The Washington, D.C. Wizards, Capitals and Mystics will be the first in their leagues to use virtual reality through a new partnership with Stanford University startup STRIVR Labs, according Ted Leonsis, who as CEO and founder of Monumental Sports & Entertainment owns the teams and their home sports arena, Verizon Center.
“If you’re a rookie player, you usually show up and they give you a playbook,” says Leonsis. But now, “you can put on the headset and literally be in the play.”
VR is the newest frontier in what Leonsis calls an arms race for sports teams to adopt new technologies. Based on the decades of experience the former AOL executive has in the tech industry, he says he expects to see the NBA, NHL and WNBA leagues adopt VR for all teams within about six years.
Leonsis explains that coaches will be able to film practices in 3D, allowing players not to just watch but to re-enact those practices later on their own from the same playing position in VR. A forward, for example, will be able to go into a room privately and go through the motions of a play he practiced on the court earlier with his teammates. Players can also adopt the positions of other players in the filmed scrimmage.
STRIVR is already used by a handful of NFL and college football teams to aid in training. The company’s use of 360-degree HD video to create simulations sets it apart from VR sports companies that rely on video game-style graphics, according to Fortune.
The sports team owner expects the technology to be a huge advantage for his players especially since they’ll be the first in their leagues to have the technology available to them. He tells Inc. he expects adoption of VR to follow a similar trajectory as adoption of body cameras and other technologies in sports.
History has shown that following the first season in which early adopting teams start using a new technology, about 10 teams will adopt that technology within a couple of years and then by the time five or six years pass from first adoption the entire league will adopt the technology, says Leonsis.
Beyond the advantage of more immersive options for individual practice, Leonsis expects having the technology will attract better players. Given the choice between what he describes as “have” and “have not” teams, “the best players want to play for 'have' teams.”
“We just feel it’s part of what we have to do as franchises to remain competitive,” he says.
In addition to players using VR to practice plays, fans will be able to use it at Verizon Center's VIP club to experience what it's like to be on the court or in the rink.
“Our players grew up in a video games era, and we believe this method of teaching and sharing of data points will better illustrate what occurs on the court and the ice,” Leonsis said in a written statement. “We also have a strong core of young fans who gravitate to video and gaming, and we believe this technology will resonate with them and increase their engagement with our teams.”