CES 2016: VR, Game Platforms, eSports Coming to Las Vegas

The increasing interest in virtual reality and rise of the app stores are expected to help make gaming a hot topic at January’s CES. Coming off its crowd-pleasing debut at the show last year, and with its consumer launch only months away, expect Oculus to monopolize the floor. And with it comes an array of manufacturers hoping to add a new dimension to the immersive gameplay experience with new peripherals. Meanwhile, the widespread adoption of game systems as entertainment hubs has created a new pipeline for indie developers to reach consumers. And let’s not forget the rise of eSports. Turner Broadcasting certainly hasn’t, and will be bringing its largest-ever showcase to prove it.

Oculus hopes that its flagship hardware, the Rift, becomes all things to all people. The company touts it as “The Family Friend,” but to gamers it represents the Holy Grail: climbing inside the game. To do that successfully, Oculus will need to offer more than letting users just look around and button-mash a familiar controller. They’re off to a good start with their version of an interface, the Touch, but it will be telling to see how expansive the gaming demos will be at CES.

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Of course, Oculus won’t be the only one hoping to capitalize on the VR renaissance. Sony appears poised to unveil its vision for VR at the show this year. PlayStation VR, formerly Project Morpheus, was unveiled earlier this year at E3, and since its release date is expected to compete with Oculus’ Q1 2016 launch, it could see its debut in earnest at CES. One would expect gaming to feature heavily in Sony’s VR pitch, given the company’s expertise in the area and it could hold an edge in the upcoming “interface wars” as a result.

This “war” is expected to include a host of third party manufacturers as a one-size-fits-all approach to VR controllers/interfaces seems unlikely. Virtuix will be back this year with updates to its omni-directional treadmill, Fuel 3D will be showing off its handheld 3D scanner, and compact motion-capture wearables will likely be a big theme.

The console wars may be largely over at this point, and yet, despite the Xbox One being outsold nearly 2-1 by the PS4, this is sort of the world Microsoft envisioned when it launched its latest hardware.

Apps such as Xbox SmartGlass (which allows any stream — SlingTV, ESPN, etc. — or even the box’s built-in TV tuner to be mirrored to the user’s mobile device) are helping make sure that bet pays off. It will be interesting to see if Microsoft announces any more media partnerships to strengthen its growing hold on the living room and if any app developers can use this pipeline to their advantage.

As far as the games themselves, the move away from campaigns has begun in earnest. The latest example, EA’s “Star Wars: Battlefront,” upset many longtime fans of the franchise by neglecting a traditional campaign. Instead, EA followed in the footsteps of “Titanfall” and focused its efforts on the online multiplayer mode.

With Ubisoft’s latest Tom Clancy title, “The Division” as one of the most hotly anticipated games on the horizon, and also heavily focused on online multiplayer, the shift toward massive multiplayers is clear. It will be interesting to see how the hardware companies respond to millennials’ apparent desire for a more choose-your-own-adventure style of gaming and VR may be the perfect vehicle to make that happen.

One game in particular, “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” will be taking center stage at CES in the eSports Showcase. The live event will be the launch of a new professional eSports league, an initiative between Turner Sports and WME/IMG. Turner is even using it as a lead-in to a live broadcast of TNT’s “Inside the NBA” live from CES.

We’ll have more on the latest news in game platforms, new games, gaming VR and eSports during our live coverage of CES 2016 in early January.