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Augmented Reality Games To Debut On The Field During Super Bowl LII

The video board at live sporting events provides in-depth replays, players stats and – during the downtime of events – random games and challenges to keep fans engaged. American sports fans know those games all too well.

A baseball gets put under a hat, and they are all shuffled around. Which hat is the ball under? Cue a cacophony of fans yelling to no one in particular, “Number Three!”

Those games don’t serve much purpose besides keeping fans engaged after an inning, during a TV timeout, or at halftime. Virtex Arena is an upcoming augmented reality app that can create the same sense of stadium engagement and tap into sports fans’ natural competitive spirit.

The app is set to release next week in time for fans to participate live during the Super Bowl. Smartphone users will be able to compete in AR games from their seats, with the app enabling virtual characters, targets and objects to virtually appear on the actual field at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The two AR football games available allow the user either hit targets by flicking or “kicking” the football at them or pass to virtual receivers that circle the field.

The Virtex Arena app adjusts to your real-life vantage point in the stadium. Players can compete in the same game at the same time, with each seeing it from their own perspective. And for those at home watching on television, they can play as well.

Once the game is complete, a score is registered and put on the leaderboard. Virtex Arena CEO Jeff Green said he believes these games are a perfect way to fill the downtime during live sporting events and keep in-stadium fans engaged and competitive during commercials.

“I see it as the next step in fan engagement,” said Green, a Bay Area software developer. “People get interested in the games on the jumbotron but they are simple and fans do not get to truly participate.”

The app debuts at the Super Bowl, but Green believes the real rollout will come for the upcoming baseball season. Baseball makes sense for this application; at the Super Bowl there will be plenty of competition for fan’s attention. At a regular season baseball game? Not so much.

“The Super Bowl is a demo, it’s just one game, the baseball version is the bigger rollout,” Green said. “It’s applicable to all sports but baseball has a regular cadence. There is a significant amount of downtime.”

The vision is to have these games be shown on the scoreboard alongside a leaderboard. Fans can choose their team, it’s Red vs. Blue right now, but that could change to team names and logos with ease. They can also compete to have the highest overall score. If 20,000 sports fans are together and see a public leaderboard, the natural sense of competition takes over.

“The main goal is to make something people will enjoy. Hopefully by giving people the chance to participate and tap into their love of competition we will build something great,” Green said.

In development of Virtex Arena, the company had to take multiple factors into consideration. To start, many stadiums have spotty networks and were retroactively upgraded to serve the digital age.

“The games are designed to be low-impact. The only interaction between the phone and the servers is to report the score,” Green said. “It has a similar impact on the server as a text message. In the future, as networks improve, we might be able to incorporate more real time interactions between people.”

Another factor is the ubiquity of augmented reality technology. Right now a lot of the focus of the AR world is on building and improving devices and displays. Virtex Arena is designed for mobile phones already on the market.

“One of the main goals of mine was to make something people can enjoy now. The industry is focused on new devices, and that’s fantastic, but it will be a while until they are commonly used,” Green said.

Even if AR devices become household products, it’s unlikely that people will bring headgear to a baseball stadium. Virtex Arena could give teams the opportunity to improve their jumbotron games and tap into the energy of the drunken fan in section 4 who wants the world to know which hat that baseball is under.