Victrix made news in recent weeks thanks to its partnership with Team Kaliber, an eSports team and winner of CWL Dallas, equipping the eSports pros with its debut product, the Victrix Pro AF. This headset has been built from the ground up for eSports events and LAN tournaments, making its debut at CWL New Orleans earlier this year.
However, the journey that set Victrix on this path began three years ago at the Call of Duty championships, with Ozhan “Oz” Maker, the General Manager of Victrix interviewing tournament players and asking them what they, the gaming professional would want in this high energy, but incredibly loud environment. Oz is no stranger to the gaming industry, having worked at Nokia on the NGage team, Mad Catz, and PDP before moving to Victrix. And while Victrix is just starting to make news now as they ramp up before releasing the Pro AF headset later this year, the process, as mentioned before, started a few years back.
“We set up Victrix, an esports focused company that we set up in San Diego [with the mindset] that we would do esports, competition grade, professional headsets,” Oz tells us in a recent interview about the Pro AF headset. “Now you’re starting to see Victrix making Pr moves, however the products we’re working on in the roadmap have been in the works for the last three years.”
When Oz talked to those players back at the 2014 Call of Duty championships, and then in his subsequent interviews and talks with eSports professionals, the questions being asked about headsets in tournaments were simple: “What exactly is not working for you, what would you improve?” The most common result was the comfort level of the headset, but microphone was also an issue. In loud LAN environments, headsets struggle to block out the noise and effectively keep the team informed and insync. Aggressive noise gates are used and headphones aren’t the most comfortable as they clamp on your head to seal out the noise around the players. The discomfort of the players is on full display, according to Oz.
“They play maybe a ten minute intense match. You see them move or shift ear cups to get relief. Ideally, they should be taking off the headset between rounds, but they can’t because they are strategizing for the next round. Comfort is really the big deal for them.”
The Pro AF, according to Victrix, aims to set the new bar in how tournament style audio for players is handled. Looking to the competition, but also taking cues from outside the gaming industry, Victrix has come up with a few design features and upgrades over the regular Astro or Turtle Beach headset that should give players using the Pro AF relief, but also uncompromising performance in the heat of the tournament.
Starting with the ear cups and the design, the headset features a patent pending venting system. On the back of each ear cup, players can vent any heat or humidity that may have accumulated in the ear cup, making them uncomfortable, all while not having to remove the headset. This system is designed to tackle that major comfort issue for players in this tournaments.
“On of the first things we did to tackle the comfort issue was we invented a mechanical cooling system. [I]t’s been proven that when you open up a vent on the headset while the operator is wearing it [...] the humidity levels go back down to [the] original levels in thirty seconds. So the player perceives that as instant cooling.”
Additionally, the microphone is an issue that many gamers at events deal with. I know from experience going to large gaming events and struggling to communicate with players in my own playtest groups with the ambient noise feeding into the mics, it’s hard to get your point across. In fact, sometimes it’s simply impossible to hear. With so much on the line for these eSports teams, having communication issues is the last thing they want to cost them a chance for victory.
Many microphone makers tackle this problem by allowing noise into the microphone and then clamping down using an algorithm or some approximation program to kill the signal. However, by letting the noise enter the signal, you have to have the processing power to do this quickly. This could introduce lag, which is obviously not good for anyone, regardless of the type of game or environment you’re playing in. Last thing MMO groups need is there to be lag in communication during a major raid or event and have the team wipe as a result of commands and directions being lost or delayed as a result.
Victrix solves this problem by looking towards the United States Military for inspiration. Using an old, expired patent for microphones used on AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters in the 80s and 90s. Cobras, as I can attest from personal experience being in them and around them during operation they are loud. Like really loud.
“The Cobra gets really, really loud,” Oz mentioned while talking about the microphone design. “Violently loud. The operator needs to be intelligible. It’s not easy, but a the analog filter design we are bringing to eSports really works. It increases the intelligibility [of the players] by several factors. It’s overkill for eSports, but it really gets the job done.”
Victrix is also introducing Active Noise Cancelling to its headphones to filter out the noces from the loud environment around the player. Four dedicated microphones listen to the outside environment and eliminate the noise from coming into the headphones up to -45db. That’s huge and if it works as intended can make concentrating and communication much easier on players competing - or gamers at home with loud houses like myself.
Looking at aviation headsets as the inspiration, all of these features - the microphone with its own gain settings, the ANC features - are controlled using an in-line controller. With all the power this headset draws and requires, it’s shocking to see that it runs on a pair of AA batteries. The headset still functions without power, however if you want the full-featured headset, you’ll need to power the unit. Not something you see in the gaming industry - headsets are all powered basically through USB or house a rechargeable battery if they are wireless. Oz recognizes that, but doesn’t seem to think it’ll be a deterrent.
“Aviation headsets would work the same way. It would have a handheld controller, the pilots would hang on their shirt or belt. We could have easily put rechargeable batteries in a system like that, or make it USB. In fact, one of the products in the road map is a streamer headset, but this product is design for a LAN tournament player, an eSports pro.”
As a result, in that environment, players using the Victrix Pro would need to be able to walk up to the table, plug into the mix amp and get going. The headset uses a simple 3.5mm connection, which also allows the headset to be used easily on console as well for players who compete using the Xbox or PS4.
The Pro AF definitely looks impressive. Oz and the team feel it’s a premium package being offered as well, and the pricing will reflect this. The Pro AF will sell at $299 and release on June 9th. And while the headset is pricey, consumers can decide to buy the headset without the Active Noise Cancelling for $100 off. In fact, in March, early adopters can pre-order the Pro AF ANC will sell for $200 for a limited time. These units will be limited - only 4000 of them will sell at that price and will be numbered as well - but the idea here is to get the units in peoples hands and have them talking about them.
Victrix is also planning on releasing other headsets, like the aforementioned Streamer specific headset, and they aren’t looking at just sticking with headsets. Oz is confident that Victrix will be here for the long haul after the launch of the Pro AF in June. From the design to the use-case, Victrix looks poised to become a player in the eSports world, which could translate into other segments of gaming. And they are looking to change the industry in a positive way with each step they take.
“Like I tell my team: ‘We should only work on a product if we can make a positive difference and make it significantly better, not just a little bit better,” Oz says. “Headsets are just one, you will see we’re not just about headsets, but we will approach this from a more holistic perspective. We’re here for the long play.”