If you pay much attention to the entertainment and gaming industries, you won’t be surprised to learn that eSports is still growing. Revenues are expected to reach $696 million this year, and could grow to $1.5 billion in the very near future. In case you’re not familiar with the concept, eSports basically means competitive video gaming for spectators. Individuals and teams face off to play games in front of massive audiences either on the internet or, sometimes, in actual arenas. Gameplay is broadcast for all to see, and the atmosphere isn’t so different from that of a real sporting event.
Given the growth of this industry, it should probably come as no surprise that we’ve also begun to see the rise of something called virtual sports. These are essentially fake sporting events pieced together through animation and motion capture, and run with, essentially, randomizing A.I. Believe it or not, people are betting on outcomes – mostly with virtual horse and hound races and tennis matches, for now. But this form of gaming and entertainment actually represents an interesting area to keep an eye on in both A.I. and general entertainment tech. So it’s only fair to ask: what’s next in this curious new arena?
It’s fair to say that autosports are a natural fit. We’ve written about racing results ourselves, and there are numerous forms of this sport that are popular all over the globe. With regard to scoring and outcomes, racing lacks the complexity of other sports, which actually makes it ideal for this sort of activity. There’s a thrill in simply watching a quick even to see who finishes first, and it’s a format that will lend itself naturally to betting markets as well. Various forms of racing sports would seem almost certain to make it big in virtual sports.
We may see some competitive activities that aren’t quite sports emerging as well. For this, we should keep an eye on the casino gaming business, where theatrical elements have already been creeping into gaming. 3D animations have changed online slot machines to the point that players can experience an exciting new era of gaming based on characters and mini-games rather than just slots; poker platforms have begun to establish camera feeds to live human dealers. In other words, people are watching these games as much as playing them at this point. Poker tournaments in particular could easily be adapted as virtual sporting competitions to be watched and bet on rather than just played.
We could see major sports jump into this arena as well, even though they’ve been somewhat slow to do so in the early going. For instance, soccer (or football, depending on where you are) remains the world’s most popular sport. Basketball has already flirted with virtual viewership of a certain kind, with the NBA looking to stay ahead of the curve by establishing its own eSports league. Surely it’s a matter of when, and not if, these major sports inspire significant virtual sports markets.
And finally, we should also consider the idea that fake sports could become popular in this growing business. The one that will come to mind most readily for a lot of people is Quidditch, the fictional sport invented by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. Because it requires magic, the sport isn’t actually possible to play – but it could absolutely be simulated in exciting virtual events, giving fans their first opportunity to follow teams as if it’s a real sport.
This will undoubtedly all seem silly to some. But it’s a concept that’s only just beginning to gain attention, and it’s likely going to be a pretty big deal in the near future. If eSports can thrive to the extent that it already has, virtual sports are a natural next step.