Technology: Mixed-reality sports companies are creating the pastimes and brand activations of the future

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Technology: The rise of competitive gaming has demonstrated the entertainment value contests that don’t have to be limited by technology or physics.

When stick-and-ball sports fully return, players and spectators who transitioned to esports during the COVID-19 pandemic might find that traditional sports simply aren’t as dynamic as they once seemed, creating an opening that could be filled by mixed-reality competitions.

For example, using VR headsets and hand controllers, augmented reality sports company Arcadia maps virtual-reality obstacles and barriers onto basketball-court-sized spaces in the real world, creating new sports that combine the athleticism of traditional sports with the physics-defying gameplay of esports. Through a tool called Helio Cam, spectators can watch the players navigate this mixed-reality environment.

Arcadia requires VR equipment and large open areas to make it possible for potential users to access the site. The company is currently approaching its “super sports” primarily in entertainment products. “We want to reach the maximum number of people possible.” This is a completely new concept, and if we open a gym in a nearby area, like 100 people will know about Arcadia,” stated Jeremy Sholzberg, Arcadia cofounder. “But if you create an entertainment product with YouTube, Twitch, and social media, there’s the potential to create awareness and entertain millions .

But Arcadia’s goal is to create a new type of sports that will one day be as popular as basketball and football. Sholzberg stated that the endgame is that this will be a dominant sport category. “You can take your friends to the gym, or to a community center, and play a pick up game .”

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The success of Virtual Athletics League’s VR Summer Games shows that mixed-reality sports are on the rise. VAL was founded five years ago as a virtual reality arcade. During the pandemic, VAL transformed to a digital business model and is now able to organize VR game tournaments as well as manage other companies’ VR games competitions. Its Summer Games, which run until September 12, boast over 10,000 participants and incorporate popular titles such as Walkabout Mini-Golf and Blaston, a first-person shooter in which players duel each other with an array of neon-colored weapons.

VAL was able to remain profitable during the pandemic. This success is partially attributed to Ryan Burningham, CEO of VAL. Burningham stated that VR esports are more dynamic and in some cases more interesting. “Like people are sweaty — Blaston is running right now, and taller athletes have an advantage. All Beat Saber [a rhythm game in which players use a virtual sword to slash at symbols representing beats of a song], top players look like cross country athletes. It’s like combining real-life athletics and digital esports

Some of these mixed-reality games draw inspiration from esports. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), a Berlin gaming space, will collaborate with LVL to launch Das Race Goal. This game uses remote-controlled cars to allow users to play what is essentially a real version of Rocket League. The Das Race Goal will eventually be packed and shipped around the globe to support UNFPA fundraising events. Alvaro Serrano, UNFPA communication advisor, said, “When we create games that are open for anyone to play, but the experience can also be physical or virtual. That is inclusion.”

The platform will eventually include virtual-reality obstacles, power-ups and similarity to Arcadia, according to Thomas Fellger, CEO of LVL. Fellger stated that it was a Super Mario Kart-style experience.

Mixed-reality sports offer new types of competition and marketing opportunities that are unimaginable in traditional sports. Arcadia already invested in this type of collaboration, creating a virtual “Space Jam”, in July. It is now looking to other natural partnerships such as the “Tron 2” sequel. Sholzberg stated that there is the IP activation potential of Fortnite but with this new type sports. “You can have avatars that are skinned with characters from a movie, the obstacles that you’re dodging can have elements from the movie and you can create sports that are based on something from the movie itself.”

Inside of pop culture tie-ins and mixed-reality sporting events, there are opportunities for enhanced brand partnerships.

At this year’s U.S. Open the tennis courts are surrounded with sponsors’ names and logos like Mercedes are attached to nets. In augmented- and virtual-reality sports logos can splash in all directions as the ball bounces across the ground. Sponsors’ names may expand to fill the entire court during changingovers. Burningham claims that VAL was approached by a major sponsor shortly before the VR Summer Games. However, the conversation did not take place in time to include the brand in the event. Burningham stated that the last VR Summer Games had over 5 million views. Therefore, VAL is currently seeking non-endemic sponsors.

As physical and virtual entertainment converges in a world transformed by COVID-19, hybrid events are becoming the norm. It is only natural that hybrid events are becoming more popular, with both competitions and performances.

” I really believe that this is going be the dominant category of sports in the long-term,” Sholzberg. It is the sport of the metaverse, it is the sport that Gen Z .”

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