Side-Eyeing Chloe is back, grown up, and still owning her A+ side eye

Who could forget side-eyeing Chloe and her infamous moment?

The then two-year-old shot to viral fame after her parents captured her reaction to learning that she and her sister that they were going on a surprise trip to Disneyland.

She was not impressed, to put it mildly.

Four years later, Chloe is looking a lot less skeptical — though it looks like she won’t be able to shake off her claim to fame for a long time to come.

The family recently travelled to Sau Paulo in South America, where Chloe is being featured in a Google campaign. 

Regular star that she is, Chloe also managed to sign a couple autographs — no biggie.

Keep on rocking that social media game — you’ll always be our favorite side-eyeing Chloe in our hearts. 

Image: lily and chloe official/youtube

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Stae helps cities take advantage of their data


Stae wants to help local governments collect, manage and process data about their infrastructure. The company just raised $1.5 million from Story Ventures, Fontinalis Partners and Samsung Ventures.

I first covered Stae back in April 2016. The vision hasn’t changed much, it’s all about preparing cities for the future and upgrading infrastructure by making it more efficient through technology. But there are now a couple of cities using Stae for their digital strategy, making it a bit more real.

So far, Atlanta and Jersey City started implementing Stae with their existing services. You can think about it as a sort of GitHub meet IFTTT for infrastructure data.

“Cities are still thinking about data as archive files. They’re not thinking about streams of data,” Stae co-founder John Edgar told me.

So let’s take this step by step. First, cities already have many sets of data coming from utilities, public transport, ambulances, residence complaints, traffic cameras and more. Instead of exporting a CSV or Excel file every now and then to look at this data, Stae wants to turn this data into APIs. By doing that, Stae standardizes data sets and it becomes easier to manipulate them.

And Stae is not the only one thinking this way. New York City Council Member Ben Kallos just introduced a bill that asks city agencies to share their data using an API.

Second, Stae provides a single interface to access data and manage authorizations. For instance, you can share data with your citizens by turning some information into open data. The police department could also access some sets of data while the city could restrict access to other sets of data. It’s a good way to granularly manage your vendors.

Finally, Stae wants to link together multiple sets of data to analyze them and draw some conclusions. This is what I call the SimCity part. If you could combine traffic jam data with bike sharing stations in a couple of clicks, you could make educated decisions about future bike sharing stations.

“There’s a challenge trying to understand the relationship between those different sets of data,” Jersey City’s Chief Innovation Officer Brian Platt told me. “You know, it can be done manually. But in government, there’s not always the capacity or frankly the capability to do this.”

Jersey City is trying to turn Stae into the single repository of data. Getting everything in there is already a challenge by itself. When it comes to combining and analyzing data, this is going to take a bit longer.

“We hope to — We’re not there yet,” Platt said. “If we want to intersect bike sharing and weather and crime, we would have to manually analyze everything.”

In many ways, it all comes down to constrained budgets and resources. Jersey City doesn’t have a full-time data scientist, so the local government is relying on platforms like Stae to do the heavy lifting. Having a central repository is already a big change.

While many cities don’t have a big enough budget to upgrade their infrastructure, technology can already make existing infrastructure more efficient. Let’s see if Stae can help cities scale.

This coffee butter-chugging startup just pulled in $19 million more in funding


Dave Asprey, the man famous for encouraging Silicon Valley execs to put butter in his special blend of coffee, has raised another $19 million to keep on doing just that.

His company and lifestyle brand Bulletproof 360 claims to make coffee free of something called mycotoxins, which is, basically, mold and can make you very ill if ingested. Asprey says about 75 percent of other brands are full of these mycotoxins and they are affecting the brains and bodies of America’s leaders. But for $18.95 you can get a bag of Asprey’s “Upgraded” blend of zero mycotoxins coffee.

But that claim doesn’t seem to hold up. Mycotoxins are in a lot of things, including meats, grains, coffee and a bunch of other foodstuffs and are most certainly harmful in large quantities. However, most every coffee company in the world is aware of this cancer-causing mold and many use wet processing to clean the beans for that reason. Bulletproof says that’s not enough and that it has some extra special technique, but despite whatever that is, some have claimed to have found below threshold levels of mycotoxins in Asprey’s coffee anyway.

