Each month I usually produce a roundup of the VR games and apps I’ve been playing. It includes my thoughts on new releases, recent updates to VR favorites, and experiences I hadn’t given the time to before. However, for July, I'm unable to present my usual feature as only one VR experience has dominated my time: ForeVR Bowl.
I’ve spent the past four weeks competing in a VR bowling tournament against 15 other VR content creators, with all of us fighting it out for a chance to win $1,000 (Around £780 / AU$1,500) for charity. And as the headline gave away, I took home the grand prize, with my winnings going to Crisis – a UK homelessness charity.
Here’s the story of how I became a VR bowling champion.
What is VR bowling?
VR bowling is a lot like regular bowling, but instead of heading to a real-world alley and slipping on some bowling shoes, I simply head to my living room and slip on my Meta Quest Pro.
As I've mentioned already, the battleground for the tournament was ForeVR Bowl – a bowling simulator with an incredible amount of depth. Every single bowling ball here (of which there are over 200) comes with unique speed, weight and spin stats, with some having additional abilities that alter how they roll further. The physics has been fine-tuned to match real life as closely as possible – and I was told by a member of the ForeVR Games team that some pro bowlers actually used ForeVR Bowl to practice during the height of Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.
Admittedly, this depth was initially a little off-putting to a novice such as myself, but ForeVR Bowl is just as friendly a pick for casual players who are after something more akin to Wii Sports bowling. As well as unique stats, every ball also sports a unique design, so if the numbers serve only to confuse, you can just pick the balls that look cool. And if playing in a traditional bowling alley isn’t your thing, with ForeVR Bowl you can play underwater, in space, or in a trendy Brooklyn bar.
Round one recap
I’ve already covered my first-round match against UploadVR’s Henry Stockdale here on TechRadar, but in case you’re new, I’ll give you a quick recap. The match started off slow, the first few frames went by with Henry picking up an early lead. With every throw, I’d leave a few pins standing while he’d score a couple of spares and a strike.
Given my bowling past, I assumed this was how things would proceed; I’d put up a good fight, but Henry would edge me out every frame and secure a victory. In the fourth frame things turned around, however – the bowling gods smiled upon me and helped me score my first strike, which I miraculously followed up with two more strikes, followed by a spare in the seventh frame.
This sudden burst of bowling skill (and a few unlucky throws from Henry) put me ahead, and when the game was all said and done, I had won with 171 points to Henry’s 130.
Following my first-round match, I was feeling pretty good about myself and my prospects in the competition. A score of 171 was really great for me; however, I didn’t want my pride to get the better of me, so I decided to put in an hour or two of practice to get a better feel for how balls with different stats play, while also hunting for hidden balls in each of the game's levels. When I was ready to call it a day, I was happy with my performance, and confident that my second-round match would be less tense than my first.
How wrong I was.
My confidence Riddled with holes
My round two opponent was Riddled – a TikToker who specializes in VR content. In just four frames, not only had he demolished my newfound confidence, he’d vaporized every atom of it. He started things off by comfortably earning a Hambone – a bowling term for scoring four strikes in a row.
I was losing by a lot, and it didn’t help that I was also trailing behind our host, Josh. Josh wasn’t part of the competition; he was just there to make sure we didn’t cheat, answer any questions we had, and generally bring good vibes. Since the hosts couldn’t join as spectators, the game forced them to play, although their score didn’t count for the competition. And because there was no pressure on him to do well, Josh started showing off with some impressive trick shots, lobbing the ball from across the map – and still somehow managing to do better than myself, despite his self-imposed handicap.
I felt truly defeated, and as I went up to take my fifth-frame throws, I thought I might just forfeit. Riddled was so far ahead; and perhaps I’d have more fun trying to mimic one of Josh’s trick shots – I had six more tries to get a strike from across the room, and that goal seemed easier to achieve than victory. But that wouldn’t be fair to Riddled; he deserved a proper competitor, not someone who gave up partway through. Neither would it be fair to the charity I was supporting, so I played on.
While my luck didn’t turn quite as dramatically as it did in round one, the gap between Riddled and I did steadily shorten. Suddenly, I was the one getting spares and strikes, and Riddled consistently left pins standing. But his early lead was strong, and going into my tenth frame, I was trailing by about 40 points or so.
