At the end of the 2014 college football season, it was graduate assistant coach and former Stanford University kicker Derek Belch who received this advice from head coach David Shaw. Two years later and now CEO at STRIVR (Sports training in virtual reality), Belch is wary of claiming to be the pioneer of virtual reality (VR) in sports training. EON Sports VR are diligently working with Major League Baseball teams, allowing players to step in via headset and face any pitcher they are going to play in the next day or two, with daily data updates and a simulation of the upcoming opponents.
What STRIVR has done is persist with the concept of VR in sports training, idealised by many but never delivered. Belch first proposed the idea to his professor, Jeremy Bailenson, in 2007 when taking a class on VR at Stanford, and six years later he returned to the idea with technology advanced enough to get the cameras rolling. It was the topic of Belch’s master thesis, and over the next two years he and Bailenson designed and developed 360-degree video capturing, followed by processing the footage into a headset for use.
Shaw saw the impact it would have on the future of sports. VR gets you closer. Closer to the practice field, closer to the stadium.
The VR revolution also has an effect for those who are less tech savvy, such as Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, a customer of STRIVR. Standing in his kitchen at home, VR transports him to the practice field. Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor, nine years Palmer’s junior, had the VR equipment in his dorm at training camp in August, using it to accelerate his learning. “Visualisations are key”, Belch says.
EON Sports VR, which has a partnership with Miami University, offer a package that grants the user a year’s worth of VR content – stepping into the locker room, running out of the tunnel into the stadium, practice footage – and a VR headset.
“This is a five-to-10 year outlook on how teams will build content for their fan base. We think the VR landscape will look a lot different next year, and then again in 2018,” says Brendan Reilly, co-founder and chief executive of EON Sports VR. The tech is already being used. At the beginning of last year’s NBA basketball season, the Golden State Warriors broadcast their opening game at the Oracle Arena against the New Orleans Pelicans in VR, and the league will stream a weekly VR game in the 2016/17 season.
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