Also, according to a National Institutes of Health study Americans who drank more than four cups of coffee a day were found to have well below what’s considered safe levels of mycotoxins. Levels were so low after the normal coffee bean roasting process the NIH discontinued the study so it doesn’t seem like this should be a big concern for coffee drinkers anyway.

As for dissecting the other claims, like a special fat that makes you thin and reduces your cholesterol or that grass-fed butter has health benefits for your brain would make for a much longer post. However, there is some preliminary evidence that medium-chain triglycerides do help with weight loss.

There’s also something to be said for building a loyal following and a solid sales pipeline in the health and wellness field — something not everyone can do in such a crowded space. And Asprey’s own backstory lends to his credibility here. The man lost about a 100 pounds after spending $1 million of his own money in trial and error “hacking” his own body. But really, anyone who can sell something called FATwater (literally water with fat in it) deserves a medal in the sales hall of fame.

While we don’t know the year-over-year sales figures, Bulletproof seems to have done well enough at least to convince VC’s to hand over more money. CAVU Venture Partners led the round, along with previous investor Trinity Ventures (which also, incidentally, invested in Starbucks). Bulletproof previously took in $9 million in Series A, bringing up the total funding to date to $28 million.

Asprey, who just released his latest book, titled HEAD STRONG, also plans to expand to more retail stores this year, starting in New York City. His two existing Bulletproof Cafés are in Southern California.

In search of Facebook’s conscience

People are awful. It’s the obvious (but no less depressing) reality that Facebook—and especially Mark Zuckerberg—somehow failed to recognize. 

Whether it was a naive belief or a negligent assumption, the fact remains: Zuckerberg built Facebook’s content control systems with the core idea that people can police themselves. Now, he’s been scrambling for months, if not longer, doubling down crafting rules to herd his trolling-prone cats. Of course, it’s been a dismal failure.

The hundreds of pages of Facebook Moderator guidelines uncovered by The Guardian are a stunningly analog solution for a digital company as advanced as Facebook. They’re also the clearest indication yet that Facebook’s just making this up as they go along.

What’s also clear is how deeply ineffectual these guidelines are—not just for users, but for Facebook’s army of moderators and the two billion Facebook users who rely on them to keep their feeds scrubbed of the most disturbing content.

And that content’s disturbing.

Reading through guidelines for Graphic Content, Revenge Porn, Sexual Child Abuse, it’s hard not to be struck by Facebook’s plodding attempts to identify what is and isn’t objectionable, as well as the base nature of the examples. 

Much of what appears in these stark, black and white slides is drawn, it seems, from Facebook itself. It’s a soul-shaking window into the dark, animal heart of humans on the Internet. So many angry and awful impulses—and Facebook’s been a home to all of them. In a way, it’s easy to feel for Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg. This probably isn’t what he had in mind when he created Facebook. He probably should’ve known better, right?

‘Thing is? Zuckerberg’s the product of a relatively privileged and sheltered upbringing. His recent talking tour of the United States is the best evidence we have of this. For example, this is someone who’s just discovering that our relationships have a huge influence, that juvenile detention centers create more criminals than they rehabilitate, and that it’s hard to meet people who might have a positive influence on your life, especially if you stay where you were born. Even if he’s learning late, again, better late than never.

Facebook has all the hallmarks of being designed by someone who didn’t understand how their society really works—who couldn’t see that “connecting the world” wasn’t necessarily a positive goal if you didn’t account for the pockets of hate, harm, disassociation, and unrest that define so much of it.

Which makes perfect sense, when you remember that Facebook started as a digital version of the college face book some universities produced to help students get acquainted (my college didn’t have one, but they were popular with Ivy League Universities like Zuckerberg’s Harvard).

A university is an ostensibly diverse place, with a wide range of emotional states across the student body, but there’s also a singularly of purpose—getting a college degree—and usually, more balance on the demographic and socio-economic scale than you might find in an average American city.

It’s easy to connect people who are mostly alike, whose homogeny helps define the kinds of content they share. But outside those Ivy-covered digital walls, things can devolve. Quickly.

