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In a surreal world defined by social distancing, the dynamics of professional sports have been upended in dramatic fashion. When COVID-19 made its mark on the U.S. in March, players and fans alike witnessed the widespread cancellation or suspension of professional sports seasons. The sheer speed with which sports leagues canceled their seasons was striking, a trend that began with the NBA’s abrupt suspension of their season after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert became the first NBA player to test positive for the coronavirus.
In late July, after a previously unthinkable five-month hiatus, professional sports returned, but without the vigor and energy of fans. Fans may be able to cheer for their favorite teams at home through the TV or tune into the game through a virtual fan experience, but those alternatives do not equate to the invigorating excitement of a normal game setting.
As a Philadelphia native and longtime fan of the Philadelphia 76ers, I constantly think about returning to Wells Fargo Center, enjoying a delicious Shake Shack burger and sitting knee-to-knee with fellow fans. That said, we’re living in a time when maintaining our collective health has become the utmost priority. With this in mind, virtual reality may be the next best thing for recreating the magic of live sports.
While it’s easy to feel disconnected from the game while sitting on the couch, virtual reality is unique because it can transport the user to any environment of their choosing. Using a virtual reality headset, a user’s senses align with the programmed senses of the technology, resulting in an immersive experience that the brain perceives as real. Rather than providing solely a fixed view of the game, virtual reality transports fans into the game venue and allows them to reside anywhere, whether that be a front-row seat or luxury suite.