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Virtual Reality — Enhancing Live Sport

By: Andy Cooper

Virtual reality headsets such as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR are set for consumer release in the first half of 2016, but virtual reality is already starting to permeate sports, from 360-degree cameras to experiences in fans’ living rooms.

Several NFL teams headed into the 2015 season having used virtual reality to prepare their players for “any given Sunday.” No experience against NFL defenses? No problem. Faced with throwing a rookie quarterback into the fire in Week One, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prepared number one overall draft pick Jameis Winston by allowing him to rehearse for his debut by practicing plays in the virtual world. In an exercise taken straight out of “The Matrix,” Winston was able to practice opposite a defense of avatars, repeatedly running all the schemes and packages he will be seeing on Sundays.

That’s just one example of VR being used by NFL teams during the offseason. The 49ers, Cowboys and several other teams are using panoramic cameras that can allow the quarterback to study and relive actual reps taken during practice. “Imagine you’re standing in practice and the camera captures real footage,” said Stanford alum and Indianapolis Colts starting quarterback Andrew Luck. “You can go through the play with real plays and with real players.”

The upcoming VR craze will provide new opportunities for teams and leagues to engage with their fans. Games will soon be broadcast so that the field of vision is no longer constricted to the dimensions of a television set. Instead of being limited to the panning camera at midcourt, a VR headset can give the at-home viewer a 360-degree viewing experience. “It doesn’t replace being here,” explains entertainment mogul and Golden State Warriors co-owner Peter Guber. “That’s still a different experience. But it is a phenomenally new and exciting method to bring basketball to disparate communities all over the country.”

Other VR content producers aren’t merely trying to place fans alongside the game, but aim to fully immerse fans into the game itself. The most recent example was at the US Open, when fans had the chance to return a 110 MPH serve from Maria Sharapova using a VR headset and handheld sensor acting as a racket. This isn’t your friendly game of Wii Tennis, but a simulator featuring a custom-scanned rendering of Sharapova whipping up her top-speed service in a real physics engine.

Early sports content in VR may have its limitations, but the rapid pace of technology leaves a lot of exciting possibilities for the near future. Advancements in camera quality and computer processing will increase picture clarity while decreasing latency. The combination of these two will further close the gap between the real and virtual worlds. And it’s at this frontier of the virtual and real that Virtually Live operates…

Virtually Live seeks to provide fans with the real action of a live sporting event while experiencing the boundless immersion of a fully interactive stadium. Using STATS SportVU tracking data, Virtually Live’s platform takes the real movements of players on the field and recreates them almost instantly in a virtually stadium. Virtually Live’s platform enables fans not only to attend the game from home, but gives them the option to choose any perspective, from a seat in the stands to a VIP box to sitting next to or even on the field as the game is taking place. Virtually Live provides new perspectives and new opportunities to watch the game with friends and like-minded fans.

With advancements in tracking data, the immersion of the Virtually Live experience will only continue to increase. More detailed tracking, coupled with advancements in motion capture technology for players, enables the recreation of a 3D, immersive environment — enabling fans around the world to experience the atmosphere and excitement of a live stadium experience with their friends without leaving home.

Buckle up sports fans — it’s going to be a wild ride.