Have you been suffering from basketball withdrawal? Is your life proof that humans cannot survive on “Golden State blew a 3-1 lead” jokes alone? [By the way, Golden State blew a 3-1 lead.] Do you believe that no number of angles from which to view JR Smith is too many angles?
Well, have I got good news for you. The NBA has incepted your fevered dreams and decided to offer a game a week in virtual reality:
To produce the games—the first time a sports league has offered a regular VR broadcast—the league is joining with NextVR, a California company that specializes in virtual reality live-streaming. The productions will be available at no additional cost to subscribers to the NBA’s out-of-market, live-game package, League Pass ($199.99), which is available online and through cable and satellite TV providers. The first broadcast will be of the Sacramento Kings home opener against the San Antonio Spurs on Oct. 27.
At the outset, viewers will need a Samsung Gear VR headset ($99) and a compatible Samsung phone. The league says it plans to launch the service on other devices during the season.
It is fitting that the first use of this service will involve a Kings game seeing as the franchise is run by Vivek Ranadivé, one of the league’s growing cadre of techno-optimist owners. Golden State’s venture capitalist bros cannot be far behind. While the NFL fights its teams over the use of video on social media (yes, really) the NBA is going all-in on technology.
Lost in discussions of sports VR is the reality that the home viewing experience is formally different than that of going to stadia. Live sports sound different in person: the crowd noise is less obvious; the squeaking of shoes is louder; the absence of commentary is notable. All of those things have their virtues. So, too, does the omniscience of watching sports from home, with the high god’s-eye camera. The question with VR basketball, then, is whether it formally puts you in the front row or just sticks a camera there: what do you see and hear? Is the game really any different?