MassVR opens virtual reality experience a gamer could love


Courtesy MassVR

MassVR’s proprietary technology will allow players to move untethered in the virtual battlegrounds of “VR Champions,” a competitive first-person shooter.

By Mayan Darbyshire

Video game enthusiasts rejoice: The new wave of interactive gaming is here, pulling players and their virtual reality headsets from cramped living rooms into a fully interactive arena.

This one-of-a-kind undertaking is headed by MassVR, a local startup focused on providing a low cost, interactive VR experience for people who like to play. Its flagship location opened near O’Hare International Airport Feb. 2 at 5135 Pearl St., where players pay $40 per person to engage in an untethered, four versus four, VR gameplay experience. 

Chris Lai, president and CEO of MassVR, said he wanted to create the first VR experience that catered to the modern gaming audience, one that was older and wanted something new and challenging.

“When I was young, it was only people who were kids; no adults played games,” Lai said. “I’ve grown up to an adult and I still play. It’s just that you play less often, or you’ll play different types of games, but you still enjoy gaming.” 

Players don their adjustable, head-mounted displays to spin, jump and traverse virtual obstacles in real time. The technology behind MassVR has been built from the ground up, with a play arena totaling 6,000 square feet. According to Lai, it can be scaled up to 15,000 square feet and support up to 16 players. 

MassVR will launch with its first game, “VR Champions,” a competitive player-versus-player first-person shooter similar to “Halo” or “Destiny,” with  more titles to come.     

“No one has attempted to do pure gaming; you might be shooting in there, but it’s like arcade rides; you never die,” Lai said. “In ‘VR Champions,’ you die a lot, there’s consequences to your decisions and actions, and we keep track of all your stats.” 

MassVR plans to have locations nationwide hoping to incite competition between teams that play “VR Champions,” Lai said.

Julian Grant, associate professor in the Interactive Arts and Media Department, said VR development is still fairly new, with multiple models of VR gaming being tested. 

“This kind of multiplayer VR experience is definitely something to keep your eye on, as more and more people adopt VR gameplay into real athletic opportunities,” Grant said. 

Lai added that the company plans to release a second game, yet to be titled, that involves players having to solve puzzles, similar to the experience of an escape room. 

“Every title we release will cater to a different audience,” Lai said, “But we have one thing in common: We want to play together and we want to go out. We don’t just want to stay at home.” 

MassVR comes on a wave of new, more interactive entertainment experiences, such as escape rooms, that are capitalizing on a want for engaging activity.

“So many amusement activities that you find in the U.S. are completely prepackaged,” said Vincent Rubino, owner of  local escape room Fox in a Box Chicago. “[Amusement activities] often are surrounded by alcohol and you experience it, but it’s a real lightweight form of experience. You actually have no agency in what you’re doing, you’re not part of the adventure, you kind of float through it.”

MassVR has also partnered with the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo where Lai said the company will be setting up an 8,000 square foot arena for convention goers to try for themselves. Tickets went on sale Feb. 1.