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Will the Metaverse revolutionize the way we play sports?

Image: Envato / s_kawee

Will the Metaverse revolutionize the way we play sports?

2024 is shaping up to be a great year for sports enthusiasts, marked by two of the world's most prestigious events: The European Football Championship and the Summer Olympic Games. How could the metaverse help shape the future of the sports industry?

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2024 has made fans of the Super Bowl and the Youth Olympic Games happy so far

In terms of virtual sports, 2024 has already seen some major events and announcements. In an elaborate virtual live show, this year’s Superbowl was broadcast on the metaverse platform “TCG World”. The 2024 Youth Olympic Games in Gangwon, South Korea also launched a 3D online platform. Here, sports fans could visit digital recreations of nine venues and compete in mini games such as bobsleigh and ski jumping. The Roma 2024 European Athletics Championships will also launch a digital presence this coming September.

Online platforms for sports fans are still limited in functionality

However, such large-scale digital sports events are still rare. Elaborate and complex digital sports platforms and apps for sports fans are still the exception rather than the norm. The Metaverse could change that due to its decentralized, modular structure.

The Metaverse will not only replace the two-dimensional web pages of the Internet with an open 3D world. It will also provide a three-dimensional, modular infrastructure that can accommodate various functionalities, including virtual sports platforms. For example, a virtual stadium or racetrack could be located next to a virtual shopping mall. The impact of this new online infrastructure on digital sports activities will be tremendous.

The Metaverse will be home to the sports events of the future

Where traditional sports events are approaching their limits, metaverse events will still have plenty of headroom. In the metaverse, everyone can have a front row seat – virtual stadiums will be able to hold an infinite number of avatars.

Metaverse streaming events are just the beginning. In the near future, streamed video data can be easily converted into 3D data using generative AI. This means all participants will be able to experience events from every conceivable perspective. Spectators and athletes will also be able to participate directly using their avatars. Furthermore, e-sports events in the Metaverse will be accessible to participants from all over the world.

The metaverse will help make dull workouts entertaining

Spotify and Netflix can only take so much of the monotony out of a traditional cardio workout at home. Combined with a virtual run through a scenic landscape in the Metaverse, your daily treadmill workout can become inspiring.

Some fitness apps and exergames for game consoles – such as “Ring Fit Adventure” from Japanese manufacturer Nintendo – have already attempted to approximate this experience. A number of them allow for an endurance workout while running past beautiful scenery. However, traditional exergames are also tied to specific hardware – and therefore can only reach a limited number of players. Thanks to its decentralized structure, the Metaverse will be able to create an ecosystem for fitness applications that is open to billions of users.

The Metaverse could create completely new sports experiences

Recreating existing sports is just one of the many possibilities of the metaverse. As metaverse experiences do not have to be bound by the laws of physics, new and unique virtual sports are also possible. Imagine soccer played in the sky using rocket boots, field hockey played underwater, tennis with lunar gravity – the limits are only set by the creator’s imagination.

The problem with e-sports – and how the Metaverse could solve it

In the past, e-athletes who competed in video game tournaments were often ridiculed. Today, high-profile e-athletes secure high-paying sponsorship contracts time and time again. The beginnings of e-sports date back to the early 1970s. Back then, they mainly consisted of high-score competitions for popular video games, which were most popular in the United States. By the late 1990s, the technologically advanced nation of South Korea was considered the biggest hotbed of e-sports. The first televised e-sports match was held in South Korea in 1999. It featured the popular strategy game “Starcraft,” which is still widely played today.

As the popularity of e-sports has grown worldwide, so have the payouts for talented e-athletes: the most popular e-sports game is currently the action-strategy game “Dota 2” (“Defense of the Ancients 2”). The total prize money for players in 2023 was $30.82 million.

According to Statista, other e-sports games with million-dollar prize pools include the action games “Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds” (PUBG), “Fortnite,” “Arena of Valor,” and “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. However, none of the games mentioned are classic sports games – even though sports simulations have been around since the 1970s.

Traditional sports simulations do not yet meet the requirements for e-sports

What sounds curious at first is mainly related to the game mechanics of sports simulations. As the history of e-sports goes back several decades, the playing techniques and strategies employed by e-sports players today have reached a high level of sophistication. Therefore, highly balanced games with a high amount of player agency and a low number of factors based on randomness are particularly suitable for e-sports.

However, this is virtually impossible to achieve in most computer sports games such as the FIFA soccer series. This is mainly due to the technical limitations of computer and video games.

  • What makes certain sports unique is often difficult to replicate in sports simulations: An obvious example is sports that are built around challenging players’ endurance in real life. Due to limited technology, they often rely solely on reflexes when simulated using current computers and video game systems. Therefore, they often lack gameplay depth.
  • Traditionally, the number of simultaneous participants in a sports simulation is limited: Due to technical reasons, the typical number of participants in sports simulations is still 2 to 4 players. The popular sci-fi sports game “Rocket League” allows for matches with a total of eight players – four players per team – making it one of the most advanced games for e-sports. The official “FIFA Pro Clubs” series allows 11 individual players per team, but has yet to gain popularity.
  • A limited number of simultaneous players adversely affects the simulation of team sports: A typical computer and video game simulation of a soccer match, for example, consists of each player controlling the character closest to the ball. All other players on the pitch are controlled by AI. This takes a large part of the control over the match away from the player. It means that the human players can be lucky or unlucky when it comes to the behavior of the computer-controlled players, making the game feel far less balanced than a real-life soccer match.
  • Sports simulations missed out the e-sports scene’s first major boost in popularity: At the time of e-sports’ first growth spurt in the mid-1990s, there were numerous innovations in the computer games sector. These primarily affected the first-person shooter and strategy genres – particularly with respect to multiplayer experiences. Strategy and first-person shooters therefore became the most popular genres in the e-sports scene. Sports simulations, on the other hand, introduced fewer gameplay innovations and were less popular with hard-core gamers at the time. They have yet to catch up in the e-sports scene.

How sports in the Metaverse could solve the e-sports dilemma

  • A level playing field for all participants: Integrating e-sports services into the decentralized structure of the metaverse means that e-sports experiences can be the exact same for every player, including visual presentation, camera angle, and avatar control.
  • Official e-sports disciplines can be established: Unlike traditional sports, there are currently no fixed disciplines in e-sports. Instead, e-athletes choose a popular game to compete in. This increases the barrier to entry for those who would like to join the scene. By moving e-sports activities into the metaverse, official virtual sports disciplines could be established, ranging from virtual athletics to entirely new sports disciplines.
  • The metaverse can be an opportunity for the e-sports community to reinvent itself: E-sports was originally conceived as a test of skill for serious gamers – and was never intended to make the leap into the mainstream. A fresh start in the metaverse could create an entirely new style of e-sports that is accessible to players of all skill levels.
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