Jan 28, 2022 - Business

My night in the metaverse

Side by side photos of a man wearing a virtual reality headset and the image inside a virtual reality experience where avatars watch a real-life slam dunk contest
Your humble correspondent. Photos: Thomas Wheatley/Axios

Sports teams and brands are cannonballing into the metaverse, giving fans new ways to experience games in a way TV can't offer.

Why it matters: Boosters of the virtual reality realm say the metaverse could create a new economy, new experiences, new relationships — essentially a whole new life, and a new revenue source for the brands, teams, bands and companies that want to be there when the crowds arrive.

Catch up quick: Upstart Atlanta-based pro basketball league Overtime Elite, or OTE, mimics European-style soccer academies and puts young basketball players on a potential path to NBA stardom without attending college.

  • Players range in age from roughly 16 to 20 and are paid a salary of at least $100,000.

Because they're pros, they give up college eligibility, but the league provides classes so they can earn high school diplomas.

Details: OTE fancies itself as a digital-first operation, and partnered with Meta to create live and on-demand VR experiences like slam dunk contests viewable on headsets.

  • The league plans to also use VR to give fans a chance to join morning workouts and team breakfasts, along with academic classes.

Test drive: On Wednesday night, I strapped on a VR headset and watched Overtime's first-ever VR slam dunk contest from a media box at the league's Atlantic Station arena.

Verdict: Occasional technical hiccups and a several-seconds delay aside, if I weren't actually at the arena it would have felt … like I was ... only in the metaverse, I was surrounded by legless cartoon-like avatars who kept giving me thumbs ups.

  • My digital friends and I stood on a virtual balcony watching close-ups filmed by crews roaming the court of players leaping over people to dunk, high-fiving other players, and mingling with fans.
  • After shaking hands and basically miming at a user named "TimHumble69," I joined others who were dressed like they came from a VR Gap. One person named "TakaTakaCovidOmicron" wore clown make-up.

Zoom out: I was curious to explore, so I left the slam dunk contest and headed to a VR planetarium with views of the Moon. Then I went to what appeared to be a Guns n' Roses show.

  • Other VR experiences, including an NBA game, were available for a subscription fee.

What to watch: The Atlanta Hawks plan to roll out their team's augmented reality experience at tonight's game against the Boston Celtics.

The bottom line: Will a virtual experience be good enough to keep me from buying a ticket to OTE? Or a concert? Not yet. But who doesn't like options?

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