Lyncconf Games/ Flickr
Lyncconf Games/ Flickr

How virtual reality is shaping the future of eSport and fitness

Comedies from the ‘90s have instilled into our brains the image of gamers being anti-social, never leaving their rooms surrounded by energy drinks and snacks, rarely doing any exercise apart from twiddling their thumbs on the joysticks. We know that this couldn’t be further from the truth in reality.  Many gamers are now breaking a sweat getting fit thanks to playing games in virtual reality (VR). With eSports becoming increasingly popular, VR is becoming the backbone and stage upon which eSports and fitness interact.

When it comes to exercise, a very small number of people actually enjoy it, while the majority of us persevere to reap the benefits. We do anything we can to distract ourselves from the aches and stitches by trying to focus on whatever show is playing on the TV, listening to music, or playing that racing game on the exercise bike. The idea of ‘exertainment’ (i.e. exercise and entertainment) is not a new one, and dates back to the ‘90s with exercise bikes mounted with a TV and a Nintendo console. After that came ‘gamercising’ (gaming and exercising) with Wii Fit and Xbox Kinect Sports. However, now with VR in the mix we can really transform our exercise experience. So, what makes VR eSports special?

It seems that VR allows users to be immersed in a virtual world so much so they forget they’re working out.

While the world you’re exercising in may not be real, the results are. It seems that VR allows users to be immersed in a virtual world so much so they forget they’re working out. VR and  eSports is the perfect combination for lovers of sport and gaming that brings something different to the table. Tim McGuinness, top VR eSports player, explained that VR allows for games that can’t exist in our world: “You point me to the nearest place I can play zero gravity team sports in.”

VR fitness and eSports are allowing people to join a community of gamers while helping them get healthier. Tim Donahey, a personal trainer and former competitive power lifter, decided to join the community when he found himself out of shape and looking for an escape. He described how quickly VR fitness games can mobilise you, increasing your heart rate and breathing: “I thought, I can cheat my way back into shape – I’ve found a shortcut into fitness.’” Donahey set himself a 50-day challenge and chronicles his experience on Reddit. Not only did he lose weight, but gained a business idea to start a VR fitness club at a local gym.

You could burn around 450 calories after half an hour by playing ‘Thrill of the Fight’ with the added benefit of not having to be punched.

At first thought, it’s easy to think that VR fitness games can’t really be as effective as they sound – how much exercise can you really do with a headset and two controllers? However,  Kim Pallister, director of Intel’s Virtual Reality Centre of Excellence, says that “these games are actually fairly physical” and some, like ‘Knockout League’, a boxing simulator, are a real killer workout. Aside from virtual boxing and zero gravity football, there’s a number of VR fitness games already developed – and the industry is nowhere near done yet.

If you’ve ever dreamt of flying on a mythical Pegasus, or becoming a helicopter firing a missile, ‘VirZOOM Arcade’ is a  game that allows you to do just that (although in reality you will actually be pedalling a VR stationary bike). ‘Space Pirate Trainer’ will have you dodging bullets and blasting robots, burning up to 180 calories after just 30 minutes of gameplay. And if that’s not enough, you could burn around 450 calories after half an hour by playing ‘Thrill of the Fight’ with the added benefit of not having to be punched.

If you want to take it to the next level and join a league, you currently have three options in the VR eSports industry: Virtual Athletics League, VR Master League, and VR Challenger League. If you’re not quite ready to compete for the top sport just yet, you can simply enjoy a cardio workout while battling virtual characters or collecting long-lost artefacts. It seems that with VR fitness, the virtual sky is the limit.

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