Why sports teams are borrowing from their gaming roots to enter the metaverse

The sports industry has a long history of strong ties with the gaming public, with teams and leagues partnering with top-selling gaming series such as NBA 2K and FIFA. As the connection between gaming and the metaverse becomes clear, sports companies are leaning into their gaming roots to establish themselves as the early leaders of the virtual world to come.

Today, sports teams and leagues offer their fans a multitude of ways to engage with the brand from the comfort of their homes. The NBA has been streaming some VR games for years and launched a dedicated Horizon Worlds space in May; the NFL opened a Roblox experience in February; Individual sports teams such as MLB’s Atlanta Braves have created digital twins of their stadiums to use as virtual event venues and meeting spaces.

This influx of metaverse activity is a reaction to the threat posed to the sports industry by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID has been horribly disruptive to many Major League Baseball businesses in particular, in which teams are entirely dependent on ticket sales, merchandise sales, food and beverage sales to make money as company,” said Metaverse CEO Josh Rush. design studio Surreal Events, which built the Braves’ virtual baseball stadium, paraphrasing its conversations with Braves management. “So we can never have that kind of disruption to our business continuity again – and we see potential here to grow our fanbase by building a campfire, if you will, in the space where fans of non-traditional baseballs are already hanging around.”

Shortly after Travis Scott’s founding Fortnite gig in April 2020, Braves management reached out to Epic Games to explore how the team could make their own play in the metaverse. Although the Braves ultimately didn’t activate directly inside Fortnite, Epic connected the team to Surreal Events, whose platform uses Unreal Engine, the same game engine used to build Fortnite, and a host of other features. other popular titles.

Given the long history of overlap between sports and gaming industries and audiences, it’s no surprise that sports companies are taking inspiration from games to develop their metaverse strategies. But the growing involvement of the sports industry in the metaverse comes at an opportune time. As long-standing relationships between game developers and esports companies break down or end, esports companies have an opportunity to bring their metaverse strategy in-house.

“Sports organizations have been very close to the games, but they outsource everything – that’s why we’re probably now seeing Electronic Arts and FIFA breaking off their relationship, because FIFA wants to do more game-oriented things, but they licensed the rights to EA,” said Matias Rodriguez, vice president of technology at Globant Games and Metaverse Studios, which has designed virtual experiences for sports leagues such as the NFL, NHL and UFC.

Despite the focus on play by many esports companies’ metaverse games, teams like the Braves are also paying attention to the blockchain-based web3 side of the metaverse, and it’s only a matter of time before ‘they are only beginning to incorporate technologies such as NFTs more deeply into their virtual spaces, especially as the issue of monetization becomes more pressing. “We see Digital Truist Park [the Braves’ virtual stadium] as the hub where it all comes together,” said Greg Mize, Vice President of Marketing and Innovation for the Braves. “We planned to allow a fan to buy NFTs in Digital Truist Park – use crypto to buy digital goods and services, buy a skin for your avatar. We are very optimistic at the intersection of digital goods and physical goods. »

The involvement of the sports industry is a good sign for the development of the metaverse as a whole. Sports is an effective way in which metaverse building companies such as Epic Games and Meta can convince users to try out their platforms – and, ideally, start using them for socializing and entertainment beyond. beyond live sports.

“One thing that I always thought was really interesting when we first started doing the NBA was that even with people who were huge basketball fans, after 10 to 15 minutes it went away. almost turned into a social experience,” said Tim Walker, a virtual world producer for Media.Monks, who has designed virtual reality events and experiences for the basketball league. “I hate to say this – but we almost forgot the game was happening.”

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