Esports/gaming is an agglomeration of pop culture and personalities, so creating a metaverse to house them all seems like a logical next step … or does it?
The term “metaverse” was first popularized in the 1992 novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. This concept of an interconnected virtual world was further explored in the 2011 novel (and subsequent film), Ready Player One. It’s fun to imagine a place where you can bounce between worlds, but for that to become a reality, a whole lot of publishers, creators, and rights holders will have to play nice.
From brand sponsor to brand citizen
Movies and TV shows often try to imagine what the internet would look like as a physical place. The result is usually a massive city or shopping mall where buildings represent websites — complete with ads, chat rooms, and even scam artists. It’s a world of wonder, danger, and endless possibilities.
For video game developers who already create immersive worlds, it’s not a far stretch to include other brands and experiences, and the process has already begun.
Fashion houses including Burberry, Louis Vuitton, and Balenciaga have collaborated on virtual collections inside video games. Epic Games hosts a number of branded experiences inside Fortnite to promote brands ranging from Marvel superheroes to Ariana Grande. These partnerships began as sponsorship opportunities to reach gamers but quickly evolved into something much, MUCH, bigger.
In 2020, Fortnite hosted a concert from Travis Scott that yielded over 12 million concurrent viewers. In addition to concerts, the game has played host to interactive experiences, such as “March Through Time” presented by TIME that introduced players to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic “I have a dream” speech and civil rights movement.
“Fortnite is the closest thing we have got to the metaverse,” Edge Founder and CEO, Adam Whyte wrote in a blog post. “This means that brands can be a core part of the gaming experience since simulated reality can be full of commercially interesting and viable events that improve the gamer/ consumer experience – just like the real world.”
Open source game platform and game creation system Roblox allows its 150 million-plus users to develop their own games or play those created by others. The game world has its own currency, marketplace, and hosts events that are attended by millions of viewers.
According to Roblox, its 2020 Lil Nas X virtual concert attracted 33 million views.
“Our developers were impressed with the concert venue and were excited about the resources they’ll be able to use in their own games,” Jon Vlassopulos, Global Head of Music for Roblox told VENN. “We believe we now have a blueprint for future music events on the Roblox platform.”
Game worlDs can easily become metaverses in their own right, like Axie Infinity. The game boasted an impressive $600 million in trading volume in July and became the world’s most valuable collection of non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
What the metaverse means for esports
The appeal of one world to house and support organisations, their fans, and brand partners isn’t lost on esports leaders. Today’s we’re witnessing the dawn of “mini esports metaverses,” each hoping to fundraise while building a community to last.
Espo debuted its own metaverse web app, EspoWorld, which is comprised of various esports team “districts.” These districts feature a Team HQ surrounded by virtual plots of land in the form of NFTs that can be purchased, customised, and sold. Integrated mini-games will encourage wins in order to “upgrade” a team’s district. The concept is to raise funds and awareness around esports teams while creating friendly competition. EspoWorld launched with six participating teams.
Ukrainian esports organisation Natus Vincere (NAVI) and DMarket announced a partnership in late 2020 to create the NAVINATION gaming metaverse. The blockchain platform allows NAVI fans to craft, sell and buy digital items, take part in leaderboards, and receive prizes and gifts from partners and the team itself.
DeathRoad is an online racing game and metaverse that features a city hall where users can vote on developmental decisions. Members purchase or rent cars using $DRACE, a BEP-20 token that can be traded within the Binance ecosystem. Users with more cars have more weightage attached to their votes. Completing races earns more $DRACE.
Bringing it all together
Thus far, attempts at building an esports metaverse have been disjointed, which defeats the point of a one-stop-shop experience. The solution could be two-fold: the unification of brands and the centralisation of currency.
YouTube’s Head of Gaming, Ryan Watts, tweeted: “I believe play-to-earn is the next major gaming model, as well as an open market for in-game digital items; most in-game assets are illiquid, which is insane to me. All of this will change long-term through blockchain and NFT’s. It’s self-evident.”
Each metaverse has its own currency, which isn’t easily transferred to another. The values of cryptocurrencies and NFTs are in constant flux, as well, adding to the complication.
Fortnite developer Epic Games has famously gone up against Apple and Google for not allowing alternative payment options. Epic has processed over $1,600,000,000 of direct payments, the company said, and uses “industry-trusted encryption and security measures to protect customer transactions.”
As for IP holders and their entry into a hypothetical metaverse, some are already on board. Sony Group and other investors recently gave Fornite developer Epic Games $1 billion to build a metaverse that encompasses several film, music, and video game franchises.
We may be a few years off before you can don a VR headset and hop into the metaverse, but the idea holds endless potential for esports. After all, there is a reason that Netflix considers Fortnite — not HBO or Hulu — its biggest competition.