In the early days of Facebook, a young Mark Zuckerberg encouraged programmers to “move fast and break things.” Even when he adjusted that motto in 2014 to the far less pithy “Move Fast with Stable Infra,” it was less about what Facebook was breaking on a societal level, and much more about not breaking the product hundreds of millions of people were already relying on.

Facebook is a very different platform than it was in 2007, or even 2014. The expansion of its sharing tools (most recently live video) and its shift to a mobile-first platform has radically altered its sharing potential. Facebook’s window on the world and its calamities is never closed. 

Which is why it’s not entirely surprising that today’s Mark Zuckerberg is a changed man. He’s a searcher who’s discovering, however belatedly, that the world’s not filled with billions of Harvard students simply looking to connect. 

Even as he travels the country, posing for photo ops, speaking like the politician he’ll apparently never be, the frantic reality of Facebook’s internal struggle with harmful content has now been laid bare in these documents. Zuckerberg wants to solve the world’s problems, but clearly has no idea how to fix Facebook. The current solutions smack of desperation.

Instead of using that classic obscenity benchmark—you know it when you see it—Facebook is, in the documents, explaining everything and trying to define context and intent where, in the insane world of online content, there may be none, or it may prove impossible to assign.

Even with algorithms taking the first pass, it’s Facebook’s human moderators who are forced to interpret every motive, who decide if something’s art or sex, violence or news, hate or free speech. 

Often times, there is no objective reality to these situation, or at least one that falls into any of those binaries. In other words, it’s an impossible solution for an impossible situation.

Since he built Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg grew an adult sense of empathy that shines through in his increasingly personal Facebook posts. That’s encouraging. Facebook, on the other hand, is still just a cold robot, emotionlessly posting the best and worst of us. There’s no heart. No conscience. Just the cold abyss of terrible choices for a legion of over-taxed moderators who probably wish the world was a better place.

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8Bitdo’s retro Bluetooth controllers now work with Nintendo Switch


Need more controllers for your Nintendo Switch? If you already have some of 8Bitdo’s excellent Bluetooth, classic system-inspired game pads lying around, you’re all set thanks to a new firmware update. Even if you don’t yet have any of these, it’s worth picking some up since they’re very affordable, ergonomic and stylish.

The update to the controllers expands their versatility to include Nintendo Switch compatibility, but the controllers already work with Windows, Android, MacOS and Steam out of the box, too. With Switch, they don’t support rumble functions or motion controls, but they do pretty much replicated the native Switch Pro controller in terms of functionality, with exact button mapping possible on the NES30 Pro and FC30 Pro controllers from 8Bitdo’s lineup.

This is great timing because Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the most recent blockbuster first-party release from Nintendo for Switch, and you can play with up to four people on one console locally in multiplayer. You could of course buy up a bunch of official, first-party Switch controllers, but 8Bitdo’s option is great if you already have these or want a controller that works in more places beyond the Switch.

If you’re an existing 8Bitdo controller, go ahead and grab the firmware update for your device from their support site to get Switch compatibility enabled on your device.

IFTTT advances smart homes by expanding its Applet platform for Makers

Why it matters to you

IFTTT serves the valuable purpose of linking devices, apps, and services that wouldn’t otherwise talk to each other. Now, it’s getting better at it.

If you aren’t familiar with IFTTT — short for “If This Then That” — it can be a little tough to wrap your head around. The basic gist of the platform, though, is this: It cleverly links together hardware, services, and apps that wouldn’t otherwise talk to each other. Using IFTTT, you can trigger a Philips Hue bulb to turn blue when one of your Twitter followers favorites a post, for instance, or update your Facebook status every time you post a new Instagram pic.

But those are just the basics. IFTTT’s growing platform, which includes more than 430 unique integrations and more than 200,000 developers, affords an almost endless degree of customization. And on Wednesday, May 24, IFTTT announced a new program that’ll allow developers to extend its capabilities even further.

“Each service you use is locked away in a silo — it has data about you, and that data has value,” IFTTT CEO Linden Tibbets told Digital Trends. “We offer to facilitate the exchange between silos.”

To that end, IFTT’s expanded developer program builds on two components it introduced last year: Applets, or integrations bundled into single, configurable sets; and Maker, a suite of tools that lets developers build and publish sophisticated routines.

