No matter how cynical the ancient Roman political slogan bread and circus for the masses is, it shows that sporting events – such as chariot racing which might be familiar from the classical movie Ben Hur – have had the ability to mobilize spectators since antiquity. The feeling of cheering together for a team and being part of something bigger than the self has not lost anything from its charm. In 2013, the US Major League Baseball had over 74 million in–stadium viewers. Events such as the Olympic Games, football World Cup finals, and the American Superbowl command more than 1 billion viewers through television and online channels.
As you can see, only the means of cheering and following sporting events have changed with the development of technology – the enthusiasm remains. Professional athletes communicate directly with their fans through social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter, which might replace the obsolete idea of holding press conferences. Driverless and self-parking cars will free up a lot of space from parking lots around stadiums and reduce traffic. This way and due to the smaller footprint of stadiums, they could be built in city centers. However, spectatorship through television and online channels and the changes around stadium buildings flags only the beginning of technological possibilities.
Let me show you how disruptive technologies will change the future of sporting events and the sports fans’ experience globally.
1) Follow the football match from Messi’s perspective
You could already read about how technology has been changing professional sports here, and be aware of the fact that in football since 2007 sixteen cameras monitor the field so that officials can know accurately the trajectories of the players and the ball. They know what distance a player covered or how many passes he had.
This constant gaze of the camera will change the spectator’s perspective as well. Many professional sports leagues started to use freeD video, which captures 360-degree views, giving fans access to the same real-world angles as the pros on the sidelines. It means that twenty-eight high-definition cameras are positioned around the arenas capture video that can seamlessly be compiled into one shot.
First Vision offers an integrated camera system attached to a player’s uniform. This lets fans watch the game from the player’s point of view, and even switch the view from player to player. Many people might be willing to pay to see a football match from the perspective of Lionel Messi or Andres Iniesta. The latter has already backed the idea! The introduction of 3D and virtual reality devices will let fans see what Messi is experiencing out on the pitch. We will choose from what angle we want to watch the game and which player we are interested in.
Nowadays, we all watch the same screen, and the cameramen decide from which angle you will see the game. Imagine how it could change when the viewer experience becomes truly personalized! You get to be the director of your own sports programs, you get to choose your own angle and have your very own view!
2) The rise of professional e-sports
League of Legends, DotA 2, CS:Go, Hearthstone – have you heard of these games? And if the response is: obviously, did you know that each of these games are actually competitive e-sports with hundreds of thousands of fans, a handful of world-renowned athletes and millions in prize money year after year? The idea of stadiums packed with people who watch other people play video games may be odd to some, but believe me: e-sports are a big deal. It is projected that 427 million people will be watching e-sports by 2019!
The increasing availability of online streaming media platforms, particularly Twitch.tv, has become central to the growth and promotion of e-sports competitions. South Korea has several established e-sports organizations with licensed professional gamers – or with a fancier name: cyberathletes. Along with South Korea, most competitions take place in Europe, North America and China. So if you want all the money and glory, and you think you are the best in League of Legends, don’t hesitate. Go and become a pro gamer!
3) New mass sporting events will be born due to technologies
The symbiosis of technology, sport and humans will inevitably lead to new types of sports and sport events. The first cyborg Olympic game already took place in Zurich in October 2016! The one-day Cybathlon claims to be the first ever competition of its kind and attracted some 4,600 visitors and 66 teams. It was so successful that the concept creator, Robert Riener, a professor from the Swiss science and technology university ETH Zurich, plans to hold the next Cybathlon event with more teams and disciplines for more days in Switzerland or in Japan.
The Cybathlon challenges are designed to make the athletes—real humans with real disabilities—negotiate an obstacle course that consists of a number of daily tasks. These range from hanging clothes for contestants with prosthetic arms, to going up and down steps for powered wheelchair users. Unlike the Paralympics, Cybathlon participants are allowed—and encouraged—to use all sorts of tech to help them out. At the cyborg Olympics contestants could enter in exoskeleton and powered wheelchair races, a cycling race and a brain-computer interface (BCI) race. But imagine how many more races could appear in the future – if virtual or augmented reality or robotic helpers enter the stage!
The goals of the event are threefold: to show the obstacles people with disabilities have to face in real life every day; to show what solutions technology can offer for making their lives better and to act as a barometer to measure the pace of the assistive technology industry’s development and maybe to get new ideas out of it. Or as Riener put it, finding the best way to connect human and machine.
I totally agree with the goals of Cybathlon and I hope I will have the possibility to visit the next event. I believe that the developers of disruptive technologies and society could not have a nobler goal than to find the best way to connect humans and machines at the dawn of the 21st century. It is very difficult to find the right balance between the use of technology and the human touch, but I think the key lies in the organisation of such events! They help in getting to know new technologies and their downsides, while also in constantly striving for the best solutions.