I have seen the future of live sports, and it is in VR

I just finished watching the regular season opener between defending NBA champions Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Pelicans. Warriors had home court and won the game with a safe margin, winning every quarter except the 4th.

What made this game different is that I watched it through a VR live stream, made possible by NextVR. For this game, I had a court-side seat. I was in fact sitting even closer than the regular, outrageously expensive court-side seats, as I was sitting dead center in front of the scorer’s table, about two feet off the ground right next to an official broadcast camera operator. To me, this was a milestone experience in live broadcast sports.

I’m a sports fan. I love going to live sports games; I love the atmosphere, I love the noise, I love the excitement and I love the game – although my friends will know that the love of the game is limited to certain sports. Live TV broadcasts have always been a poor excuse to seeing the real thing, an excuse that I’ve had to make more often over the last couple of years, as my work/life/family-balance has changed, and my favorite teams have been playing a continent and an ocean away. I do it, I like it, but I don’t love it – I’ve watched so many games with my favourite football teams in Europe where I’ve really wanted to be at the stadium instead of at home in my living room.

Watching one single live basketball game in VR has changed all that. Suddenly, I am there, court-side, watching the action as if I was there. From my seat I can’t see the scoreboard, so I have to keep track of the score in my head. There are no instant replays, since I’m watching the events as they unfold from one locked-off position. I will often look up at the shot-clock above the hoop to see how much time is left on the attack. From time to time the official will stand right in front of me, blocking my line of sight of the action. There is no commentator helping me identify the good plays and analyzing the game in real time. All of these things are the exact same things I experience when I go to a live game, and it’s thrilling as hell. I will even applaud a particularly well played assist by Steph Curry as if I was there, realizing seconds after that I’m the only one in the room – and waking up my daughter at the same time. But damn, that was well played.

When I watch traditional live sports broadcast, my attention wanders. I will look away from the screen, go to the kitchen, maybe even jump to a different tab on my computer, returning only to the live broadcast if IĀ hear something exciting. In VR sports, there is no such thing – I’m there the whole time, immersed in the experience. And I don’t want to leave. Curiously enough I see the people sitting next to me court-side taking out their phones to check Facebook, but I can’t believe they will want to miss the action in front of them.

This is one of the first times I’ve felt genuinely excited by something I’ve watched in VR – beyond the pseudo-excitement of watching a cool tech-demo. I’m a casual basketball fan, but not a Warriors fan (#LobCity !) And yet I stayed on through the whole thing, because the experience was amazing.

This will changeĀ everything, I kid you not!

So let’s get the bad things out of the way:

  • The resolution could have been better.
  • The audio levels went up and down a lot, but it was cool to hear the chatter around me.
  • The Samsung Gear VR “needed to cool down” several times. A known issue.
  • The camera sat too low, I felt like a midget.
  • The two alternate camera positions, one behind the board and one in the nosebleeds, were less than optimal. Fortunately the court-side position was used most of the time.
  • It’s incredibly annoying how long it takes to get back into the app if you have to take the headset of for a minute to put your daughter back to sleep.
  • The POV was not 360, it was about 180. Annoying at first, but it made sense after a while.

But those things can and will be solved. I had to run to 7/11 to get beer before the final quarter, and drinking a cold beer while watching the game felt just as good as drinking one at the live game. Except it was a lot cheaper and I didn’t have to wait in line.

Let me also mention that I felt no physical discomfort from being in VR for a full quarter at a time – I’m not prone to motion sickness in VR under normal circumstances, but usually 10 minutes will throw me off. I credit this to the locked-off position, the limited field-of-view and the great head-tracking of the Gear VR.

And look how convenient it is for the family – this is me watching a basketball game in VR:

I can’t wait for the next chapter in this – how I wish someone would setup a live VR rig when Denmark faces Sweden in the playoffs for the 2016 Euro Cup. I want to be there to witness our glorious victory.

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