Sports tech is always evolving, as TV networks and social media both continue to experiment with ways to deliver the best experience for fans to watch their favorite teams and players. And, in the latest example of new sports tech, the BBC will be screening this year’s World Cup in virtual reality.
What’s the innovative way to view the world’s biggest sports tournament mean for the current and future of sports and tech? We dive into that question and break down other devices that are putting fans on the field, wondering how each might impact the culture of sports.
During the 2018 PyeonChang Winter Olympics, NBC Olympics streamed more than 50 hours of live virtual reality coverage. People around the world could strap on headsets, sit on couches thousands of miles from South Korea and feel as if they were riding on the back of a bobsled soaring down the track. At its best, the technology could herald a new era of watching sports, one where a fan can arrive at the Olympics without spending more than the cost of a VR device. But critics argued that NBC’s recent coverage fell far short of that, underwhelmed by poorly positioned VR cameras and the low quality coverage.
In 2017, Intel introduced VR to baseball, streaming each MLB game for the entirety of the season. But it stumbled against the same issues as the Olympics, with many screens unable to display 4K quality, and the technology failing to fully immerse viewers in the atmosphere and euphoria of being field-side. With only three to four cameras covering the event, users couldn’t look around at their surroundings or track home runs that soared past the camera’s scope.
Whether or not the BBC’s VR coverage of the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Russia will respond to these issues and improve upon them remains to be seen. With every single broadcasted match available to stream — 33 in total — will the newest addition to sports tech be worth it for fans, especially since ultra-high definition will be restricted to TV screens only? Users can enjoy different perspectives, swapping between a view from a private box or from behind either goal, though, making this something worth checking out. Along with watching the match, audiences will also be able to see live match stats and review daily highlights.
Technical glitches aside, virtual reality faces a significant hurdle; it transforms the communal viewing experience into a solitary one. For viewers sitting alone at home, VR cuts away the thrill of the cheering audience, the ability to share in joys and defeats, and, most of all, the chance to be part of a community. The FOX Sports VR app is attempting to make the service more sociable by introducing a virtual lounge for users to create avatars and interact with others, whether Facebook friends or strangers.
While virtual reality might be the latest piece of sports tech meant to enhance the way we watch games, it has long strides to go before it redefines the way we do so — but it’s learning quickly. VR developers are realizing that the service should not be treated as TV, just as TV should not be treated like radio.
What people want from VR is to be part of the action and emotional intensity, and if companies find ways to meet these demands soon, sports viewers could soon be transported from sofa to stadium. Meeting up with friends around the world, leaping between the stands and the field, listening to speeches in the locker room, and, fully immersed, for a moment, in the full glory of the game.
Lead image via YouTube