Applets, put simply, are pre-configured IFTTT connections users can enable with the flick of a switch. A IFTTT news Applet might save stories from the New York Times to Instapaper, and a smart home Applet might unlock your front door and switch on your living room lamp.

The goal with Applets was simplicity. Tibbets said. More than 60 percent of new IFTTT users start with integrations curated by the platform’s editorial team.

But simplicity necessitated limitations. Until Tuesday, users couldn’t build Applets that worked with more than two IFTTT services, making it impossible to publish an Applet that’d, say, post your tweets to Reddit and Facebook.

Now, developers in IFTTT’s Maker program can build apps that work with any service, including proprietary platforms like Philips Hue and BMW Connected. Makers and IFTTT partners can now build Applets that work with standard JavaScript code. And Maker developers can now build Applets with multiple actions — a capability previously exclusive to IFTTT partners like GE and Google.

Tibbets gave a few examples. Users enrolled in the Maker program can publish an Applet that triggers the garage door when a BMW pulls up to the driveway, for example, or an Applet that flips on the lights and turns down the blinds with a Google Home voice command.

Starting today, Maker developers will have a public profile page where they can showcase their Applets. And in the near future, IFTTT’s partners will be able to feature Applets built by makers on pages of their own.

“We’re constantly thinking about how access is handled today — and when to grant access. Users and services are at the same negotiating table.” Tibbets said. “They both have a say in how data can move. We want to make better use of the services and connections that you already have.”

Getting Serious About Teen Smartphone Addiction

Parents don’t need a poll to tell them their teenagers are addicted to smartphones. After all, smartphones are a permanent fixture rather than accessories on the visages of kids of all ages these days.

Even so, polls move these everyday observances from anecdotal to official problem when the numbers tilt in that direction — and a Common Sense Media poll hit full tilt.

The fact that 59 percent of parents said their teens were addicted to mobile devices was not surprising. However, the fact that 50 percent of teens admitted they were addicted was shocking.

While parents feel uneasy about their kids constantly being tethered to a device, most are not sure what real harm tech addiction does to teens. It turns out that it has multiple ill effects.

Loss of Empathy

Empathy, the ability to understand and appreciate the feelings of other people, is a trait that is essential to the well being of society. Empathy is the reason people are kind to each other, donate to helpful causes, and avoid harming other people and their possessions. When empathy is diminished or absent, the opposite often occurs — and criminal behavior can spike.

Preteens who were deprived of screened devices for five days dramatically improved at reading people’s emotions (nonverbal skills) compared to children who continued using screens, according to a UCLA study. Reading someone else’s emotions correctly is a function of empathy.

Without empathy and human connection, young people can become cold and cruel to others. Then, when they encounter cold and cruel responses from other young people, the cycle perpetuates itself and grows.

“Lack of empathy seems to be a forerunner among cellphone users,” suggested Chantale Denis, a clinical social worker and sociologist.

“Whether users are addicted or not, cellphone use can perpetuate a lack of accountability, breed irresponsible behavior, feed malevolence, and retard the ability to effectively nurture social skills inherent in our civility to be kind, thoughtful, caring, loving and understanding,” she told TechNewsWorld.

Limited Career Success

Smartphones summon information and entertainment on demand. Thus, instant gratification becomes a constant expectation on and offline.

“Smartphones and computers socialize us into a pattern of communication that then carries over to our everyday non-tech communication lives,” observed Psychsoftpc CEO
Tim Lynch, who holds a Ph.D. in psychology of computers and intelligent machines.

“We expect answers right away, become impatient, use shorter sentences, get right to the point instead of engaging in small talk, and can ignore feelings of others in expressing ourselves,” he told TechNewsWorld.

This lack of soft skills, which include people skills and critical-thinking skills, can interfere with getting a job and with getting promotions.

“Socializing and building authentic relationships in real life with others is a muscle,” said psychologist Wyatt Fisher.

“The more we use it, the better we get at it,” he told TechNewsWorld. “The reverse is also true. Therefore, as teens interact primarily with people through a screen, they often lose the skills needed to connect in person.”

