The NBA announced in October that it had partnered with NextVR to deliver a game every week in virtual reality on its NBA LEAGUE PASS subscription service. Now, Japan is upping the ante by bringing virtual reality to its own basketball league, the B.League, with an All-Star introduction.
The B.League earlier this month offered a look at its All-Star Game through the lens of a simple virtual reality headset — much like Google Cardboard — in which the user attaches a smartphone to the device for an immersive viewing experience. Though the video is short, it is telling of the direction the B.League is moving in to increase fan engagement: Instead of watching a game on TV, even in ultra-high definition, why not experience sports from home as if you were actually in the arena?
At TV Everywhere Japan last week, Kazumasa Ashihara, an executive board member of B.League, said that the future is in the phone. “Our strategy is to focus on the smartphones as people in their 20s do everything on their smartphone and we are focused on the internet,” he commented. Ashihara also said that at the All-Star Game, a VR terminal was set up in the venue, receiving various visual angles from cameras “to give a different live experience.”
In addition to the live All-Star Game virtual reality experience, the B.League used 360Channel to give fans access to an Oct. 1 game in virtual reality. By playing around with the camera angles, a fan viewing from elsewhere can enjoy the vantage point of being at the game.
The user can swivel from a view of the action on the court to a view of the fans sitting behind and above. All the while, a simplified virtual scoreboard with the score and game clock appears towards the bottom or middle of the screen, out of the way of the game. As the video plays, the fan gets different perspectives, ranging from a front-row seat to a view from the middle of the stands. Oh, and the noise is all there too: the fans cheering, the ball squeaking as it hits the hardwood, the referees whistling, the in-stadium music blaring through loudspeakers.
It will be interesting to see how the B.League develops its virtual reality experience, but if these glimpses are any indication, the league’s fans could be able to view live games through a much different lens.