The Rise of Virtual Participation Sports

by Sachin

VR is making a huge impact on a number of industries, including sports entertainment.

Photo by rawpixel / Pixabay License

Having gotten over the stumbling block of the ill-fated Virtual Boy, VR has had something of a renaissance in recent years. This is largely driven by the availability and relatively low cost of VR headsets like the Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard and Oculus Rift.

Because VR headsets and 360-degree cameras are no longer the toys of the excessively rich, VR has been able to make a significant impact on industries such as video games, sports and even healthcare providers.

With significant funding being put towards the development of VR technologies by large venture capitalist firms and the giants of the tech world, such as Facebook, VR applications have come on in leaps and bounds.

In this article, we will be looking at how VR is changing the way people experience and even interact with sporting events.

VR in Sport

Augmented reality (AR) has long been a part of sports, sports gaming, and the audience’s viewing of sports. Before the rise of VR, systems like Hawk-Eye in cricket and tennis, the fourth official in football, puck tracking in ice hockey, and the use of projected first-down lines in American football have been enriching how the audience take in live sporting programs.

With the introduction of 360-degree cameras and VR headsets, the game changed from watching sport on a 2D TV with the occasional addition of some AR enhancements to being able to view the events as if you were stood in the crowd, or even on the pitch.

The first example of this was at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games, with the BBC and NBC both offering VR coverage of the events

The 2015 NBA opening game between the Golden State Warriors and the New Orleans Pelicans was transmitted in live VR by VR broadcasting startup, NextVR.

While the NBA has been a front runner in the adoption of VR, the NFL isn’t far behind. NextVR is once again at the forefront of VR football, showing three mid-season NFL games and the Super Bowl. They’ve also recently taken a foray into NASCAR racing

The availablity of low-cost VR headsets is key to the evolution of VR as an entertainment technology

Photo by WikimediaImages / Pixabay License

The Evolution of VR Sport

The obvious evolution of VR sport is to provide a player’s-view perspective, but so far this hasn’t been tried with any real success. 

Spanish startup FirstV1sion attached wearable VR cameras to players at a number of smaller sporting events but, because of lingering issues with the fidelity of VR and the discrepancy between the images the brain is receiving and the information it is getting from its own motions sensor, it turned out to be a recipe for severe motion sickness.

Another area that is showing real promise is the use of simulations of games which the user can interact with. These so-called “Virtual Participation” simulations use data from real sporting events and render it down into a 3D world that the viewer can experience from any angle, be that of the fans, the participants, or even the officials.

Using a commonly available and inexpensive VR helmet, you aren’t sat in your chair watching the race, you’re suddenly sitting on the back of Lys Gracieux, Oddschecker’s favorite to win the W.S. Cox Plate. You’re not just watching, now it feels like you are participating.

Companies are already moving to take advantage of this new kind of sports entertainment viewing, including Beyond Sports, a VR startup that uses data captured from football matches to recreate them in great detail. 

Because of the utility of being able to see a game from any perspective, Beyond Sports has already partnered with Dutch football clubs Ajax and PSV Eindhoven to turn their idea into an exciting new training tool.

With the increased rate at which VR solutions and VR peripherals are being created, the obvious melding of these various technologies is very much on the horizon, allowing sports fans to observe a live match as if they were there then examine it as a full 3D render. They could then play their favorite VR sports game with high fidelity VR captures of famous sporting venues and players.

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