Trying to score 40 points with one frame sounds impossible – there are only 10 pins per frame – but I had a quirk of bowling on my side.
You see spares and strikes don’t just earn you 10 points. A spare will net you 10 points plus a bonus based on the score of your next throw, while a strike will get you 10 plus a bonus based on your next two throws. This is the reason the maximum score in bowling isn’t 100, it’s 300 – for each frame you get a strike (for 10) plus an additional 20 as your next two throws were both also strikes (earning you 30 in total per frame).
But I can already hear you asking: “If bowling ends at 10 frames, how do you get 300?” After your ninth frame, you’ll only have one more throw (for a max of 20 in frame 9), and if your tenth throw is a strike then you’ll just walk away with 10, leaving you at 270 (eight frames of 30 plus one of 20 plus one of 10). Well, this is the quirk of bowling I had on my side; if you get a strike in frame 10, you get two more throws, allowing you to achieve that precious 30 in every frame.
And in my ninth frame I’d got a strike, opening the way for a comeback.
With this knowledge in hand, I stepped up to the line, selected my ball, and hit three consecutive strikes. I finished the match exactly how Riddled had started it, with a hambone and ahead, scoring 234 to my rival’s 213.
A close call
The semi-finals match would be my closest yet, and the first game in which it was my turn to bowl first. While bowling first or second doesn’t really matter (there’s no advantage either way), personally, my preference was to know the score I had to beat on stepping up, rather than setting the bar and hoping my fellow competitor failed to cross it.
My opponent, Ryan (also known by Bread Warlock online), was a bowling natural, and we traded equal blows every alternate frame. One of us would score a strike or spare, while the other got eight or nine, then the reverse would happen all the way through the match.
I had another burst of luck in my tenth frame, and just as had happened in the quarter finals, I scored three strikes in frame 10. Nervously, I watched on as Ryan stepped up to play; I covered my face with my VR hands, I literally couldn’t watch.
Ryan had missed his final shot and come away with 213 to my 217.
(I realized later that my tenth frame performance meant Ryan couldn’t have caught me, even if he matched with three strikes of his own; but in the moment I was so nervous, I didn’t spot this.)
Champion of the VR bowling world
Going into the finals match I felt oddly calm. This should have been the game that made my nerves go haywire, but this was the most zen I’d felt yet. Perhaps because I felt I’d already accomplished one of my goals – to come away with a good story.
I'd secured this by making the finals; either I’d go away and write this feature about how I became a VR bowling champion, or I’d produce a piece titled "How I almost won a $1,000 VR bowling tournament" – a headline that I think I prefer, since there’s a lot more humor to it.
Yes, I did still want to win for my charity, but I was comforted by the fact that win or lose, a good cause would be receiving the prize money. This final match was only to decide who got to pick, me or my opponent.
Speaking of my opponent, it was Skeeva – a member of the Between Realities VR podcast. He, too, seemed to share my relaxed vibe, and while I wouldn’t say any of my matches felt super competitive, this was definitely the least fierce. We clapped whenever the other player took their turn, and celebrated with cheers and in-game finger gun pew-pews whenever they got a spare or a strike.
As enjoyable as the match was, it turns out that the relaxed setting of the final didn’t help my bowling skills – which appear to be boosted by stress; it was my worst performance yet. I think I only came out on top because Skeeva had some incredibly unlucky throws in the back half of the game, which meant I had an all-but-guaranteed victory as I went into my tenth frame. Skeeva had finished with 147, and with my score already at 144, I just had to knock down four pins to claim victory.
I got nine then whiffed my second throw sending it into the gutter. What a lackluster way to round things off, huh? Skeeva came over, we high-fived, thanked each other for a great match, fist-bumped our host Tori, and then all went our separate ways. I had won and become a VR bowling champion.
Want to find out about some of the other VR antics I’ve gotten up to? Check last month's feature about the VR games and apps I played in June 2023. Or you can check out our full list of the best VR games to see what other experiences you could explore with one of the best VR headsets.
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Hamish is a Senior Staff Writer for TechRadar and you’ll see his name appearing on articles across nearly every topic on the site from smart home deals to speaker reviews to graphics card news and everything in between. He uses his broad range of knowledge to help explain the latest gadgets and if they’re a must-buy or a fad fueled by hype. Though his specialty is writing about everything going on in the world of virtual reality and augmented reality.