. Not only was their launch fraught with delays getting them out of the gate a full half a year late, Oculus refused to acknowledge the supremacy of room-scale VR experiences opting instead for seated or stationary standing experiences. As Oculus slowly integrated motion controls, room-scale, and finally a major price drop, their headset slowly gained on HTC’s market share.

Each month Steam conducts a hardware survey measuring current trends in the PC component market. Consistently the Vive always beats out the Rift in both sales and market share. But the month of February shows a different trend. Rift broke out ahead of Vive with a 47% market share.

3. RecRoom Adds VRChat-like Player Created Rooms and a New Quest

Before VRChat, there was RecRoom. It’s a social VR experience for Steam, Oculus, PSVR where players could play dodgeball, laser tag, and go on silly quests together. The game featured a nostalgic and cartoony high school motif and players had little control of the content presented.

VRChat changed this trend as it pushed similar social games platforms to compete and adapt. RecRoom recently added a player-created rooms module allowing players to create mockups of cities, build castles, and create their own quests.

But RecRoom still shines best when it sticks to its original formula. They’ve built massive paintball and laser tag arenas, written entertaining quests where it’s near impossible to win without your friends, and continued to enforce community behavior better than any other social platform.

They recently released a new quest called the “Isle of Lost Skulls.” Original quests were merely battle centric. Rarely did you need to solve a puzzle or could you get lost. But Lost Skulls takes a different approach.

You’re a pirate trapped in a cell and your first order of business is to figure out how to break out of your cell. You must then use anything you find to defeat the skeletons keeping you prisoner. This often means picking up a broom or a skillet and bashing them over the head.

Swords break and cannons open up secret passages. What lays at the end of the quest? Only the bravest pirate knows exactly. This is probably the best quest RecRoom has to offer.

4. Oculus Announces Go Performs Better Than S7

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg stood up in front of the thousands and announced that he planned on having a VR headset in one billion homes by 2019. This is an optimistic goal, but if Oculus’ John Carmack is to be believed, the next few iterations of headsets from Oculus might come close to achieving this dream.

The Oculus Go is Oculus’ all-in-one mobile step-up from the GearVR. While the Gear required an expensive cell phone (preferable a new-ish Samsung), the new Go includes a screen and hardware capable of running VR software. And John Carmack claims that it will perform much better than your Galaxy S7 in a GearVR.

It’s hard to tell how much is marketing and how much is truth. But the Go has several things going for it despite fairly impressive specs. Price, its all-in-oneness, and its motion controller.

To operate the GearVR you either touched the controls embedded in the headset or you used an untracked remote. The Go comes with a tracked motion controller. While this isn’t your touch controller with finger presence, it gives users a level of hand-presence no other stand-alone headset provides.

No phone required. When the Gear came out, you needed to buy an $800 phone just to operate it. And the price of the gear was $200 originally. That’s $1k for an upgraded phone-holder. The GO includes the hardware you would normally see in your phone. Now that it’s been two years since Oculus began production on anything VR related, they’ve had time to perfect manufacturing. Their components are both custom and cheap making it possible to sell an all-in-one VR headset at the low price of $200.

The Future of VR is Mighty

Esports, mobile headsets, massive-multiplayer experiences, and dropping prices, this is looking more and more like the beginnings of a new world of computer interaction and gaming. Give virtual reality another few years, and we’ll see whole worlds of possibility open up. Hopefully, investors remain hopeful and the deep pockets of Facebook and HTC will continue to launch our VR dreams into the future.

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