Emotional Disabilities

Smartphones offer young people more access to the world, but they also give more of the world access to young people. Without buffers and filters, teens and preteens can be influenced in all the worse ways.

Researchers reported a strong association between heavy Internet use and depression in a National Institute of Mental Health study.

They also observed a link between heavy Facebook use and depressive symptoms, including low self-esteem.

It’s not just the constant barrage of posts, texts, and messaging from peers and bullies on smartphones that can have a negative effect on the mental health of young people.

“Social media is now a space for advertisement and influencing the masses, and teenagers are the most susceptible and vulnerable to these marketing campaigns,” said clinical psychologist David Mitroff, founder of Piedmont Avenue Consulting,

“Teens are in the stage of development where they still do not have a strong sense of identity, so by constantly being on social media, they are effectively exposed to ads and models that promote unrealistic bodies or body weight,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Ultimately, these ads negatively affect younger people’s mental health due to the skewed representation of beauty or lifestyles that align with the products and services of many companies.”

Breaking Smartphone Addiction

Most experts advise parents to encourage their children to limit the time they spend online. “Put down the phone” has become the new “go play outside.” The key is to help kids find balance in their activities.

There are specific steps parents can take to achieve that balance, said Lynette Owens, global director of Internet Safety for Kids & Families.

  • Talk about it. Don’t just lay down rules — discuss smartphone use with kids and explain why they need to seek balance and do other things. “Help your child understand technology isn’t bad,” Owens said, “but ask them, ‘do you control it or does it control you?'”
  • Set boundaries. Be smart and practical about it. “Not all online time is equal,” Owens said. “Sometimes kids simply have to be online for schoolwork, and other times, it’s for fun. It’s the latter that needs some boundaries.” Consider forbidding devices at the dinner table and leaving them outside bedrooms after bedtime.
  • Set a good example. Put your own devices down. Model what you preach — it could be good for you. After all, many parents also are addicted and need to regain their life balance. Twenty-eight percent of teens think their parents are addicted to their mobile devices, and 69 percent of parents admit to checking their devices, at minimum, every hour, according to the aforementioned Common Sense Media poll.
  • Help them find balance. Offer alternatives or suggest other activities. Find some activities that they can do alone, some they can do with friends, and others they can do with parents. Again, the keyword is “balance.”

Technology is not going away. If anything, it will become more pervasive. The key is to ensure that tech remains a tool — a servant and not a master. By staying aware of your and your kids’ use patterns, you can keep tech tools in their rightful place.


Pam Baker has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2007. Her main areas of focus are technology, business and finance. She has written hundreds of articles for leading publications including InformationWeek, Institutional Investor magazine, CIO.com and TechTarget. She has authored several analytical studies on technology, as well as eight books, the latest of which is Data Divination: Big Data Strategies. She also wrote and produced an award-winning documentary on paper-making. She is a member of the National Press Club, Society of Professional Journalists and the Internet Press Guild. Email Pam.

Garmin’s New 360 Cam Makes Your Stupid Stunts Spherical

Last year Garmin made one of my favorite action cams, the Virb Ultra 30. It’s a voice-controlled 4K shooter with great image quality and the ability to layer data like speed and location over your extreme human tricks.

The Virb 360 shoots spherical, VR-compatible video at a resolution of 5.7K.

Today, Garmin is taking the lid off its first entry into the 360-degree action cam space, the Virb 360. I got to spend a few days testing out this new camera, and overall I came away pretty impressed.

The Virb 360 shoots spherical, VR-compatible video at a resolution of 5.7K, and it does it at 30 frames per second. That sounds solid, but even a high-quality 5.7K image looks very pixelated when you spread it over a full sphere. The video isn’t nearly as sharp as a traditional 16:9 frame of 4K. But the Garmin has enough resolution to beat most other 360 cameras out there, which typically top out at 4K spheres.

The camera makes a spherical image by using two fisheye lenses facing opposite directions. Images from the dual cameras are stitched into a sphere automatically, making your video instantly ready to share. The camera generally does a very nice stitching job, though the seams are certainly visible when nearby objects pass over them.

