A number of the attractions of watching live sports carry over into esports. However, unless you’re watching an esports tournament in person, a lot of those attractions go away. Interactions with other fans are limited. The game view is limited. The game is flattened and there’s little environment ambiance. Virtex wants to fix that.
A History of Virtex
Virtex co-founders Tim Mcguinness and Christoph Ortlepp met at an esports event in 2019. Mcguinness presented the idea of “taking that whole experience that we were doing there in the physical world and bringing it into the virtual world,” Ortlepp said in a video call with ARPost. The two officially launched the company in 2020.
The following year saw the company’s first major hires (and its first coverage from ARPost). The company was focusing on integrating Echo VR and needed permission from Meta (then Facebook), who purchased the game’s developer Ready At Dawn in 2022.
“The first thing we had to do was get something that we could show to Meta,” said Ortlepp. “For us, Echo was a good community to start with.”
Virtex got the green light from Meta. It also got Jim Purbrick who had previously been a technical director at Linden Lab and an engineering manager for Oculus.
“Moderation is an area where he had a big impact on us,” said Ortlepp. “We need live moderators to keep people safe… If now we have two or three hundred people in the platform, what if we have ten thousand people? Can we keep users safe and prevent a toxic environment?”
Meta’s support also meant that Virtex could finally launch its beta application. The beta is still technically closed – meaning that it isn’t on any app store, and you have to go through the Virtex website to access it. However, the closed beta isn’t limited. Testers have the opportunity to participate in “test sessions” – live streamed games every Thursday.
The platform held its first major tournament in December, with another about to kick off as this article was being written. Games are scheduled every week into the spring.
A Tour of the Stadium
Right now, the Virtex virtual world consists of a stadium entrance, a lounge area, and a commentator booth in addition to the stadium itself.
“The purpose [of the entrance and lounge] is really to set the stage for the user, to welcome them,” said Ortlepp.
In the lounge, users can socialize, modify their avatars (through a Ready Player Me integration), and even watch a miniaturized version of the live match. The lounge itself is still being developed with plans for mini-games and walls of fame. Connected areas including a virtual store and bar area are also in the works.
In the stadium itself, users can see and interact with other spectators. They can watch a 3D reproduction of the live game in real time, or watch a Twitch stream of the game on a jumbo screen above the stadium floor.
“We feature the video because we didn’t want to take away from esports viewers what they’re currently used to,” said Ortlepp. Virtex wants to give spectators options to explore viewing in new ways, without leaving them in an entirely unfamiliar setting.
A teleport system allows faster movement to different areas of the stadium, including the stadium floor to watch from within the game or even follow players through the action. This is possible thanks to the unique solution that Virtex has developed for recreating the game within the virtual stadium.
The studio also adds special recording and hosting tools like camera bots for streaming games within the stadium to Twitch and YouTube. Aspects of the stadium’s appearance can even be changed to match whatever game is being played.
“We are the platform. Ideally, we don’t ever want to be the content creators,” said Ortlepp. “So we have certain user modes for the ones that are actually operating the tournaments.”
When Can We Expect an App?
Virtex Stadium is up and running. But, the team plans to spend at least the next few months in their “closed” beta phase. For one thing, they really want to have their moderation plan in place before making the app more discoverable. They’re also still collecting feedback on their production tools – and thinking of new ones.
Further, while the platform currently has a decent schedule, the team wants to work with more games and more gaming communities. That includes other VR titles as well as more traditional esports. Ideally, one day, something will be happening in Virtex no matter when a user signs in.
“Where do we take it from here? There are no standards – no one has done this before,” said Ortlepp. “The virtual home of esports is basically the vision. It’s something we don’t claim yet – we have to earn it.”
It’s Not Too Early to Check It Out
Everything about Virtex is exciting, from their plans for the virtual venue itself, to their passion and concern for their community. Ortlepp said that the company is “careful about making dated timeline promises.” In a way that’s a little frustrating but it’s only because the company would rather hold off on something amazing than push something that falls short of their vision.