There are several reasons why you may not be able to get outside to practice your soccers skills in front of a real goal. You could be carrying an injury, the weather might be too inclement, or there could be a global pandemic that’s caused public training venues to be closed down. But, in adversity, VR might help you bring the training pitch to your home. And having spent a couple of days training inside Rezzil Player 21, I can say that it’s quite the workout.
It’s made by Rezzil, a British developer which counts former Belgium and Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany as an investor. Rezzil’s professional tools are currently used by clubs like Paris Gt. Germain, Manchester United and Liverpool FC. The tools include training and analysis software, including a virtual training program set that helps players learn and repeat specific skills. This includes heading practice, rondo drills and shooting tests, both to help them sharpen their abilities and to help coaches identify a player’s weaknesses.
The company has now launched Rezzil Player 21, which is a basic version of its training software for non-elite users. The title offers a basic finishing drill as standard and is currently only compatible with HTC’s Vive and Steam’s Valve Index headsets. You can also buy one -- for now -- additional training routine as a DLC, where you hit a colored ball with the side of your foot.
Ordinarily, I’d test this setup by traipsing off to Rezzil HQ, but COVID-19 has given me the wonderful opportunity to train at home. HTC loaned me a laptop, $900 Vive Cosmos Elite set and a single Vive Tracker for a few days to set it up here. If you’re a budding soccer superstar looking to get some time with this kit, be advised that you’ll need to make a hefty investment.
You’ll also need plenty of floor space for your home set-up. When playing a full-body sports title, your natural urge to move toward a ball you want to kick means you cover a surprising amount of ground. Yes, friends, I managed to punt a cast-iron radiator as I tried to lash a ball into the top corner.
In order to track your movements, you’ll need to strap the Vive Tracker to your sneaker (or sneakers, if you have two). The Vive Tracker isn’t the most elegant thing in the world to lace into your shoelaces, but it can be done. Thankfully, the game lets you calibrate your tracker’s position so it knows where your foot is relative to the equipment. Then you can set how long you want each challenge to take, and you’re on your way.
The basic finishing challenge places you inside a large indoor training ground, in front of a goal with a machine on either side firing balls into your path. Overlaid onto the goal is a series of customizable targets, offering bonus points if you can hit them. Naturally, the higher points come if you can consistently thrash a ball into the top corners, out of the goalkeeper’s reach.
You get more points for striking the ball with the sweet spot on top of your foot and targeting the zones a goalkeeper would struggle to reach. But even if you lazily side-foot the ball into the middle of the ground, like a dad playing with his kids, you’ll still earn points.
Color Combos, the first DLC, pits you against four ball machines firing wave after wave of balls toward your feet. You need to kick each colored ball, almost simultaneously, with the correct side of your boot. In my case, the outside of my right foot was red, the inside yellow, and when a red and yellow ball comes trundling to you, you’ve gotta tap both or lose points.
There are also traps, with rows of concrete balls that you need to jump over or risk being kicked out of the game. And silver balls, which help boost your score and extend your time limit. Add some Beat Saber-esque electro pop and this would have the makings of a hit new rhythm game. It’s also one hell of a workout since you need to keep moving in order to stay on top of what’s going on.
There will, always, be a gap between how the laws of physics work in the real world and in their virtual counterparts. The aim here is to coact you into making more accurate shots rather than thwacking each one, but things are a little bouncy. Some of this can be attributed to the setup since Rezzil says you need four base stations to make the tracking work properly — double what I was using.
I’ve spent two days playing, sorry training, with Rezzil and can already see a vast improvement in my technique. It’s certainly an easier and more efficient way of doing this than I’d be able to achieve on my own in a public park, too. And the fact that it’s gamified — you’re looking to beat your own high score, rather than anything more specific — makes it easy enough for amateurs to get involved.
Sadly, I’ve not been able to test my newly-honed skills out in the real world since the UK has been bathed in heavy snow. But perhaps, when the weather (and the pandemic) is behind us, my Rezzil skills will earn me a trial at a league club. You never know: I may weigh the same as Adebayo Akinfenwa, but I’m two years younger.
Rezzil Player 21 is available through Steam or Viveport for free, with a version currently in the works for Oculus Quest which will focus on non-foot-based drills. The Color Combos DLC will set you back around $15, while in-game you can buy credits that can be spent on kitting yourself out with real Adidas boots and balls. Eventually, the company says it will add more drills to bolster your at-home training experience. That's good, because a mere two drills alone would, eventually, wear out their welcome.
It’s an intriguing kind of supplementary training, but it’s unlikely to supplant the real world of muddy boots and crunching tackles, which we all know are the fun parts of the beautiful game.