Metaverse: Is Avatar Coming to Life?
Technology is always rapidly evolving and changing. When the pandemic hit in 2020, it triggered global technology adoption and development more than any prior event, particularly in sports. This is evidenced by the vast amount of venture capital funding flowing into the market. In 2021, a record-breaking $8.3 billion was invested globally into sports tech in the first 9 months of the year, a figure that is double the previous two years combined. NFT’s were the breakout trend in 2021. So, what’s in store for 2022? According to many industry predictions, it’s the metaverse.
What is the Metaverse?
The technical definition of the metaverse is “a network of three-dimensional virtual worlds that focus on social connection”. The metaverse is not necessarily one type of technology, but rather how we interact with technology on a day-to-day basis. It can include virtual reality (“VR”), augmented reality (“AR”), and digital economy (think cryptocurrency or NFT’s), meaning that users will be able to create, buy, and sell goods. The idea is to connect the physical with the virtual in a way that will allow people to interact.
You may be thinking, this technology already exists, especially if you are an Esports athlete. Popular games like World of Warcraft and Fortnite already allow their athletes to create characters for themselves (for a fee, of course). In addition to playing the game as that character, the character can buy and sell goods and have virtual experiences, such as attending concerts or attending exhibits. The difference is in the metaverse, you create your own avatar or persona which you can take across all platforms.
Given the variety of uses of the metaverse, companies already embracing the technology are using it in different ways. Facebook, which has even changed their name to Meta, has been promoting it as a social connection tool. As an example, if you see a friend attending a concert, you will be able, through your avatar, to “appear” as a hologram at the concert and enjoy the experience alongside your friend. Microsoft, on the other hand, has plans to use it to train new hires or to have meetings with coworkers who may be working remotely, all through a virtual meeting room.
The new technology involved in the metaverse involves the ability of motion tracking tools to distinguish how a person is positioned or where they are looking on a real time basis. Companies, organizations and even sports arenas will also need the ability to host hundreds or thousands of people on a server. As indicated by Prof. David Atienza, Head of the Embedded Systems Laboratory, “the metaverse is a virtual-reality space that can create a lot of opportunities for the sports business and closer interaction with professional athletes and teams. It enables to combine of virtual reality with augmented reality thanks to a handful of cameras and sound systems on each side that wants to be added to the virtual world. So, it can enable fans living in remote places worldwide to interact with other fans and the athletes in a perfect replica of the stadium or arena located thousands of kilometres away. It can truly be the next generation of interactive sports in the years to come. However, the concept of metaverse currently requires too many IT resources (computing power, communication bandwidth, etc.), so technologies need to evolve rapidly to be able to scale properly to be usable at large scale events (e.g., Olympic Games, world championship finals, etc.). In any case, I am convinced we can get there fast because there is a lot of interest by large corporations to make it happen”.
With such a variety of uses, investment bank giant Morgan Stanley believes there is a huge market for the metaverse, forecasting it to be $8 trillion if it is able to succeed as the next big platform for social media, streaming, and gaming.
Metaverse and Sports
The metaverse has the potential to change the way fans consume sport. They will be able to create their own avatar, and through that persona, they will be able to watch live events, socialize at virtual bars, purchase merchandise or equipment, and even train, through the metaverse. Sports clubs could also leverage the metaverse in many ways, such as allowing fans to meet their favourite player.
The Brooklyn Nets became the first professional sports team to enter the metaverse, doing so in January 2022. 100 high resolution cameras were installed around the Barclays Center to provide a 360-degree virtual reality experience, thus allowing fans to position themselves anywhere on the court to catch the game from every angle.
There are still many challenges to the metaverse and given how new the technology is, further development is still unpredictable; however, the large investment by one professional sports team combined with the adoption of the technology by global companies such as Faceboo – sorry, Meta – and Microsoft, certainly is an indicator of the potential this technology will have in the future.
Christy Ann Dukehart | Alumni 21′
Christy is a sports director and entrepreneur with over 6 years of experience in developing and training athletes, with an additional 10 years in international business leadership roles.