Running a VR Arcade Tournament
August 6, 2018 | 10 min read
Featuring Ryan Burningham from Virtual Athletics League
*This article was written by Ryan Burningham from the Virtual Athletics League (VAL). In honor of the Global Beat Saber Tournament being hosted by VAL, we wanted to give you the tools to plan, market, and host a successful VR eSports event in your VR Arcade. Enjoy!
First by way of introduction my name is Ryan Burningham and I am the CEO and one of the Co-Founders of VAL (Virtual Athletics League) and Virtualities, a VR Arcade in Salt Lake City. We started out as a VR Arcade and have since moved our focus into growing the world of VR eSports.
CALLOUT: Today, I am going to walk through some of our best practices for how to organize, promote, and host a local VR tournament in your VR Arcade.
Virtual Athletics League Origin Story
First, a little history: two years ago we started to hold our first VR eSports tournaments. Admittedly, at the time we didn’t know much about what we were doing. To our core group of staff though, the idea of a tournament sounded like a lot of fun. We had all grown up as teenagers making friends playing Halo and Super Smash Bros at each other’s houses. In 2016, games like League of Legends had gone from a small game that our buddies had asked us to download at college to a massive eSports event with 30 million people watching online.
VR eSports is not an entirely new concept though - in Ready Player One, Wade attends a high school where people are literally playing classic sports like Football in complicated VR rigs. In that version you also have spectators at the virtual bleachers and can tune in anywhere in the world to watch the action. So we started testing out a lot of games and writing emails to VR developers. One of the first developers to respond back quickly was I-Illusions which makes Space Pirate Trainer. I remember staying up until 1 AM writing custom game developer contracts, so to have a dev who wrote back instantly and already had a contract in place and even a way to pay was a rare thing! Thank goodness for SpringboardVR and other services like that now.
So we put up a poster advertising the next tournament next to our cash register and signed up 10 of our customers.
CALLOUT: We bought a bunch of Little Caesar’s pizza, which is admittedly not the best food for athletes, but it sure is delicious and cheap. We got a whiteboard and blocked off the Friday evening for the tournament. It was a blast.
A Sport for Gamers & Spectators
By the third Space Pirate Trainer tournament I remember being just in awe of how cool it was. I love playing games like Overwatch, but in eSports you mostly have skilled competitors clicking away furiously with a mouse, focused intently on their computer screens.
With VR, it was different.
We had this one regular, named Damonte, who would do knee slides, dodge the lasers like he was Neo in Matrix, and he got so good he would start to preemptively dodge just by the audio alone. It took a lot of athletic skill. He soon started to show up nearly every day for practice. He would dress in gym clothes, bring in his own custom set of headphones, crank up the volume all the way, and get in his daily dose of Space Pirate Trainer.
Since then we have held nearly 30 local tournaments and now several national cross-arcade tournaments with other VR Arcades. I am passing along our best practices, as well as all tips from our game developer partners and other arcades in our league. With games like Beat Saber pushing the envelope in how cool and competitive VR can be it’s a perfect time to share what we have learned.
Best Practices for Running a VR Tournament
There are two styles of VR tournaments for VR Arcade owners right now. Most of the best practices below will apply to both kinds. The first is a Rolling High Score Competition and the other is a Dedicated Tournament Event.
Rolling High Score Format
A rolling high score is the easiest type of event to do. As people come into the arcade that day, explain to them the tournament and game. Record their high score and keep a running high score board throughout the day. These are easy to do since they don’t interrupt throughput, but have tradeoffs in community building for the arcade and word-of-mouth marketing.
Dedicated Event Format
For any tournament its critical to start preparing around two weeks in advance. Your VR Arcade’s staff are your troubleshooters, salespeople, and VR evangelists to your customers. They will be doing the day to day work and will be key for a successful event. Talk to your staff about the goals of the tournament. Put up a sign advertising the who, what, when of the tourney - preferably right by the register.
CALLOUT: Studies from game developers have shown that having posters of game content up in your arcade is beneficial for multiple reasons.
It increases your overall conversion in the store, and then it increases the conversion of that title specifically. For example, if you have a poster up of Raw Data, then more people will purchase time in the arcade vs if you had a blank wall. Additionally, more people will play Raw Data. It seems obvious, but it’s also backed by data. This also applies to upcoming events.
Pre-Sales & Participation
At Virtualities, we always aim for at least 50% of the tournament sales to be “pre-sales.” From talking to local comic con conventions and gaming communities, if you can get at least 50% of the tickets sold beforehand you will have a successful event. For most arcades, this is a simple up-sell at the register. When the customer pays, ask if they want to pay to participate in the upcoming tournament, and talk about the prizes, the game, etc. Explain that the only way to guarantee that they will get a spot will be to sign up before. We noticed that getting arcade guests to commit this way was much more successful than a simple sign up sheet.
Those are just the in-store sales. You will also get a lot of traction from letting other people around your community know about the tournament. A lot of gaming communities are already organized in most cities. For instance, at one of our recent tournaments we had participants from the University of Utah Gaming Club and the Utah VR Meetup Group. There are over 40 VR meetup groups across the country. Additionally, we are also active participants in a number of discord servers focused around Twitch and eSports in Utah. We announce our tournaments in those places as well.
