Few developers have had such an outsized impact on the games industry as the Washington-based studio Valve. Not only did it revolutionize the FPS genre with its historic 1998 game, Half-Life, but it’s the brains behind software client – and, more recently, hardware manufacturer – Steam.
Nowadays, this platform is synonymous with PC gaming, with over 75% of all PC titles purchased and played through this service.
New Hardware Forays
Valve has, over the years, explored various hardware implementations, beginning with the less-than-successful Steam Machine project of 2014 before achieving better results with its initial take on the VR form factor, 2019’s Index. Nowadays, the critically acclaimed Steam Deck, meanwhile, is making a case for mobile PC gaming.
In light of these recent success stories, news that Valve is working on a new VR headset to replace the Index is being met with equal measures of intrigue and trepidation. But what do we know of this device, and what does it mean for the rapidly growing esports industry?
For one, news of the headset has led to discussion around its potential impact on the world of esports.
The global competitive gaming scene has grown enormously over the past few years, with revenue tripling throughout the early 2020s to become a $1 billion industry showing no signs of slowing.
There’s no denying that esports is here to stay, and the new Deckard headset could well help pave the way for the arrival of VR esports. This is because, unlike Oculus, which is now solely locked into Meta’s Horizon Worlds project, Deckard will be a true gaming-oriented headset – and one that, crucially, comes with a strong PC gaming pedigree.
Despite the rising popularity of mobile esports, PC is still the most dominant eSports platform. Therefore, any tech that can encourage leading esports teams and athletes to experiment with VR-optimized competitive gaming will decisively impact the evolution of this coming market.
Another key consideration is the broader ‘metaverse’ implications of accessible gaming-oriented VR headsets. Watching an event unfold through VR is considered by many to be the holy grail of broadcasting, as the spectator is essentially a floating camera and can move wherever they please to take in the action.
Conventional sports are already experimenting with metaverse broadcasting, as demonstrated when A.C Milan played against Fiorentina. The match was broadcast in the Nemesis metaverse to Middle-Eastern and African fans.
But with modern sports fans now just as likely to place free bet offers, including those served up by comparison platforms such as OddsChecker, on the outcome of a League of Legends match, there is an immediate and growing incentive for the introduction of VR esports coverage in the coming years.
What Do We Know?
Unfortunately, not as much as we’d like to. The news of the Deckard’s existence comes from a series of patent filings and a job posting. What this information does provide us with, though, is that the coming device will likely feature controller tracking, eye tracking, hand tracking, as well as scene understanding and passthrough.
Those last two have raised eyebrows among analysts as it suggests that, unlike the Index, the Deckard will most likely incorporate mixed-reality technology, such as the upcoming Apple headset or the newly released Microsoft HoloLens 2.
Some commenters hope this device will emulate what the Steam Deck did for gaming PCs by creating a more affordable and accessible experience that opens up the platform to new audiences.
While there’s no denying that reaching new audiences is likely one of Valve’s long-term goals, the intrinsic costs involved in VR development mean that even more affordable devices seldom retail for less than $1000. If past gaming tech trends are anything to go by, this will no doubt change before long, and perhaps the Deckard 2 will one day find itself in a position to bring VR to the PC masses.