The players move slowly and cautiously, each carrying a rifle, hunting their enemies in steaming jungles, baking deserts or even the surface of Mars.
They can hear, see and shoot their foes, but the field of battle is actually a vast warehouse north of Paris and the players are moving in immersive worlds thanks to virtual reality (VR) headsets.
This is the latest attempt to bring an element of physical exercise to the world of competitive video games known as e-sports.
The “lack of real physical exertion” is “one of the reasons why e-sports are not considered real sport”, Jean Mariotte, the founder of Esports Virtual Arenas (EVA), told reporters at the warehouse, the first of 14 arenas to be opened across France and Belgium.
E-sports tournaments feature hundreds of players often gathered in massive halls sitting comfortably while they battle it out on their favorite games for prize money and kudos. Mariotte hopes to upend that model by mixing physical activity with gaming in what is called free-roam virtual reality.
The most successful game of this type is Hado, a dodgeball-style activity where players fling fireballs at each other in an attempt to prevail.
“You see the environment as it really is, but special effects are added on top,” said Ludovic Donati, whose company Volt Events promotes Hado and other games.
Hado is huge in Japan and its promoters are keen to push it elsewhere.
However, Hado and EVA are still in experimental stages and have limitations.
So far, EVA is limited to the kind of shoot ’em up game with niche appeal.
It could well be popular with pre-wedding “stag” parties or other group get-togethers — even if players end up sweaty.
On the upside, the instructions are simple.
Before playing, an instructor tells players: “To run, you just run. To squat, you just squat.”
While EVA could find its niche in the leisure market, Hado is a proper workout.
Games are so intense that they only last for 80 seconds, Donati said.
Nevertheless, both games seem to have solved the problem that has dogged VR from the outset — motion sickness.
“One out of two people couldn’t stand it,” Donati said of the experience of standing still in the real world while moving around virtually.
He said this was why so many older-style VR rooms had closed down.
Promoters of EVA and Hado see a brighter future for their products, positioning them as rising sports rather than glorified video games.
“You have to adapt to motivate today’s young people to do sport, you have to stimulate them with something that interests them a little more,” Donati said.
Hado already has teams and competitions set up in France, and EVA is planning to capitalize on the Paris Olympics in 2024, hoping to have 100 arenas in the country by then.
Mathieu Lacrouts of video game communications agency Hurrah is one convert to EVA, telling reporters he tried it at a corporate event and was surprised by the “unanimously positive” feedback.
“Everyone got caught up in the game,” he said, even those who do not normally play video games.
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