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A player equipped with the Oculus Rift Virtual Reality System including controllers, sensors, and helmet (Left). An in-game capture of the player's robotic avatar inside Echo Arena (Right). Photo by Josh Diaz.

 

Imagine you’re flying through space. Your robotic opponents in hot pursuit, desperately attempting to steal the disk from your hand as you careen towards their goal, en route to a substantial cash prize.

Now imagine all of this taking place in a three metre by three metre space.

Welcome to the world of virtual reality sports. Welcome to Echo Arena.

Developed by Ready At Dawn Studios and first teased at the virtual reality gaming convention, Oculus Connect 4 in March, 2017, Echo Arena was the first multiplayer competitive virtual reality sports game.

What could be described as futuristic-combat-frisbee-golf with a twist, Echo Arena combines the physical exertion of sports with the gameplay elements of a video game. Two teams of three compete in a zero gravity competition, as they attempt to throw or carry a disc into the enemy's goal. Defense involves attempting to steal the disc or punching the opposing player in their virtual head which will temporarily stun them.

While players move in the real world, their virtual reality system maps out their motions using sensors on the helmet and the controllers, and transfers them to an in-game robotic avatar.

The result?

Almost perfect movement tracking and mechanics. Your body movement, coordinated with the various buttons on the hand controllers, allow you to grab, throw, and boost all over the arena, all while never moving out of your real life play space.  

The game is currently one of the most popular games on the Oculus Virtual Reality market. Owners of either an Oculus Rift Virtual Reality System or the HTC Vive Virtual Reality System have been able to download and play the game for free since July, 2017.

With thousands of copies of the game sold all over the world, Echo Arena has allowed people thousands of kilometres away to come together and play the new sport in the comfort of their own home.  

Noah Link, an Echo Arena player from Saskatoon, Sask., recently picked up the game for his Oculus Rift. He says so far the game has given him more than he expected.

“There’s this human element to it that you simply don’t get in a traditional video game,” explained Link. When you see a person in the game, that’s a real person. You can wave, and make gestures, talk to them… and then when you’re playing you can punch them in the head!” laughed Link.

But for some Echo Arena is more than just a game. It’s a career.

Much like in traditional sports, a professional Echo Arena league was quickly established, known as the VR Challenger League. The top players receive sponsorships, with the chance to travel all over the world and play in front of stadiums packed with gaming fans.

Julian, or Palidore as he goes by in the game, plays Echo Arena out of his home in Phoenix Ariz. He’s logged over 1500 hours into the game and is currently one of the top 10 players in the world.

“I was always a gamer, but I always felt detached from what I was playing. Virtual reality is so visceral… so satisfying because you’re actually in the game,” explained Palidore. “I never thought I would be a professional gamer. Echo Arena has given me so many incredible opportunities to meet people and do the thing I love.”

Palidore, along with his team “Eclipse” will be heading to the international gaming tournament IEM Katowice in Poland in March to compete for the Echo Arena Grand Finals, and a share of the over $200 thousand dollar prize pool.

Since the conception of the game, dozens of other virtual reality sports games have made it to market. Everything from traditional sports like basketball and soccer, to more abstract sports like Echo Arena itself. Although, Echo Arena is currently the only game that can be played on a professional level, due to its popularity, and well refined game mechanics.

Ready at Dawn Studios is expected to continue support the game for a second season, and has also hinted at a new game similar to Echo Arena called Echo Combat.

With the season is wrapping up, fans of the game eagerly await what's to come.

“It’s this perfect marriage of sport and video game,” explained Palidore.

“There’s so much potential here.”