From lag-free eSports to the next generation of AR games to using the cloud for VR gaming, 5G networks bring new possibilities to gaming over the next decade.
In the popular computer game Dota 2, one-tenth of a second can be a make-or-break moment for eSports teams.
That’s why on the eve of the biggest qualifier of the year, the South Korean eSports team MVP.Hot6ix caught a flight to Singapore, just to tap on internet speeds that were slightly faster.
“It started with [us] complaining about delays we were getting in the game,” Wong Jeng Yih, aka Nutz, said in an interview.
In South Korea, the delay took 0.16 seconds, but in Singapore the latency time was lower — only 0.06 seconds. While one-tenth of a second may seem paltry, the team felt like this was enough to give Singapore-based teams an advantage.
Latency is an age-old riddle in online gaming. Latency is the time between a device pinging the network and getting a response. Lag in a connection creates a situation where one player is slower than their opponent through no fault of their own. Often, the playing field is even.
But 5G could solve the problem once and for all. This next generation of wireless technology, set to roll out globally in 2020, is shooting for a standard called “ultra-reliable low latency communications.” With latency times of less than a millisecond, connections will be nearly instantaneous.
If the technology can deliver on this promise, laggard connections will become a thing of the past. This speed is set to radically transform the gaming landscape, too.
5G Opens New Opportunities in Gaming
In 2019, South Korea will become the first country to adopt super-fast 5G networks, giving gamers a sizable boost in online capabilities. According to Alex Choi, chief technology officer of SK Telecom, games are due for a substantial upgrade. This includes eSports, augmented reality (AR) games and virtual reality (VR) games.
In the lab, 5G wireless technology has already reached incredible speeds. Under ideal conditions, the connections were 10 times faster than the fastest broadband, and up to 100 times faster than 4G cellular networks. These mighty networks are expected to power some truly unique innovations, from fully autonomous cars to remote surgery to robots and the Internet of Things (IoT). Similarly, 5G could open amazing possibilities for gaming.
With 5G, Pokemon Evolve
For a few weeks last year, it seemed like the whole planet was infatuated with Pokemon Go. In New York’s Central Park, hundreds of people swarmed the park trying to catch Vaporeon, a Pokemon that resembles a four-legged sea creature. Using a mobile device to capture Pichu and pals in AR proved irresistible.
In the future, fast and reliable 5G networks will allow AR creatures to become smarter and more agile than before.
“Pokemon are computationally dumb little objects that are just dumped in a particular place with no context,” said Tawny Schlieski of Intel, referring to how their character models simply stand there, hovering on the front of the screen. “They aren’t aware of their environment.”
With AR in 5G, this could change. By tapping into geographical data that requires a higher bandwidth, such as Google Street View, game designers could give AR characters more ways to interact with their real-world environment.
For example, Pokemon could play hide and seek with the player. Digital creatures could climb in a tree, crouch behind a chair or duck inside a building, according to Schlieski. Faster networks could also open up new ways to play in AR with other people, such as teaming up with a group of friends to herd Pokemon around town.
“To make that work any time in the foreseeable future, internet speed is going to be critical,” she said. “Ideally you want to be able to send a lot of information.”
VR Games and the Cloud
Meanwhile, 5G connectivity also promises to alleviate the cost burdens of VR gaming among hardcore enthusiasts.
As things stand, gaming in VR is cost prohibitive. A gamer needs to own expensive hardware to run VR games. Without a cutting edge graphics card and processor, VR systems like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive cannot render lush, believable virtual worlds.
5G may offer a workaround. Cloud computing is very powerful, but the reach of the cloud is currently limited by the speed of broadband.
“As network speeds increase, more rendering and CPU functions will be performed in the cloud,” said Anthony Batt, the co-founder of the VR publishing house Wevr.
Batt explained how VR games could utilize speedy 5G networks to offload many of the complex computations and tasks, which are normally done locally on home PCs, to the army of computers waiting in the cloud.
He believes that eventually full-fledged PC-powered VR headsets could run on devices as simple as mobile phones. This will ultimately bring VR gaming to the masses.
However, Batt cautions that 5G technology is still in the test phase, and there are many unknowns about how the final product will perform — a sentiment that has been echoed by telecom manufacturers.
But there are plenty of reasons for players to be optimistic. From VR gaming in the cloud to precise geo-location AR to eSports with virtually no lag, 5G will most certainly transform the game.