The Virtual Playing Field

by Davis Sehlke

Imagine that you have access to the best seats available at any sporting event at a fraction of the cost. What if it became possible for you to sit courtside at the NBA Finals or behind home plate at the World Series? An experience that is currently unobtainable but for a select few may become possible for all with virtual reality technology. While this vision is still a ways off, there is an exciting future ahead for virtual reality and live events.

NextVR is a California-based startup that focuses on live streaming events in virtual reality; the company just partnered with the NBA to produce one game each week that’s viewable in virtual reality. For now, the experience is only available to those who pay for the NBA League Pass and have a Samsung Gear VR headset. In the future, these games will likely be available to consumers with other headsets, like the HTC Vive. Jeff Marsillo, NBA’s Vice President of Global Media Distribution, believes that VR will be “the next best thing to that in-person experience” and will be as compelling if not more than other ways of traditionally watching a live game.

Virtual reality presents itself as an interesting alternative to television. The immersiveness of virtual reality will turn passive viewers of sports entertainment into active spectators. Binaural audio, three dimensional stereo sound, will place users into the midst of the game itself as they hear the swish of a net or the roar of the crowd. However, there are still several obstacles to making this imagined scenario a reality. First, there are still issues with the streaming and resolution of the games. Additionally, virtual reality technology is, as of now, not a social platform since a headset and headphones are, by design, supposed to alienate one from their environment. These are major obstacles but ones that NextVR and the NBA believe they can overcome.

Virtual reality and live streaming will make us reenvision ways in which we consume live entertainment. The defining moments of a live NBA game or concert may soon be experienced with all the vividness of real life through virtual reality technology.