In recent weeks the developers of Eleven Table Tennis have been dealing with something that’s not exactly common for a virtual reality title. So many people were playing at the same time that the servers crashed. While frustrating for those affected, the temporary setback puts a spotlight on what might become a new trend for VR.
Is VR keeping alive sports that can’t be safely or affordably played in the physical world? Is it even introducing new players to those games? And is it possible more people seek out the physical version of their pandemic pastimes once it is safe to do so?
While we’ll have to wait to see what the answers to some of these questions are, there is some anecdotal evidence already of an answer to the first question.
Yes, some people are keeping their love of ping pong alive during a pandemic through VR.
Is VR now home to one of the largest table tennis clubs in existence?
There are tens of thousands of people who purchased Eleven Table Tennis in 2020 for around $20 on the Oculus Quest and Oculus Quest 2 standalone headsets. It is also available on PC VR headsets as well with cross-play available between the different VR systems.
For that one-time price, players get unlimited access to a kind of table tennis club of sorts. Ping pong clubs exist in lots of major cities around the world with players paying a membership fee to meet up once a week or so in community or recreation centers to play a more serious version of the game most people only know from the garage or backyard.
The key difference is that Eleven is 100% pandemic-safe, unlike every other ping pong club in the world where people toss a physical ball in the air before hitting it to an opponent in the same room. The biggest risk to your body playing Eleven from the safety of your own home is that you might try leaning on a table that isn’t physically there. And that’s a legitimate concern — just check the reviews for the game where people mention the risk — because of just how completely the software makes you believe the table is actually there.
And all those people buying the game and stuck inside throughout 2020 means that right now, in the middle of a pandemic, at any given moment hundreds of people around the world are playing ping pong in Eleven Table Tennis. Arguably, that makes Eleven Table Tennis one of the largest and most active table tennis clubs in the world. During a recent sale which temporarily discounted Eleven’s price, the game’s lead developer says there were 820 concurrent players online in the game.
Social Play In A Pandemic
77 percent of the reviews for Eleven Table Tennis on the Oculus Quest store are five star reviews. If you wade into them and read past the reviews praising the game despite the threat of actual physical injury due to leaning on the virtual table — you’ll see the reviews from people praising the game for getting them through the pandemic.
“The short story is this app…turned the Quest 2 from something I was considering returning, to something I play for multiple hours a day. It’s that good,” wrote user AlexSowT in a review. “I was an avid table tennis player in real life, and since lockdown, have been bumbed I could not play…its like being back at the office playing table tennis until the late evening.”
“I’m writing this review to thank the developer because Eleven has seriously been an important element in my piece of mind mid-pandemic whilst working from home. At the office I would play table tennis every lunch time and I lost that joy when we were all forced indoors,” wrote TenaciousThumbs.
“I’m glad this game exists, especially since I own an outdoor ping pong table which I don’t use in the winter, so this game serves as a great replacement,” wrote sparklezfan1000.
”I am currently rated ~2300 in the game. After two months of practice, I can now loop the ball pretty well on both my forehand and backhand. The trick is to slow down my stroke. And focus more on improving hand eye coordination in the VR world, which actually took me a while to calibrate. I know that will affect my real game, but it is still better than not practicing at all during the lockdown,” wrote VRGoldenL.
”As someone who likes to play table tennis in real life, this is amazingly like the real thing….multiplayer is great too…comes into its own in lockdown,” wrote Dom321.
”Forget about your dream of buying a real ping pong table. This is the real thing,” wrote Maldororr.
Paddle Adapters And Phase Sync
The developers of Eleven Table Tennis as well as the players of the game are working together to make it even more realistic.
Fans of Eleven have already made a number of adapters for the Oculus Quest controllers. The adapters hold an Oculus Touch controller for you, freeing your grip to instead hold the accessory that’s 3D printed to feel more like a physical paddle. You could print them at home on your own 3D printer, or purchase one from a site like Sanlaki. The latest $24.99 adapter comes in right-handed or left-handed versions with a reusable fastener to lock the controller in place.
While Oculus Touch controllers take AA batteries, it is even possible to get AAA lightweight rechargeable batteries and place them in a plastic adapter to lower the overall weight of the controller. The end result is an experience in VR which even more closely matches the overall feel of a physical ping pong paddle in terms of weight, grip and the overall center of gravity.
In addition, an update currently being tested for the game takes advantage of Facebook’s “phase sync” technology which should shave milliseconds off the perceptible latency in the game. The update should enable players to make tiny corrections to their fastest swings and see those actions matched up in game more accurately.