In addition to 5.7K video, the Virb 360 can also shoot 15-megapixel spherical photos, burst shots, and time-lapse videos. If you edit the video within Garmin’s Virb Edit apps for mobile and desktop, you can apply 4K spherical stabilization to smooth out your video. You can also overlay “G-Metrix” data onto the footage from the camera’s internal sensors, just like you could with last year’s Virb Ultra 30. Show data from the camera’s built-in GPS radio and accelerometer, and pair it with Bluetooth or ANT+ sensors you have strapped to your body to plug even more data into your video.

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One of the coolest things about this camera is that you can soak it—it’s waterproof to 30 feet without a case. I strapped the camera to the nose of my surfboard and spent an hour and a half getting pounded by some cold, central California waves. The camera didn’t leak at all, but it did leave me yearning for the self-clearing microphones found on the GoPro Hero5 Black. Any time the Virb 360’s four mics took on some water, they could screech like a banshee and take a long time to clear.

My test session with the Virb marked the first time I’ve ever been able to shoot 360-degree footage of myself surfing. Even though I absolutely sucked that day (I’m out of practice), I couldn’t help but smile when I saw all of the unique angles in the video. It’s really cool to look at a wave from one direction, rewind the clip, and look at it from the other angle.

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The footage isn’t absolutely drool-worthy, but it’s far from terrible, and a great first step into 360 video. I like that to start or stop a recording, you just flip a big switch on the side of the camera, eliminating any doubt about whether or not you’re rolling. The camera also features voice control (just like the Virb Ultra 30) and it comes with a small tripod which folds up into a grip. You also get the ability to stream live 360 video to Facebook and YouTube—though at launch, this only works when paired with an iOS device.

The Virb 360 will be available in June for $800, which, gaaaah that’s a lot of money! GoPro has started teasing a 360 camera of its own with the GoPro Fusion, though it sounds like that won’t be available until this fall. It’s worth noting that the Fusion shoots at a lower resolution of 5.2K and there’s very little we know about it so far. I’ll be doing more testing soon, but for now it seems that Garmin is the 360-degree gorilla in this space.

Brent Rose is currently traveling the US living in a high-tech van, looking for stories to tell. Follow him on ConnectedStates.com.

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Those movie subtitles you downloaded might open your doors to hackers

If you thought movie subtitles are just benign text files you can download to your computer and use without fear, think again. 

A report from security company Check Point claims that subtitles can be extremely dangerous, potentially allowing malicious hackers to completely take over your computer. 

The subtitles come in many different forms — over 25, according to the report — and the way media files such as VLC or services such as Popcorn Time use them is often insecure.  If a malicious user slips in a dangerous file instead of an actual subtitle, he can do a lot of damage to the victim’s computer. Check out how an attacker can take control of the victim’s machine in the video, below. 

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These subtitles are typically found on specialized websites such as Opensubttiles.org, where they’re ranked according to user scores, giving users a sense of security that they’re downloading a tried and tested version of the subtitle. But these scores can easily be manipulated as to push a malicious files on top of the rankings. 

People who are used to subscription services such as Netflix, and those who don’t watch a lot of media in a foreign language, typically don’t need to download subtitles online. But a lot of people do; Check Point claims affected users are in the hundreds of millions. 

Potential damage is endless 

Check Point says it found vulnerabilities related to the way subtitles are handled in four popular media players and services: VLC, Kodi, Popcorn Time and Stremio. The company did not share details about the vulnerabilities, or what platforms are affected, but it did say that PCs, mobile devices and even Smart TVs are at risk. 

“By conducting attacks through subtitles, hackers can take complete control over any device running them. From this point on, the attacker can do whatever he wants with the victim’s machine, whether it is a PC, a smart TV, or a mobile device. The potential damage the attacker can inflict is endless, ranging anywhere from stealing sensitive information, installing ransomware, mass Denial of Service attacks, and much more,” the report claims.

All of the media players and services listed above have updated their software and fixed these exploits (though Kodi is currently only available as a source code release). Grab the new versions here: VLC, Kodi, Popcorn Time and Stremio.

