VR for Sports

VR for Sports

Currently, there is no real substitute for putting in the work on the field, court, or competitive arena. That being said, gyms and coaching centres around the world are always looking for new technology and techniques to take their athletes’ success to the next level, could VR for sports be the answer?

For a number of years, wearable technologies have been used to monitor performance in real-time. The data collected helps coaches analyse the athlete in order to assess where improvements are needed.

Hyperbaric chambers which simulate high altitude environments are being used by combat athletes, especially wrestlers, to train in low oxygen in order to condition their cardiovascular system.

However, whilst all these technologies focus on strengthening athletes, the psychological element has been missing.

Sport is 90% mental and only 10% physical.

VR for Sports training

Training is only as good as immersion.

The closer the simulation is to real life, the more an athlete can learn from it. If sports were all about having the best endurance and strength, then the results would always be predictable. However, the skill in which the participants exhibit during the activity is what makes them successful.

And VR can help tremendously. 

For a long time, professional teams have used the study of films to examine their own performance or assess opponents. But with the vantage point being much different from what a player experiences during the game, the results are not always optimal.

For example, a baseball player who could be able to practice his swings as many times as he wants against a virtual representation of their opponent. They would be able to analyse the intricacies of their throw more finely. The simulation could also be able to set up, to let the batter practice at their own level. The batter would then be able to review their performance later.

Likewise, boxers could practice speed drills, shadowbox, and train their reflexes in VR far better than they could ever do in real life.

Tailor made senarios

Since a virtual situation is completely within our control, it can be tailor-made to recreate any scenario. A boxer who tried out “Thrill of the Fight” was extremely optimistic about how VR could be used to train athletes in the immediate future.

Furthermore, race car drivers could use VR particularly well. This is because there are many games such as “project cars” which are extremely immersive and do not require a very expensive setup.

Having the ability to race as much as you want as if it were real, and having no risk of burning through gallons of fuel or no injuries is something many drivers would appreciate. 

Viewing the action from the player’s perspective

In the upcoming months and years, change is apparent. The development of interactivity, stats and additional info added to the display are becoming more and more graphic. As well as on-player camera feeds enabling you to view the action from the eyes of your favorite athlete. For any super-fan, this is pretty awesome. And we’ve already seen this. 

A Spanish startup brand, FirstV1sion, used its smart wearables to offer a player perspective video that would feed at several sporting events, including a Euroleague basketball match. The garment contains an embedded HD camera and a microphone, plus additional sensors that monitor player health stats. Incredibly immersive, if you ask me.

But with a subtle downside, those who may not be used to the intense athleticism could experience dizzying effects when viewed with VR headsets.

VR for Sports events

A feature that has become popular recently is the 360-degree camera that captures and streams sporting events in virtual reality. For those sports fans who may not be able to afford the luxury of traveling halfway across the world in order to watch their favorite teams, this would be a huge advantage.

A VR headset and an app are all you would need to be taken to the stadium. Allowing you to look around for yourself as the action unfolds, and all without leaving the comfort of your home! This idea is the most realistic experience you would get from viewing a sporting event without actually attending in person.

The big leagues have caught on to the potential value of the medium. Many have been playing with the idea for a while by making considerable investments in order to bring the new experience to their fans. NextVR is a VR broadcasting startup that is investing in covering professional sports and changing the fan experience. The company, in fact, has already given VR coverage to some of the main sports events. For example, the 2015 NBA opening season game between the Golden State Warriors and the New Orleans Pelicans last fall.

The highest progress for adopting VR would have to be the NBA. Although other leagues are not far behind. Including NextVR already covering three mid-season NFL games plus the Super Bowl, the live-stream broadcast of the International Champions Cup (ICC) soccer games, the VR capture of a NASCAR race, and a couple of NHL games.

Recreating the action in VR

Currently, VR broadcast of sporting events is still limited. While the 360-degree video feed allows you to move your head and look around, your point of view remains in the same spot.

However, we have begun to develop ways to overcome this issue. Although we’re still sometime away before we can see true VR with proper video. In the meantime, there’s no shortage of companies trying to make headway in that direction.

While the added degree of freedom is welcomed, the fact that it’s using computer-generated graphics still may not be so appealing to a wide majority of the fans. However, the medium could be extremely useful even to sports teams. The teams can use it to replay and analyse the game from different perspectives. 

Dealing with the social shortcomings

VR for sports content takes away the social experience, which is one of the strongest arguments against its use. One of the biggest elements of watching a game involves the company of family and friends. VR headsets cannot offer this just yet, but only a solitary experience. However, the Oculus is partly attributed to fixing this shortcoming.

Similar VR companies have begun to display a virtual reconstruction of the stadium and players in near-real-time. Here, fans are invited to step in and view the environment from any viewpoint they desire. However, Virtually Live adds the social functionality to the mix. Fans appear as avatars and can interact with each other through VoIP. From the function, the company wishes to make it more compelling for people to get together and watch games in VR.

Another company, AltSpaceVR, is also betting big on the social aspect of VR and has placed it front and center in its VR platform. Although the technology is more focused on socialising activities such as chatting, playing games, and watching movies, it also has features that make it fun to watch sporting events in VR.

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