Enhancing the Audience Experience with Next-Reality Technology

If you want to know where the pro AV market is headed, you might want to keep an eye on esports. The hybrid event is one of the biggest AV stories of 2020. The blurring line between esports and traditional sports is where tech applications can create engaging, high-quality hybrid experiences that are being rapidly developed.

With advances in technology and the affordability of home theaters, the home has become competition for attending live sports such as the NFL and MLS. Outfitting the stadium with high tech bells and whistles is a critical tool for building a stadium that can engage fans in ways they cannot get at home.  

First, there are the well-known AV enhancements within the stadium like digital signage and wayfinding, enormous displays like the “halo” in Mercedes Benz stadium, and zoned audio. In addition to that, some teams and leagues have taken a page from the esports playbook, using AR and sensors to enhance the amount of data fans can engage with during the game. Sensors on players report data like running and throwing speed in the same way a video game displays a player’s “health status” or “ammo count.” Esports has also helped professional leagues like MLS build up fan bases for new teams by having them appear in virtual versions of the sport.

Esports is in a slightly different position, since they were built on the in-home fan experience and drawing crowds to a stadium to watch was the innovation. AVIXA’s digital media producer Narin Nara—an avid gamer—said, “AV technologies like AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) will play a role in improving the remote esports fan experience. AR can be used to help the viewer see and experience what is happening in the game, creating an enhanced and more compelling broadcast of the competition.” 

Both traditional and esports now face the need to accommodate remote and in-person fans in increasingly “hybrid” models. Traditional sports have used esports technology to keep the competition going when it is not safe to play in person or fill a stadium. Racing is a perfect example of a sport that transitioned well to a “sim,” a simulated environment created with VR software and hardware that recreates the feel of racing a car. 

According to Nara, “The physics engine software and tactile feedback in the hardware of sims have become so realistic that many professional drivers in both NASCAR and Formula 1 have them in their homes for training purposes and so were well-prepared to transition to virtual competition.” Those sims combined with the popularity of racing games like Gran Turismo, IRacing, and rFactor, created ideal conditions for racing to go virtual. In March 2020, Formula 1 launched the Virtual Grand Prix Series to replace postponed real-life races.

Formula 1’s virtual Grand Prix even features opportunities for fans to virtually race real drivers—an experience they would be highly unlikely to have in person. In fact, virtual racing has already proved an effective recruitment and training tool for professional racing. One of NASCAR’s young new stars, William Byron, honed his skills playing iRacing and winning online competitions before switching to real cars.

Many young people have access to racing games, but very few have access to a track to learn the sport. It is also worth noting that potential to increase access to simulated environments could also spill into non-sports educational applications—from science labs to orchestras to stock market trading floors. 

There is also a positive AV training impact in developing an esports program at a school. Students running the program gain valuable STEM, broadcasting, and communications industry skills. Add to that the opportunity to participate in a socially distanced team sport, and these programs become an even more attractive investment. In recent years, schools like George Mason University and Full Sail University have added esports programs and facilities to their campuses.

Audiovisual integrations for esports spaces are a great recruitment and learning tool educational institutions and a promising market for the pro AV entities that serve them.  Esports sits at the intersection of two exciting and growing AV markets—higher education and venues. According to AVIXA’s 2020 Industry Outlook and Trends Analysis (IOTA) the venues and stadiums market spent $28 billion on pro AV products and services in 2020 and the market is growing at a CAGR of 7.6 peercent through 2025. Not far behind is the higher education market, which spent $22.4 billion in 2020 and has a CAGR of 4.7 percent through 2025.  

Esports is the original hybrid event, and it will be exciting to watch where esports leads the rest of the sports and events market in the post-pandemic world. 

Erin Budnik is speaking at Leveling Up: The Esports and Education Conference & Expo on Friday, Dec. 4 at 2:40 p.m. EST. 

Erin Budnik

Erin Budnik has 20 years of experience in market intelligence. For the past five years, she has been managing research projects for AVIXA. This research includes following AV trends, buying habits and market opportunities within the AV industry. Budnik also manages AVIXA's Insights community where she collects both quantitative and qualitative feedback from AVIXA members.