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How Hologram Technology is Bringing Sports to the Metaverse

Nov 16, 2022

There is a lot packed into the headline of this article. To some, it may make perfect sense—you are about to learn about how sports are using hologram technology to better utilize the metaverse to enrich the fan experience. But others may be asking themselves more basic questions such as, well, what is hologram technology? Or, for that matter, what is the metaverse? Those are both valid questions, particularly in a world that has seen rapid technology advancements disrupt (though often improve) our daily lives.

Let’s start with the metaverse, a concept that is critical to understand before you can realize how fascinating it is that hologram technology is helping to bring it to the sports world. One of the best ways to understand the metaverse is to liken it to the burgeoning internet several decades ago. The internet was a strange concept that many didn’t understand—and it was also difficult to access. But we all eventually came to know the internet as a digital network of interconnectedness, a powerful communication tool that brought people together. Think of the metaverse similarly: it is an accessible network of virtual, 3D worlds through which visual communication and relationships can thrive. While Facebook may call itself “Meta” now, its endeavors into the metaverse will someday be equitable to how its Facebook social media platform impacted the internet.

The prospect of a virtual world through which people can escape sounds not only intriguing but also exciting. That excitement only heightens for sports fans who are beginning to realize the power of experiencing their favorite athletes in this metaverse—and we have new hologram technology to thank.

How exactly does hologram technology work?

Most people have an idea of how holograms work. They envision a grainy, 3D rendering of a person or object floating before them. They may think back to the 3D projection of Princess Leia that R2D2 cast to deliver messages. Or maybe they think back to a trading card of some kind (baseball, Pokémon, etc.) that had shiny foil on one side, and when you tilted it back and forth in a certain motion a seemingly 3D image appeared to move.

The more exact reality is that holograms are “three-dimensional images generated by interfering beams of light that reflect real, physical objects,” according to Respeecher.

Holographic technology itself is a wonder. At Northwestern University, for example, a team of researchers has invented a new camera that utilizes holographic technology to perform formerly impossible tasks—such as seeing around corners and through the skin. The key, they say, is all about the camera's ability to intercept scattering light.

In that same vein, researchers are already examining how holographic technology can be used for certain aspects of everyday life, such as making video calls. Imagine, rather than sitting at your desk and staring at a video screen, you could see a 3D hologram of the person in front of you. This technology has the potential to change the way we experience life: immersive, 3D experiences for everything from a cooking class to a rock concert. Or, of course, a sporting event.

How the metaverse is impacting sports?

Would it be correct to say that hologram technology is bringing the metaverse to sports, or rather that it is bringing sports to the metaverse? The answer may depend on your view of the various technologies involved. Regardless, the marriage of holographic technology and the metaverse has become too game-changing for sports teams and leagues to ignore.

Let’s take the Brooklyn Nets, for example. Back in January, they became the first professional sports franchise in the United States to adopt holographic technology to enrich the fan experience, dubbing it the “Netaverse.”

So, how did the Nets pull it off? It was no easy (nor inexpensive) task. Their home court in Brooklyn is outfitted with 100 high-resolution cameras that capture footage of the game and feed it back through computers to create 3D holograms of the players on the court—that move and look nearly as real as they do in-person. While it's presumed to have been a costly investment, the benefit of this technology for Nets fans is abundantly clear: the ability to enjoy a 360-degree viewing experience of the game without leaving your couch. Forget about nosebleed tickets—you can place yourself at center court or beneath the hoop if you want.

This all begs the question of what further strides professional or collegiate sports organizations will be willing to make in the coming months or years. While the technology is still relatively in its infancy, as the demand for holographic experiences in the metaverse grows, so too will the push for sporting events to join the game. In a world where only the fortunate few currently get to experience these major sporting events up close, this technology would level the playing field for all fans.

Written by:

Christian Hart

• HOST 50 Program, XR Accelerator 2021 • XR filming, hologram and VFX technologies • eSports/Professional Gaming - University of California Irvine, XR Engineering - University of Michigan

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