I don’t have a DVR. When a New York Jets game begins on any given autumn Sunday, I’m racing to sit down and start watching. I clear my schedule. I open Twitter, and keep a sports app handy, too. I’m insufferable. It’s a routine. And being on time — to the second — matters immensely.
I tried using Twitter’s live-streaming NFL app in 2016 during a Jets game and gave up. The live stream was often laggy, and tweets didn’t line up with what was happening in real time. I hate reading tweets of events I haven’t caught up with yet. I can’t stand streams that won’t work. I don’t want texts from my brother-in-law telling me the Jets scored a touchdown if I haven’t seen it yet. Heck, I’ll even stop talking to my mom (also a Jets fan) on the phone if a play is in motion, because I’m worried her live broadcast will be ahead of mine and she’ll see something before me.
It’s like some weird superstitious version of the quantum measurement problem — if you look at something, maybe it changes. Or if you don’t look.
Not every sports fan is as insane as me. Some are far more casual. And, for sports I care less obsessively about, I can relax and catch up in different ways. For baseball games, I’d experiment with new tech, and not care about real time. Maybe I’d feel the same about the NBA, if it made me care more.
That’s probably where the “engagement” part of sports and tech kicks in. For those who aren’t following, maybe new tech can hook them in. Tech like, say, Magic Leap’s partnership with the NBA, announced Tuesday night at Recode’s Code Media conference, which promises holographic games on mixed-reality goggles you can wear in your living room.
I’ve heard this pitch before. Microsoft dreamed the same dream with the NFL and Hololens: scale-model stadiums on your coffee table, multiple screens floating in the air, Russell Wilson hanging out by your bookcase.
(Magic Leap didn’t immediately respond with a request for comment.)
A personal experience, or the new 3D TV glasses?
I also have a bucket of 3D glasses somewhere in my house that I never used with my TV. The proposition that everyone in the family would grab a pair and watch sports in magical 3D was a thing that companies promised not so many years ago. Again, it didn’t happen.
I agree with Adi Robertson of The Verge when she says dealing with goggles on your face for any length of time isn’t an easy proposition. Even if they worked spectacularly (and I’ve never tried Magic Leap once), I think of how they’d fit on my face…and how long the battery life is. Would they start up and work easily? Would they be social? Would I be watching my holographic sports on my own, like someone in my own living room with headphones on, or with others? And who else would even be wearing these with me?
Microsoft’s two-year-old vision of the Hololens and watching NFL games, seen below, still hasn’t materialized.
Alone or together?
I’ve watched sports alone, in VR — NextVR and Intel have been streaming live events for years. Boxing matches are sort of fascinating, and companies are getting better at layering in floating stats. In VR, though, you trade that sense of immersion for access to everything else: stats, community (what did Twitter say about that last play?) and better TV resolution in most cases. I still feel the way I did three years ago: live events in VR are isolating. Also, in VR, you can’t easily chat and tweet. is aiming to make social happen for live events, and maybe mixed reality would allow for me to text and see holograms at the same time — but who knows?
My TV at home, on the other hand, is pretty great. So is Twitter, which gives me the latest thoughts from the best beat writers that help me break down events as I’m watching them. I also like talking with friends who like what I’m watching too, if I’m with them. For AR, mixed reality and VR to match that will be a tall order.
Live or replay?
The best-case scenario I can envision is a way to see plays and break down stats afterward, like some supercharged version of holographic Madden or NBA 2K meets a game recap. Armchair quarterbacks and superfans could study classic games or last night’s action and check out different angles. Maybe it could help me learn more about how sports are played and understand strategy, or be my midweek therapy session.
If I could buy virtual recreations of all the Jets seasons and obsessively rewatch and break down stats like the miserable fanatic I am, would I get them? Yes, I would. Maybe those types of holographic games are where virtual sports can go next. I’m just not sure I’d want to enjoy those holograms and virtual overlays live, unless they’re fantastic. And I doubt I’d want to use it for hours at a time, which is what a live game would require.
Capturing a live game is a mixed blessing, anyway. At games in person (I used to have season tickets), you trade immersion for good access to close-ups and stats. Phone reception is terrible. But I remember the crowd vibes. VR recreations of live events never feel the same. I wouldn’t want a holographic stadium all around me unless it really felt excellent, and I could switch it on and off as needed. I went to live games because I could be there with my family. It’s the social connection over something ridiculous like live sports that matters. At live games, I’ve even tried augmenting my experience with connected devices, years ago. It never quite worked. Usually, the problem was lag.
I’m already watching sports in augmented reality, though
But I stop and realize that, with a phone in hand, and listening to a radio broadcast for commentary, or staring at my TV screen, and talking to my mom and sister and brother-in-law, I’m already in augmented reality. It’s just on my terms, and it’s seamless. Seamlessness is what will make me love any future tech in sports.
We’ll see what Magic Leap can conjure up.