3rd in the WORLD: Marquette man places in VR tournament

Esports athlete Shaun Spitz slashes at virtual blocks representing musical beats at the Edge of Reality VR Arcade during a worldwide e-sports tournament on Aug 18. Spitz took third place in the tournament, which was the largest of its kind to date, with hundreds of esports athletes competing at 160 VR arcades worldwide. (Photo courtesy of Rob Shirlin)

MARQUETTE –Video games are often thought of as a sedentary activity, a pastime that may get you some blisters on your thumbs with no obvious physical benefit. But to gaming enthusiasts, eSports — competitive organized video gaming, is a fast-growing international phenomenon with 143 million frequent viewers in 2017.

The energy surrounding eSports has extended to the realm of virtual reality, with worldwide acclaim for Marquette native Shaun Pitz.

Pitz took third place in one of the largest VR arcade tournaments in the world to date, with hundreds of participants at more than 160 arcades on Aug. 18. Pitz’s personal arena was the Edge of Reality VR Arcade on West Washington Street in Marquette.

“I think this is a perfect form of competition to fall into at my age,” Pitz said. “I’m not saying I feel especially old, but physical competition at 36 is a very different proposition than it is at 26.”

The tournament, which was held to celebrate the launch of Beat Saber, a virtual reality game in which the player slashes blocks representing musical beats with a pair of energy blades resembling light sabers gave more than participants’ thumbs a workout.

Unlike traditional video game experiences, virtual reality uses a head-mounted display that looks like a pair of goggles to provide a 3-D immersive experience with hand controllers that translate real-world gestures into whatever game or application is being used.

According to the Virtual Reality Institute of Health and Exercise, playing Beat Saber is equal to the workout one might get playing tennis — burning 300 to 600 calories per hour on average — depending on the skill level the game is set at.

“It was part of my exercise routine and I happened to excel at it,” Pitz said. “It’s perfectly suited for those people who don’t generally love to exercise due to the complete immersion within another world, you don’t realize the work you’re putting in until you’re finished and covered in sweat.”

Virtual reality is more than a gaming past-time for Pitz who started a small VR company in Seattle, Washington, that initially worked with heavy equipment manufacturers.

He is now working with Northern Michigan University Vice President for Extended Learning and Community Engagement Steve VandenAvond to find ways to incorporate virtual and augmented reality into the curriculum “to enhance their capabilities both in the classroom and community.”

“Given the university’s history of progressive technology-centric initiatives,” Pitz said. “The fit has felt quite natural.”

Edge of Reality is also on the cutting edge of technology as one of only three VR arcades in Michigan, and 200 nationwide.

Owner Rob Shirlin said he is proud to be part of an emerging VR community.

“We enjoy sharing knowledge and experiences with all of our patrons, from first-time users to high-caliber eSports athletes like Mr. Pitz,” Shirlin said.

Pitz recommends at least trying the technology.

“I always talked about how VR is such a uniquely difficult platform to explain to people, but when you get them to try it, everything clicks within 15 seconds,” Pitz said. “Honestly, if I didn’t own the equipment myself, I would spend a lot of time at the Edge of Reality VR Arcade. Not just to explore the games, but for the great non-traditional workout.”