A quick visit to Valve’s epic Dota 2 tournament this week in Seattle shows the company’s commitment to virtual reality technology.
The championship, held for the sixth-straight year with a record-breaking prize pool of $20 million, kicked off Monday morning with Valve CEO Gabe Newell on stage in front of thousands of Dota 2 fans who paid up to $175 to catch the gaming action in person at Key Arena this week.
Newell, who co-founded Bellevue-based Valve in 1996, came on stage to a huge applause and only spoke for a few minutes, thanking the fans for coming out and offering up a quick analysis for the tournament. But perhaps most interesting was when Newell told the crowd how he’s spent a majority of his time at Valve for the past year.
“I’ve been spending most of my time with the VR team,” Newell said.
The CEO encouraged people to check out Valve’s VR demos outside of Key Arena, where the company is showing off games like Space Pirate Trainer, Audioshield, Hover Junkers, and “Dota Spectator Mode,” which gives users a chance to watch The International in virtual reality.
“If you have a chance, go check it out, and let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org what you think,” said Newell, who is not shy about giving his email address out.
There was also some VR/AR influence on stage before the first match-up began.
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Valve partnered with HTC, which has its North American headquarters in Bellevue, to develop virtual reality experiences for the HTC Vive headset on the SteamVR marketplace (though SteamVR is not 100 percent restricted to the Vive). The Vive competes with other devices like Oculus Rift and Playstation Vue.
Before partnering with HTC, Valve was rumored to be working on its own headset and publicly supported Oculus during its record-breaking Kickstarter campaign, while sharing its virtual reality research with the now Facebook-owned company.
Valve also had two former employees working on augmented reality glasses a few years ago, but the company apparently didn’t see how the device would fit with its games. Those two engineers — Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson — went on to raise more than $1 million on Kickstarter for their own projected augmented reality glasses and now operate a startup called CastAR that raised $15 million last year.