ONTOP Studios wants to bring theaters back to life with XR Esports

Have you ever seen an empty theater and thought space had more potential? It doesn’t have to be an abandoned theatre, or just a theater with more rooms than is regularly used, or a theater that doesn’t show movies at all hours of the day. What if these theaters could be used in XR esports, for example? This is the idea Nuno Folhadela is exploring with ONTOP Studios.

Get to know ONTOP Studios

ONTOP Studios offers augmented reality experiences, filters, and games. Its mission is to “turn the world into your playground” through augmented reality. The studio does independent projects but also works with an impressive list of partners including Vodafone, Samsung, and Snapchat.

ONTOP’s latest project, ARcade Sports, involves turning empty theaters into XR esports stadiums through social AR games. The idea didn’t come about because Folhadela, the studio’s founder, had nothing against movies.

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“My background is in film, but I work in games,” Folhadela said in a video call with ARPost. “My interest has always been in bringing stories into the real world… Going to the movies isn’t just about movies, it’s about an experience.”

So, why change that experience? The answer, as many answers do these days, has to do with trends that were already underway before the pandemic caused them to explode.

“After the pandemic, movies have been hit hard. We realized that games are what younger audiences are after,” she said. Vladela said.

From movies to games to esports

Games are more interactive than movies, but they are also more social, and both elements of storytelling draw young people away from traditional forms of linear narrative, according to Voladella. But this is not the end of the story. Games are more interactive and social than movies, and augmented reality is a more immersive medium than 2D games.

“As a player, [AR] It brings everything we see on screen into the real world.” Vladela said. “All these adventures that you have, confined to a flat screen. Now, you can take all of your adventures with you.”

All this talk of youth does not mean that ONTOP only cares about children. Like virtual reality games, ONTOP’s stage arenas attract visitors of all ages, including entire families.

“One guy said it was his first time playing with his kids — he used to have them sit and play Fortnite and he would sit and watch them,” Vladela said.

Moreover, augmented reality games can involve a lot of action. This makes things more exciting for players, but it also opens up a whole new level of attraction for viewers. While video game broadcasts are already becoming popular, making games more human brings a lot of promise by making esports more esports.

“You really see the guys running, so when you see a good player, you see a good athlete. It brings those worlds together,” he said. Vladela said. “It takes the ‘e’ from ‘esports.'”

Buy tickets and pay bills

So, how does ARcade Sports work? Folhadela describes the esports platform as a “b2b2c” (business-to-business-to-consumer) model. ONTOP Studios develops the content and maintains the companion app. The content is then licensed to property managers who promote availability in their area. Content may also be modified for different regions or commercial licensors.

“ARcade Sports is a platform, not a game. We’re always adding new games and new features,” Vladela said.

Ticket to play at an XR-enabled esports facility includes a QR code. Scanning a QR code using the companion app allows players to enter the same session. The app tracks players’ performance in the game including their activity levels. Games are rated based on difficulty, so beginners aren’t left out and seasoned players don’t get bored.

Electronic Sports - Arcade Sports - Morgana Game

At the moment, ARcade Sports is only available in select locations in Portugal. This is set to change.

“We launched the games natively to understand the mechanics… For many gamers, this was their first experience with augmented reality,” Vladela said. “Now that the time is right, we hope to expand to the US this year.”

Coming soon to a theater near you

During our call, Folhadela showed off a number of experimental social features that are not yet ready for full integration into the platform. Hopefully, however, by the time ONTOP Studios brings its unique brand of esports XR to the US – ideally this summer – there’ll be more to keep gamers entertained, whether they’re playing or watching.

See also: How active games can make you healthy

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