The Growing Field of VR Athletics as a Profession
Professionals come in many forms but are generally defined by making some or all of their income via the work they consider themselves professionals at. While virtual reality hasn’t quite reached the level of traditional sports where players can make extremely generous salaries at the top of their respective sports, the opportunities have grown substantially since consumer VR hit the market a few years back. Whether it’s chasing big prizes in a smattering of various games throughout the ecosystem, establishing a foothold in a recurring league, or more recently the opportunities to gain a modest salaried position, there’s never been better opportunities to be a professional VR competitor than right now.
People chasing one-off events are the most common, as it requires the least long-term commitment to one skill or title, but can still yield reasonably high payouts. These are the freelancers of VR sports. The most dedicated players of this group rival anyone in the other areas of pro play in overall commitment but rarely stick around many communities beyond a few they frequent in downtime. Payouts can be high, but also few and far between, and competitors here are at the mercy of what the market provides at any given time. Variety events such as the VAL Summer and Winter games are where the freelancers shine.
Established leagues are a much more reliable but often much more challenging way to compete for prizes. Echo VRML is an excellent example of great prize potential, with as much as $10,000 of prizes in a season but is also growing ever more competitive. Only a small percentage of the thousands of players ever see a payout, and you must fight every week to even be granted the privilege of competing in the tournament for it at the end. The now disbanded VR League offered a more interesting format from a prize perspective where every weekly event could earn you a small slice of the overall pool, with limitations on how many times a team could win, thus spreading the smaller prizes to more teams. As far as time to effort tradeoff, these often fall far short of the freelance events, but for those who really love their competitive game of choice, it’s still a great way to monetize your passion.
The most universally recognized professional though is the one who is salaried for their efforts. NEPA has provided this format for the first time where players are paid every week to play. This dream of many in the early era of VR has finally begun to be realized and, while it’s even more competitive than most opportunities like VRML, making the cut gives you at least some guarantee of rewards for your efforts. We hope that this format can continue to grow and flourish, but a pro league requires the development and maintenance of a healthy spectator and sponsor base as its fundamental challenge. The major upside to a league formatted like conventional professional sports is the opportunity for growth and sponsorship. While the reward per time spent may not be enormous now, it certainly seems inevitable that it will flourish in the near future.
The final aspect of professional payouts, which is still in its infancy in VR, is sponsorships as an athlete. While common for leagues and content creators to receive sponsorship funding due to their reach and general influence over the community, individual players have rarely found the same opportunities. There have been numerous instances of sports organizations picking people up and enveloping them within their brand as an identity change and perhaps it’s a lack of proposals from players or a lack of individual player reach, but seemingly the only organization trying to sponsor VR athletes in a conventional sense is Bad Manners VR. Inspired by big brands like Nike and Adidas, Mazza, the owner of Bad Manners VR, expressed his desire to give VR athletes a route to sponsorship that didn’t require them to change their identity. As the other forms of professional VR sports grow so too will this, but even the few players Bad Manners have sponsored is a big step forward toward the future.
For those who want to learn more about becoming a professional VR athlete, here are some resources:
NEPA – National Esports Professional Association,
VRML – VR Master League,
VREL – VR Esports League,
VAL – Virtual Athletics League,
LIVE – League Of International VR Esports (now International Metaverse League),
VR Sports Association – Competitive VR Discord,
Bad Manners VR – Professional Sponsorships,
VR League – Former Oculus Official League
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