Virtuix Debuts eSports-Focused VR Offering
With a $50K Prize Pool, Founder Hopes to Invigorate the LBE VR Market
by Casey Minter
Building on the success and learning gained through its first introduction, Virtuix’s innovative Omni VR treadmill, company founder Jan Goetgeluk and his team have forged ahead and introduced a brand-new product at IAAPA, the Omniverse VR Arena. Not only does it provide fun VR action for players, it also comes with an exciting eSports component with prize money to boot!
A four-player experience using Virtuix’s brand-new Omni 2.0 platform, the VR Arena requires one attendant and covers around 375 sq. ft. To bring it to market, the company teamed up with Funovation, resulting not only in flashy, impressive gameplay, but also an unmissable, neon-lit look. It’s flanked by multiple monitors for spectators, and equipped with cameras that can be used to broadcast gameplay to the waiting crowd or even to the growing hordes of Twitch viewers.
“It’s a spectacle, both for the players and for the viewers. We want to move away from the Omni being just a device that lets you walk around in VR,” Goetgeluk said. “It’s not just about walking naturally in VR, but about having an awesome experience in a new way.”
Thus, the $50,000 Virtuix is pledging to contribute for organized, globally-ranked eSports competitions held through the new VR Arena. So far, one of the most common criticisms of the medium has been lackluster repeatability. Most customers will absolutely love their first time through a VR experience, but due to a host of factors, hardly seem to want to try it more than once. Goetgeluk believes that by adding a prize pool, players will be encouraged to continue playing, getting better each time so they can take on the best other players from all over.
“We’ve been organizing eSports tournaments since 2016, and we’ve learned that competitive gaming boosts revenues,” Goetgeluk continued. “Ongoing prize contests result in repeat play by guests and build a community of frequent and loyal players.”
The new attraction will ship with 18 games that the Virtuix devs have been working to optimize for the out-of-home industry, and Goetgeluk emphasizes that not all of them require players to finish sweaty with their adrenaline pumping.
“Our VR Arena attraction is exciting to both elite gamers and casual players. It’s incredibly fun to run around inside your favorite game, and everyone has a chance to win,” he said.
Of those 18 games, Virtuix has created five in-house and pulled the other 13 from the growing library of third party-created games. The work isn’t as simple as downloading Superhot or Beat Saber though; Virtuix works directly with game developers to ensure the games will work properly on the Omni.
“We’ve tried to strike that easy-to-play, hard-to-master balance. It’s hard enough to learn that the true pros will take some time to master the depth. But it is important that really anybody can give it a try and have a great time,” he continued. “Ultimately, we hope to work with some of the big, AAA studios to bring well known, competitive games to the Omni, everything from Call of Duty to Counterstrike. It would be a dream come true to see a title like that on the Omni.”
Focusing on eSports is a forward-thinking play, with Goetgeluk saying that it’s the biggest thing people haven’t heard of. Nearly 500 million people worldwide watch eSports, with the number growing rapidly and some experts saying more 18-25 year old men watch eSports than traditional sports. This isn’t the first time Virtuix has ventured into competitive play. They hosted an eSports tournament in Shenzhen China as well as a tournament at CES in 2016.
“We’re getting in early and bringing it out of people’s homes,” he said.
The dream of creating products enabling players to roam indefinitely through countless worlds (and also make a profitable reality for buyers of the system) is one shared by Virtuix and its founder Goetgeluk, not to mention the others in the out-of-home VR market. The company’s first product, the Omni, took a lot of steps in that direction, both figuratively and literally as players donned plastic-soled shoes, harness and headset to navigate virtual worlds on the company’s unique bowl-shaped, multi-directional treadmill platform.
Omni first burst onto the VR scene with a massively successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $1.1 million, 739 percent of the campaigns original goal. In July 2013, 3,249 backers finished the campaign and, though a million dollars is hardly enough to start a whole company, Goetgeluk was able to hit the ground running with a lot of momentum behind him.
“It was a lot of work! The key to Kickstarter is blood, sweat and tears,” Goetgeluk said. “I quit my job and dedicated five months to preparing and managing the campaign, with the most important part being building a community of followers and fans that were ready to back us on day one.”
Following the Kickstarter, Goetgeluk (like many at the time) began looking at the consumer market to sell his new company’s products. VR at the time was a blank slate, with no one in the industry to look to for guidance. As the orders trickled in, Goetgeluk began to realize that, if they were to continue this success story, they’d have to look elsewhere.
“Consumer VR has been excruciatingly slow to take off, and soon the reality of our product hit us,” he said. “As we started to manufacture, we saw the cost ending up higher than we initially had thought. But at the same time, we were getting interest from commercial operators who also were willing to pay what we needed to charge. So, basically, we just followed the market to where our product was a better fit.”
Soon, Virtuix was at IAAPA and other out-of-home shows hawking their new, innovative system. The company scored a distribution deal and partnership with UNIS, and began creating games and hardware optimized for location-based entertainment. That led to successful growth for the company, resulting in 3,000 Omnis shipped to over 500 entertainment venues in 45 countries. That two-year deal ended this year after Virtuix decided not to renew, and now Virtuix is ready and rearing to bring a brand new, all-inclusive product directly to market: the Omniverse VR Arena.
“We learned a lot from working with UNIS. What we’re doing now is radically different, radically improved,” Goetgeluk said. “Now, we’ve got this fully enclosed piece. It’s a complete guest experience with everything we’ve learned included, optimized for a quick player setup and high throughput.”
Combined with the eSports component, Goetgeluk and his team were happy to once again be making a big splash at IAAPA with their Omniverse VR Arena. Not only were they all-in with the new product introduction, the company also played host to an inaugural tournament held just for attendees, who could fight for the top spot and win $2,000 in cash. The Austin, Texas-based company has certainly held on to the passion that started it, and could find a new level of success with their new Arena.