Baseball fans will be able to watch a real-world Major League Baseball game play out in 3D in the metaverse on Wednesday as the pro league unveils its first simulcast in a virtual ballpark.
Metaverse technology company Improbable will stream the first regular season Major League Baseball (MLB) game in a virtual ballpark Wednesday night when the Tampa Bay Rays host the Los Angeles Angels. The real-world game will be played at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, but fans from around the world can watch the action in a whole new way.
Improbable’s web-based experience will showcase 3D renderings of Rays-Angels action via MLB’s Gameday 3D technology, which is powered by Sony’s Hawk-Eye camera-tracking system installed in all 30 team stadiums. Hawk-Eye’s AI cameras are commonly used for stat-tracking and officiating in other sports, including automated line calls in tennis.
In this case, users who hop into the virtual ballpark won’t simply be watching flat video streams that pipe in real-world live footage. They’ll be able to see the same game recreated in real time in 3D by translating the movements of players and equipment into the metaverse.
The end result looks something like a video game version of the real-world game, complete with new ways to experience the action. Improbable CEO Herman Narula told Decrypt that he believes the tech will open up new opportunities for sports leagues and partners.
“I suspect what will end up happening is this fundamentally means broadcasters make more money, because they can ultimately create experiences around the broadcast that would never otherwise be possible,” said Narula.
“That could involve microtransactions to buy cool items, VIP access to players opportunities, fan zones, and club zones,” Narula added. “I think there's some revenue-expanding opportunities that come from this, particularly where there are [broadcast] blackouts.”
On 9/20, our virtual ballpark will be streaming its first-ever regular season game between @RaysBaseball and @Angels!
Syncing with Gameday 3D, you can watch a 3D representation and live broadcast of the game, while exploring the new space! https://t.co/CSJAYPjqqT pic.twitter.com/QL2ZqtGIEd
— MLB (@MLB) September 16, 2023
In addition to MLB’s three-dimensional representation, the game’s traditional broadcast will be streamed on a digital video board inside the virtual ballpark for fans to watch. Fans will be able to select their desired angles for watching the game, and also talk to other online visitors through spatial audio as their avatars interact in the digital environment.
“You can hear people like they're near you—that’s probably the most awesome part of the potential fan experience in sports for me personally,” Narula said. “We can literally let tens of thousands of people speak simultaneously, and the voice will sound as though you're in a stadium. So the people closest to you [in the virtual ballpark] will be louder. You could whisper to someone near you, or shout to someone far away.”
Trivia games and a digital scavenger hunt will also be available inside the virtual ballpark, which fans can access on their computer, tablet, or smartphone.
MLB’s inaugural virtual ballpark stream with Improbable was branded as an “online watch party” for its All-Star Celebrity Softball Game in July. That experience did not include the real-time recreation of the live game. Fans who attended that online event received a commemorative NFT digital ticket from MLB partner Candy Digital.
Improbable raised $150 million in April 2022 and has been valued at a reported $3 billion. The London-based company also developed a metaverse experience for a Ukraine charity soccer match in August and provided the technology for the Bored Ape Yacht Club game, Otherside.
Users can carry their avatars and digital items between all virtual worlds that utilize Improbable’s MSquare (M²) network. MLB’s virtual ballpark has yet to introduce NFTs, however, and Narula said that it’s ultimately left to Improbable’s partners whether or not they want to utilize NFTs.
“What's more important than whether something is an NFT or not is whether or not it has actual utility and function. I look at NFTs and blockchain as an infrastructural tool. I don't look at them as something that needs to be in the face of users,” Narula said.
“I think sometimes it’s a great thing that something is resellable, other times it’s not,” he added. “Equally, there are a lot of things that would be really great collectibles, but they don’t have any function.”