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How I lost the first national VR gaming tournament, but saw the future of esports

My hands are shaking. But I know that these kinds of events are driven by sugar and adrenaline, so I ignore my nervous muscle twitches and stuff a couple more Oreos into my mouth, one package of many on a table laden with pizza, sugary drinks, and various packaged sweets. Familiar foods to fuel the gods of esports. 

But in this case, there’s a major difference. The gaming arena isn’t a flat screen connected to a console and a traditional controller. No, today we will do battle in virtual reality. 

On May 13, I tested my VR gaming mettle against all comers in the first national VR esports tournament in the U.S., presided over by the ESL Gaming Network, Insomniac Games, Microsoft, Intel, and Asus. In 80 Microsoft stores across the country (and parts of Canada), VR gamers around the country strapped on the Oculus Rift and competed against each other in the VR game The Unspoken

As I’ve mentioned before, an easy way of describing the game is to call it Doctor Strange in VR, but it’s really much than that. Because of the way the game is designed, not only can you get a workout from all the arm and hand motions, but it’s also quite social. The game allows you to have a friendly post-battle audio chat with your opponent (something that happens frequently) in your VR avatar bodies as you’re both still catching your breath in real life while debating teleportation and spell casting strategies in the game’s incredibly well rendered environment. 

The final result on the VR competition bracket board at the Microsoft Store.

The final result on the VR competition bracket board at the Microsoft Store.

Image: adario strange

But on the day of the single elimination tournament, there was none of that. People new to the game as well as veteran VR assassins were all there for the same thing — to win. 

“VR is something that you just can’t explain, you’ve got try it for yourself to fully understand how capable it really is,” says Vec Oculus (aka Victor Torres), the Bronx-based VR gamer who defeated my virtual alter ego, Wrifter, in the final match at the Fifth Avenue Microsoft Store (see bracket above). “Even being in a certain situation of a game, it affects you so much more emotionally since you are actually standing there experiencing the game play first hand at the actual location.” 

Image: Oculus

It’s true. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve (happily) sweat through shirts while playing The Unspoken. It’s that intense and engaging. And that engagement translated to the packed VR esports event that Saturday, aided by a unique set-up at the Microsoft Store

Instead of just seeing a massive screen displaying the game play, with the occasional cut to a gamer’s face, the event’s screens were set up to show the entire upper half of the competitors’ bodies, allowing you to see every gesture, head turn (yes, you even have to look behind you), and ducking movements in concert with the onscreen VR actions of the avatars. 

"Vec Oculus" aka Victor Torres strapped into the Oculus Rift for another round of 'The Unspoken' in the the first national VR esports tournament at the Microsoft Store.

“Vec Oculus” aka Victor Torres strapped into the Oculus Rift for another round of ‘The Unspoken’ in the the first national VR esports tournament at the Microsoft Store.

Image: victor torres via twitter

As I took breaks in between matches, thinking of the explosion of traditional esports franchises that are now mirroring physical sports franchises in a number of ways, I began to wonder: Could the more physical nature of VR esports be the key to the emerging platform’s success in the gaming arena? 

“[This is] the real deal for true gaming, where not only do our minds play a huge part, but also our actual body movements, what we choose to do, and how,” says Torres, who, like me, had never competed in an esports tournament before. “[Gaming in VR] doesn’t compare to a regular gaming controller. This puts you in the game.” 

However, part of the challenge of VR, for now, remains the expense. Picking up a PlayStation 4 console for $399 is the easy option when compared to the roughly $1,200 or more needed to set yourself up with a proper Oculus Rift gaming system. 

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Along with the price issue (which is likely to come down over time), there’s the fact that this recent tournament is really one of biggest promotions VR gaming has had, a full year after the debut of the consumer version of the Oculus Rift. To truly spark a VR esports movement, more game studios will need to emulate the community-supporting efforts of Insomniac Games (whose tournament championship will be held on June 3). 

Those challenges aside, the prospect of VR gaming becoming the next phase of esports, making it more of a true “sport” by introducing a more physical component, is encouraging for the small but growing VR esports community. 

“Since release of The Unspoken I was looking forward to an actual esport for VR. Sadly not many people know VR, or they’re stuck on the mobile version of Oculus for phones,” says Torres. “I’m hoping VR become more popular and continues to progress with great backers for much bigger ideas.”

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