Traditional sport seeks to compete with eSports using augmented reality
16 Mar 2022

In Barça Sports Tech Week 2019, Steve Palmer, responsible for Data Solutions in the Premier League showed some videos in which the attendees were watching nothing less than the future. It was an idea that was being developed for the Premier League to be able to compete with eSports, which attracts the youngest consumers at many levels. As regards broadcasts in virtual reality and augmented reality, he gave the example of players’ customization. To make the experience of following a game more attractive, new technologies allowed to turn them, in this case, into Lego bricks. An enticement for the youngest. 

Augmented reality implementations in sports broadcasts

In the innovation congress of Braça, it was a fascinating idea. Three years later, in the USA, it is a reality. It could be seen in the game Dallas Cowboys vs San Francisco 49ers on 16th January after Amari Cooper scored a glorious touchdown of 20 yards. In Nickelodeon broadcast, an animation showing radioactive liquid cannons falling on target was displayed using augmented reality. Besides, in the replay, the players did not appear as themselves. Instead,  it was performed by the Ninja Turtles, leveraging that the green fluid was what turned them into mutants in the original story.

Nickelodeon started its broadcast of NFL in 2021 thanks to a deal signed with CBS Sport, which gives them some games with the aim of explaining the rules of that sport to the youngest audience. Nickelodeon Super Duper Bowl Pregame Spectacular and Unfiltered, aimed at kids, won an Emmy for incorporating other topic elements of the network into the broadcast. A resource that worked.  The 2021 game between New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears was the most-watched content of the network in four years and made the network become a trending topic on Twitter that night with over two billion impressions. 

Another example of augmented reality applied to broadcasts is the NBA coverage of ESPN2 with Walt Disney and Marvel in which animations based on The Avengers were used and the players of Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Pelicans portrayed Iron Man, Captain Marvel, Captain America, Black Panther, and other heroes from the comic. In this way, part of the plot of the comics was integrated into the game with special effects, 3D and animations. The players gained Marvel Hero points to be chosen by the superheroes to fight with them in an alien invasion. 

Even before, the character of CBS Young Sheldon, from the The Big Bang Theory spin-off, explained NFL games to child audiences. The American regional network Bally Sports West not only joined a 10-year-old reporter but also the game graphics were done with artificial intelligence and machine learning to offer fun facts for kids. 

Capturing the youngest with augmented reality

These three examples offer differentiated fields of work to catch the attention of the youngest: 

– Replays of game actions starring famous cartoons of fictional characters thanks to customization systems feasible for virtual or augmented reality. A way to keep the spectator during the whole game waiting for new replays. In studies about consumer behaviour of Generation Z, it is always mentioned their ability to switch channels or screens if after 8 seconds something of what they are watching is not entertaining. This means that it is difficult for them to see a complete game, and many of them opt for watching the highlights, turning down live broadcasts. Expectations of animations in those key throws could be useful to keep that attention in live events.  

– New and parallel stories. The example of including an adventure of The Avengers in a basketball game, and that players’ stats in that game hold a ‘parallel’ competition in a fiction context is a new dimension. A crossover. The story opens to a myriad of possibilities. What happens in a game can be significant on a second screen and a game can be tangled to a fiction plot. 

– Data and special treatment. Putting the algorithms in search for new events of a game is quite a challenge. From a game, we know kicks to target, baskets, 3-point shots, assists… And if the -8 audience wants to know the number of slips? The only limit is imagination and the bond created with the little ones. 

On the other hand, with kid and family specialized broadcasts, the door opens for a new advertising market.  According to S&P Global Market Intelligence, it is more and more common in America for parents to be willing to watch sports with their kids, but they don’t do it because they don’t want to find ‘inappropriate content’ such as alcohol advertising.  So far, the examples mentioned here have been alternative broadcasts of the main one, but in the future this format could enable to personalize advertising, even more, keeping the consumer segments in the same game. 

Other trends in this way are related to making the spectator experience more interactive.  For example, the Brooklyn Nets have inserted a broadcast system they call Netaverse. It has over 100 cameras that register a virtual copy of the field with the aim of having fans following the players in first person. Currently, it could be broadcasted live with only three seconds of delay. Interactivity would be in the movements the spectator can make, 360 degrees, to find the focus of their interest with a joystick. It is a step beyond the service already offered by NBA to be able to see a game from a cyber-playground with virtual reality goggles and headphones on the Horizon Venues platform. 

Traditional sport also adopt augmented reality

In every traditional sport, these can of experiences are emerging. The LTA (British Lawn Tennis Association) has the aim of increasing the number of kids who play tennis in Great Britain by 10% by 2025. To achieve it, the strategy is to use virtual and augmented reality apps with 5G networks. 

A minority but essential sport for the Olympic Games, fencing, broadcast has also radically changed with use of augmented reality in the trajectory of the point of the foil, sword or sabre. Live broadcast has not only been revolutionized and come closer to something as popular as the fight scenes of the movie Star Wars but with 3D and VR replays details in each point can be seen. Something that before was complicated even using super slow cameras. 

The most basic of the sports, running, can also be greatly leveraged thanks to augmented reality with the creation of avatars to run races with them.  The Ghost Pacer app already allows this just by using goggles. This raises the odds for training with more effective sessions, or simply, it makes this sport funnier to practice. 

Future in sport: augmented reality or eSports?

However, the hypothesis on how the future of sports will be like with virtual and augmented reality cannot escape hybrid models. No eSport, no traditional sport: both. The most significant case is practising Hado. It is a video game but disputed like a sport. Users shoot energy balls like in Dragon Ball and they use virtual shields created in a team to prevent the opponent’s attack. In order to play it, you need AR goggles to see the ball and an armed sensor that detects movements. It is not only about reflexes. Players must jump, move fast and count on flexibility and agility. Before COVID-19, the 2019 World Cup final gathered 400 people in Tokyo and a thousand streaming connections. It was like becoming the main character of a video game. Maybe, this is the beginning of the end for video games in which you can only play sitting which gives room for a sedentary lifestyle.


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