Monsterful VR announced a partnership with New Balance’s Program 15 and its Future Stars Series as the start-up virtual reality company makes its first foray into performance training. New York City-based Monsterful VR had previously installed an entertainment product, Play The Pros, at the Detroit Tigers’ Comerica Park geared toward enhancing the fan experience. This new endeavor, RBI-VR, which should launch in early 2018, targets rising prospects with finely calibrated pitching biomechanics.
“I wanted to make sure that what we did, we could optimize to the extent that there’s no perceptible latency and that the timing just feels real, in terms of swinging the bat,” Monsterful VR CEO Jarett Sims said. “And it was incredibly important that — since this is a preparation tool — pitchers have their accurate biomechanics. We’ve gotten loads of data that we’ve crunched in order to reproduce the different pitchers in the game.”
One of Sims’ directives for his tech team was to replicate big league pitchers from data for a more accurate representation than graphic designers manually trying to produce a likeness of a pitching motion. Sims said Monsterful receives data from some big league organizations and extracts the publicly available raw pitching data from games in order to have an automated process. The only manual input is touching up details such as a pitcher’s individual grip on a certain pitch.
Monsterful is certainly not the first VR company to enter the hitting performance space, preceded by EON Reality and others, but it hopes its technical accuracy can be a product differentiator. He hired Jake Lee-High, the CEO of experiential technology company Future Colossal, to be his chief technology officer.
There is no shortage of baseball acumen in the company directory. New Balance Future Stars Series CEO and president of baseball operations, Jeremy Booth, has extensive major league scouting experience with the Minnesota Twins, Milwaukee Brewers and Seattle Mariners; he is now joining an illustrious group of Monsterful advisers that already includes former major league managers Dusty Baker, Lloyd McClendon and John McLaren, as well as former MLB chief operating officer Gene Orza. Longtime great hitters Edgar Martinez and Don Mattingly have also offered input. Sims said Wharton statistics professor Adi Weiner, a longtime baseball analytics researcher, is also joining the team.
The company’s origin story dates to August 2016 when Sims — whose father is long-time Mariners broadcaster Dave Sims — was having a family game of catch on the diamond at Safeco Field before Ken Griffey Jr. Day at the ballpark. Sims stood on the pitcher’s mound and imagined a real game around himself, calling that his “‘Field of Dreams’ moment” and wanting to replicate the experience for others.
The performance-training RBI-VR tool was actually Sims’ original product for Monsterful, though the opportunity to install Play the Pros interceded earlier this year. (Sims said Play the Pros will be in several more big league ballparks next season, potentially up to a dozen.) He said he is having “ongoing conversations” with major league franchises about partnerships and is thrilled about this first endeavor with New Balance.
RBI-VR offers prospects a chance to practice against big league pitching in a fun and competitive way, Sims said, with the possibility of loading younger prospect pitchers into the system as well for a more level playing field. The indoor VR simulation can he helpful for players in cold-weather locations and to prevent too much wear and tear on pitchers. There will also be an esports competition between youth academies; Monsterful’s VR tracks a hitter’s performance for contests and also for evaluations that can be given to scouts.
“We want to tie the loop from player development at the earliest age — from a kid who’s in Little League and just getting started in the game — to have RBI-VR used as a tool at academies worldwide,” Sims said.