It’s eSports, people playing high-end video games for serious money.
I was somewhat shocked when my son insisted on buying a powerful desktop PC before heading to graduate school. I had failed to understand, from my couch in front of the TV, that gaming is now the tip of the PC spear. (No wonder I got to choose what shows to watch.)
Only video games press the power of the latest chips and systems. Every other application set, especially my own work in writing about technology, or my son’s academic work, learning about how to create new molecules, can be done with relatively low-end gear and a cloud connection.
Graphics make the virtual worlds on a video game screen appear to the player as real, or they try to.
The need for low latency makes it hard to get the most out of multi-player video games using a typical Internet connection, which is limited to delivering the lowest maximum speed along its path.
Playing in a purpose-built video gaming arena solves all problems. The graphics are as good as the best hardware and the biggest displays. Optical data signals only travel within the arena, so latency problems are eliminated.
The result is a spectacle people will pay to watch.
That’s the key to building such arenas, having people pay to watch. It’s an experience that leaves me cold, but people my son’s age love. He first began watching other people play games on Twitch, now owned by Amazon. Many of his contemporaries are now into eSports, which is growing like a California forest fire.
The sport started simply, with players ponying up a stake and the winner taking it. In time hundreds began playing, millions began watching, the stakes grew, and purpose-built arenas were built in office parks, warehouses, and former department stores. The biggest events can now take place in the same arenas that basketball teams like the Golden State Warriors use.
The sport is already creating its own stars.TV networks are being built around eSports and these are global efforts because gaming is a universal language. Players are being trained like pro athletes, and game companies are fighting to open leagues around their software.
But what’s most important to note about eSports is that today’s games, and today’s experiences, are like a mid-80s IBM PC. They are primitive. There is already a Virtual Reality tournament being planned with a livestream available to anyone with VR goggles.
VR goggles will, within five years, look as dated as a flip phone does now. As game makers continue to push the envelope, they will switch from games played on PCs to games played in custom data center racks using cloud technology, with fiber optic cabling. These will then become virtual worlds, and new arcades will be created to house them, some geared to the spectacle and others geared toward players, the market whose parents rode around on Go-Kart tracks or went bowling under flashing lights.
Goggles will in time be replaced by something like body suits, for a truly immersive experience, and as time passes these suits will thin out, becoming less burdensome to wear. Your “clothes” in the game will be displayed to others via these sensors, and you will enter a virtual world, much like the Holodeck of Star Trek: The Next Generation series 30 years ago. Violent games will push that envelope, allowing you to quite literally feel something like the pain of death when you are taken out. Virtual sex will probably lead the way here – porn usually leads technology markets forward because people so willingly pay for it over other experiences.
Eventually all of this will leave the arcades and return to the home, changing the nature of recreation rooms and entertainment. Whatever story line you like – classic, romance, sci-fi, war, thriller, character or comedy – you will be able to immerse yourself in that world at-will with the right software and data connection.
This is the gaming technology path that will be pursued as I age out. In 20 years or so, seniors like myself will be able to escape our infirmities and travel deep into our dreams, as was the idea with Second Life almost 20 years ago. Arcades will become a big market in nursing homes. Gaming may also revolutionize education, although that market badly trails the pace of change because schools can’t afford constant upgrades of hardware and software.
What today’s eSports entrepreneurs are looking at is not a hockey stick of profit, in other words, but the tip of an investment iceberg that is transformative, that runs deep, but that will require a lot more capital expenditure than they now imagine it will.
The eSports arenas now being built will become like movie theaters, pushing the envelope of what is possible with cloud technology and virtual display. That technology will filter down into different kinds of facilities, as software is developed that makes it essential to each vertical market, and then into the home, first for the wealthy, then the upper middle-class, and eventually to everyone. People the age of my son will direct all this, because they’re the target market, they grew up with the Internet, just as my generation developed TV while creating the initial Internet technology for others to push forward. This will be their creation.
If you’re depressed and thinking of leaving this world, in other words, don’t. Technology will take you away.