I’m ready to proclaim Facebook Spaces the killer app that VR has been waiting for. Despite owning every single consumer VR headset since the Oculus Rift DK1, there has been nothing out there that drew me back into VR day after day. Until Spaces.
Since its release I’ve spent a couple hours just about every day goofing off in the incredible social VR world of Facebook Spaces with my VR friends from around the world.
It hits the nail on the head in just about every way. The social presence is unmatched. The user interface is relatively intuitive. Hell, it’s even making me enjoy 360 videos, something I always thought was impossible.
The great thing about Spaces is the ability to put on a 360 video to play all around you. So far, these fall into two main categories, the videos you put on to watch with your full attention and the ones you put on as background for just hanging out.
The main problem we’ve been running into with Spaces is that there just isn’t that much to do. There’s only so many times you can watch the same 360 video about Angel Falls.
For Facebook Spaces to succeed it needs a steady stream of exciting, visually appealing content. And while the 360 filmmakers of the world are hard at work creating all kinds of incredible films, there is another deep well of content out there that would be the perfect complement for Facebook Spaces – Esports and game streaming.
Social VR & Esports – A Match Made in Heaven
For the uninitiated, the idea of video games being popular sports sounds as ridiculous as … people socializing in virtual reality. But the days when you could plausibly dismiss Esports are in the past, today Esports are a multimillion dollar industry which sells out the biggest stadiums in the world for competitions and regularly appears on ESPN.
Right now, most people watch Esports on Twitch, the popular game streaming service that Amazon bought for $1 billion. These streams attract tens of thousands of users, bantering in the chat and reacting in real time.
And it won’t be long until they’re watching these streams in VR. By their very nature, Esports are perfectly positioned to be ported to VR, either through a 360 video stream of the game or preferably, a complete 3D generated environment which viewers can explore. The amount of interesting and unique content going to Twitch daily dwarfs anything else that is available to social VR right now.
And the best part is that all of the incredible environments and visual effects from 2D games will be available to VR viewers without having to completely port the games to VR.
Unlike a 360 livestream of a traditional sport, watching Esports in social VR is undoubtedly the single best way to experience it, because VR can take you in the game. A 360 video of a basketball game will always be at least a little inferior to being there, but a stream of the Dota 2 championship will never be better than streaming live in a social VR space like Facebook Spaces with your friends.
Of course, for that to happen, Dota 2 would have to be available as a streaming option in Facebook Spaces. Valve has actually built a social VR viewer for Dota 2 matches which is embedded within the current Dota client. While a good first step, the real benefit of Esports in VR are only going to come when there is a singular hub where people can explore a variety of different streams from different games.
After all, it wasn’t until Twitch came along that Esports became as huge as they did, even though games included the ability to spectate for ages. It will be interesting to see if Valve works out their own SteamVR social experience for streaming and whether that impacts potential Facebook attempts to get into Esports streaming. But there are dozens of popular Esports titles and it seems quite likely Facebook could convince some of them to integrate with Spaces.
With Spaces, Facebook has cracked a number of important pieces of the puzzle toward making VR an enjoyable daily activity for a large number of people. The product looks great, feels great and truly lets you feel like you’re hanging out with friends from around the world. However, without a steady stream of interesting and visually engaging content, it’s hard to see how it can maintain its strong early momentum.
It remains to be seen if they will take the next step toward incorporating Esports as a sustainable method of high quality content, but if they do, Twitch and the rest of the players in the Esports world will surely want to take notice. Personally, I can’t wait to crack open a beer, boot up the headset and watch some intense Overwatch battles with my friends from around the world.