The rise of eSports has introduced millions of people to a brand-new form of competition. Those who never felt pulled toward sports, as a player or as a viewer, might instead feel more engaged when watching an LoL or CoD match. They might even be training in the hopes of competing in an eSports league themselves someday.
As this new sector develops, so do its leagues, teams, and market reach. Today, FaZe Clan, Team Liquid, and 100 Thieves are some of the most recognized eSports teams in the world, to name but a few. They compete in MOBAs, FPS, and fighting games, amongst other categories. However, the most interesting digital competitions might not lie in the eSports arena.
This new competitive sphere has somewhat steered how and when people view digital forms of competition; namely, Twitch and YouTube have helped standardize the viewing experience. While eSports competitions existed before either platform, one primary obstacle was how to bring on new audiences without major TV network deals. Twitch and YouTube were ‘onboarding’ platforms for new gamers.
However, they’re now much more diverse. While Twitch and YouTube host some of the world’s most popular gamers and their exploits with leading titles, from Dota 2 to LoL, hosts, and subscribers are now branching out into new territories. Rather than hardcore eSports gaming, hosts are exploring more casual forms of competition that don’t fit into a traditional eSports category.
This means that eSports aren’t the only type of digital competition worth watching. In fact, when it comes to virtual contests, some competitions have been around longer than eSports. From online poker to flight simulators, the list of video game-adjacent competitions goes on and on.
Poker Goes Virtual… & Global
During the early 1990s, gaming was moving from massive arcade machines to at-home consoles like the Atari. However, there was one particular game going digital in a different way, leaping straight onto the internet and bypassing consoles almost entirely. In the 90s, poker rooms were some of the first websites to launch internationally on the World Wide Web.
During that same time, the invention of the ‘hole cam’ let viewers at home watch live poker games on TV with total visibility of all cards on the table. This, too, helped increase interest in the game. By the early 2000s, the online poker boom went global. Today, sites like PokerStars offer an unparalleled experience for poker buffs.
Here, they can compete in tournaments and sharpen their skills just like an eSports hopeful, then enter regional qualifiers and potentially even end up at an EPT or WSOP table.
Flight Simulation Challenges with MFS
As outlined by the popularity of online poker, not all virtual games need to be eSports or even traditional games. Such is the case with the famous Microsoft Flight Simulator. It was one of the first video games to emerge back in the 1980s and has retained its popularity with virtual pilots—and even official pilot training programs.
Microsoft just celebrated its 40th anniversary leading the world in flight simulation. Though it began as a PC game and was designed for sim fans, the developer recently ported it to Xbox. That means MFS is starting to broaden its reach as more traditional gamers try their hand at flying a Bowing jet or a helicopter on their home console.
Today, there are multiple global and regional competitions for players to enter, including an in-game racing mode with a global leaderboard and independent competitions such as those hosted by the ALBATROSS MFS racing series. These competitions are fully virtual, allowing remote players to join worldwide.
iRacing on a Big Rig
Speaking of simulations, they’re one of the least-covered and most popular forms of gaming. MFS allows players to pilot aircraft for fun and for education. The iRacing platform has done the same for at-home racers, whether they’re tinkering with a big rig truck, prepping for a rally race, or zooming through Monaco in an F1 car.
And, just like MFS and online poker, iRacing hosts competitions that span the globe—and they’re incredibly varied. Just like a poker player can choose between variants like Texas Hold ’em and Omaha, an iRacing fan can choose what sort of vehicle to soup up.
NASCAR has done particularly well with the platform. Top racers from NASCAR regularly compete in iRacing competitions. The platform also incorporates real-life rules and settings from NASCAR, F1, and other motor vehicle competitions to maintain a high level of realism. In other words, the sim is so passable that professional drivers are often stunned by the quality of the gaming experience.
Enter: A Sports Metaverse
One of the most interesting things to consider when looking at the future of digital competition is the rise of the metaverse. As virtual locations like Decentraland start to gain more influence and traction with users, they will be prime locations for new competitions to pop up in.
At this time, it looks like professional sports are already staking a claim in the metaverse. This could have a huge impact on sports simulation developers like EA Sports and 2K—unless, of course, they find a way to embed their games into the virtual world immediately. But what would this look like?
Professional sports teams were some of the most influential investors and organizers in early eSports. Could they extend that influence into the metaverse? At the moment, teams like the MLB’s Atlanta Braves are building digital twins of their stadiums, but who will play there in the future? Will it be virtual twins of their actual players? Or could there be an entirely new Braves roster that competes in a metaverse affiliate league?
Similarly, the NFL has opened up a ‘Roblox experience,’ which is designed to help the league reach new and younger audiences. However, given the intrinsic nature of the NFL and MLB, there’s likely going to be some kind of competition rolled out there soon.
Casual Gaming: Virtual Trivia Night… & a Virtual Murder Mystery
While Roblox and Decentraland could potentially create an entirely new type of eSports competition, not all virtual contests need to be so serious. Instead, two of the unique new types of games are being played on video-sharing platforms like Zoom and in VR-ready worlds like Decentraland.
These competitions include trivia games and murder mysteries. The growing popularity of these types of titles correlates directly to the rise of casual mobile games. As casual titles like Fruit Ninja and Subway Surfer introduce new generations to recreational gaming, they’re more likely to search for more and more intriguing games.
Moving forward, will casual games continue to rise in popularity? Already, murder mystery games are taking off. There are tons of themes available, ranging from murder in Ancient Egypt to Elizabethan London. Sometimes, these are fully virtual. Other times, players can purchase a pack that includes a virtual representative to host the game.
Obviously, these types of ‘competitions’ are largely about recreation. There’s no leaderboard, regional qualifier, or chance to compete in a global championship… at least, not yet. There are a few hints that this might happen in the future. For example, escape rooms took off worldwide as a recreational way to solve a puzzle and literally escape a room. Though purely for entertainment, there’s now an Escape Room Championship for the world’s top Houdinis. Going forward, if virtual trivia nights and murder mysteries prove popular enough, they might soon be the subject of amateur competitions.