Make a social post on your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. If you regularly boost your Facebook pages and/or posts, spend a few dollars to get a bit more visibility to it. We have found Facebook to be one of our best ROI. We also collect emails during our active waiver signup process and typically get a couple of people that sign up with an email blast.
Beforehand, you will also want to select the game title, prices, the game rules, what format your competition will be, and prizes (if any). These factors will vary pretty widely based on the game title and whether it is just a local tournament or a national VR Arcade league tournament.
Running the Tournament
Great - now you have a bunch of signups for your tournament and you have an upcoming event - how do you run it? During our events we try to make it as much of a party atmosphere as possible.
CALLOUT: Crank up the radio, bring in pizza or other snacks, and break out your special lighting!
For people to run the tournament we typically find we can also supplement arcade staff with volunteers, which will help you run a profitable & smooth event. Volunteers can be those who have participated in past tournaments, or family and friends who are down for some free pizza and VR. On the day of the tournament we really start to focus more on pre-sales of the tickets. It’s pretty easy for someone to commit when they are already in town or looking for something to do. For some tournaments we have also had an arcade staff member outside of the arcade actively talking up the tournament to people walking by. Our two locations have both been located in malls, so we have a steady supply of foot traffic so this works for us, but people can also get creative with signs, banners, TV slides, etc. We have also sometimes charged a spectator entry fee of $5 dollars.
One key thing we learned from the University of Utah gaming events was the importance of side activities. In addition to food, bring in a N64 on the side or something for people to bond over while they wait their turn or watch.
Another idea, have a board game corner - get creative with it.
CALLOUT: Building those connections between people is not only key for you as a VR Arcade owner, people start to show up to tournaments again because you are doing something of real value to them–you are creating a community, real life friendships, and a place to celebrate VR.
During the tournament, carefully explain the rules to people beforehand. Have staff to watch & monitor the high scores. In our national Blasters of the Universe tournament we took screenshots of the high scores in our high score competition. For Sprint Vector, we did a single elimination bracket tournament, and the tension would build as the finalists got closer. For your last two competitors in the tournament, people gather around for the final head-to-head. It can be quite intense, as spectators eyes are fixed on the two athletes, every single score counts, and the stress levels ratchet up.
It’s like the olympics but in VR.
Film it, because both you and everyone there will want to remember it - well, the winners anyways! But for even those who don’t win, it lights a real competitive fire.
Post Tournament To-Do’s
This is important too. Gather the emails of the spectators & participants and start to build a list of the regulars. For prize allocation this matters too, since building trust is a critical eSports principle. If you have a Discord, invite them there, or create a Facebook group. We found that getting the phone numbers of our regulars allowed us to send out group texts and get a few future sign ups rather easily. Post the results up on social media as well as a clip of what happened as a way to build buzz for future tournaments.
For us, at our second location, tournaments and associated purchases started to account for around 10% of our total revenue, which was fantastic for us as VR Arcade owners. Typically our return customer rate was around 17%-25% depending on the month, but we noticed that those who participated in a tournament had return rates of over 50%. Some eventually spent significant amounts at the arcade. This wasn’t because we were micro-transacting them to death (looking at you EA) but because we had built a sense of community, of ownership, of self improvement through athletics. All the good stuff that comes along with sports can apply just as easily to VR eSports. Eventually, we envision a world where VR eSports is on par with both eSports and classic sports in both viewership and scale. VR Arcades will be a vital part of getting there and are a natural home for VR eSports.
Conclusion & Main Takeaways
- Two styles of VR tournaments (Rolling High Score and Dedicated Tournament Event)
- Prepare, prepare, prepare––start advertising the tournament at least 2 weeks beforehand, including in-store signage
- Have your staff notify customers as they pay in the weeks leading up to the tournament––aim for at least 50% of the tournament sales to be “pre-sales”––this will ensure a successful event
- Get the word out to local community groups & meetups for increased participation––utilize social media channels, as well as Discord and Twitch
- During the tournament, crank up the radio, bring in pizza or other snacks, and break out your special lighting––make it a party atmosphere
- In addition to food, bring in a N64 on the side or something for people to bond over while they wait their turn or watch––side activities are key
- Film the tournament, because both you and everyone there will want to remember it (filming it creates great promotional content for the next one)
- Gather the emails of the spectators & participants and start to build a list of the regulars
- Post the results up on social media as well as a clip of what happened as a way to build buzz for future tournaments
To download the VR Tournament Best Practices & Checklist, click here.
Beat Saber Global Tournament
Virtual Athletics League, LIV, and SpringboardVR are hosting the largest VR Arcade Tournament in history to celebrate the launch of Beat Saber. More than 50 VR Arcades will compete in a tournament that will include cash prizes, giveaways and a marketing blitz. The tournament will take place on August 17th, 2018, starting at 5:00pm PST.
To register your VR Center for the tournament, fill out this form. We’d be more than happy for you to join!
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