Fox Sports announced today that it will introduce virtual fans to its live broadcasts of Major League Baseball starting this Saturday.
In a teaser video posted by the network, an empty stadium can be seen being populated with thousands of Sim-like virtual fans dressed in different team colors. The virtual fans can be heard cheering, booing, and can even be seen doing the wave. In an announcement made on its website, the network said it had teamed up with Silver Spoon Animation and SMT “to deliver an elevated viewing experience to sports fans around the nation.”
“At its core, [3D augmented reality] is meant to augment a live broadcast, not to be the main attraction,” a spokesperson for Silver Spoon Animation told Motherboard in an email. “This is even more important for live sports, including baseball, as the virtual fans should add atmosphere but not take away from what matters the most: the game.”
Covid-19 continues to change the way sports fans experience major sporting events, with many restrictions put in place to help stop the spread of the pandemic. This has led broadcasters and sports teams around the world to come up with unique ways to deal with the optics of an empty stadium.
In May images spread online of a baseball stadium in South Korea packed with stuffed animals, and a stadium in Germany was recently packed to capacity with cardboard cutouts.
Feedback on the plan for virtual fans has been mixed.
“I think the virtual fans are unnecessary,” said Christoph Trappe, a New York Yankees fan who plans on watching all of the Yankees’ games this year. “Depending how it looks it might make the watching experience less fun.”
Lori Losee, a Seattle Mariners fan, agrees, and said virtual fans take away from the game itself.
“I love what some teams are doing with the cardboard cutouts,” Losee told Motherboard in an email. “That’s more realistic than the idea of virtual fans.”
While many fans are excited to see the return of Major League Baseball, others are conflicted as the coronavirus continues to devastate the country, and some have questioned whether it is safe for players to return to the field.
Ultimately, seeing a baseball stadium full of fans created through 3D augmented reality is just another example of how the coronavirus has left a mark on 2020.