With baseball season just getting into full swing, it’s a good time to reflect on how technology has changed the game. Increasing effort is spent today on fan engagement. AR and VR can be essential components in a unique stadium or sports bar experience. Virtex Arena Baseball is looking to create a unique experience for fans that turns the game’s organic downtime into an exciting and competitive pastime.
Here’s how the free app, available on Google’s Play or Apple’s App Store, works:
Arena Baseball, made with Unity, pits the classic Red vs Blue squad against one another. It can be played in single or multiplayer, but multiplayer is where the experience shines. The game asks you to choose either hitting or catching. One team will take the side you don’t, while you score points with good hits or great catches. Catchers effectively gain the point totals hitters would have gotten from landing in that section of the field.
Fans create the field by pointing their phones at a flat surface, or at the baseball diamond itself during game time. Virtex has lined up a few scheduled events for anyone to try for free, whether they are in attendance or not:
Giants vs. Dodgers: 4/27-4/28 @ AT&T Park (SF)
A’s vs. Orioles: 5/4 @ Oakland Coliseum (Oakland)
Yankees vs. Red Sox: 5/8 @ Yankee Stadium (NY)
Cubs vs. White Sox: 5/11 @ Wrigley Field (Chicago)
If you are in attendance at a game, Virtex will ask for your section, row, and seat number to get a specific feel for where you are on the field. Your orientation in the arena reflects the angle that you can view Arena Baseball’s field. You can also play from your favorite sports bar, or between innings while watching the game on your VR headset.
On screen, players will see the broader baseball diamond alongside a portrait view that shows your in-game perspective. As the hitter, you will need to swipe left to knock em out of the park, but the pitcher will be slinging at different angles. Connect big, and you will swing for the stands. Those on the catching side will need to look around the baseball diamond and find where the ball will land. Players will tap small yellow circles to send the nearest player scrambling to make the play.
Gameday acts like a multiplayer lobby, with timed “events” that coincide with the game’s downtime. Fans can also use votes they are issued to try and win fun equipment for that day’s game, like a fun plastic bat or even a golf club. Between innings, the events begin and fans can play for about 2-3 minutes.
Rankings update in real-time, so there is a competitive aspect, and it will be hard for hackers to game the system. It’s not multiplayer the way that you might think of playing MLB’s The Show on PlayStation 4; it’s more about high scores and bragging rights. Fans will want to keep coming back to Arena Baseball, especially as they inch closer to the top of leaderboards. It would be fun to see stadiums getting in on this action and posting live scoring updates around the stadium. Imagine seeing your number one spot usurped while you’re in line for snacks.
The app also leaves room for sponsorship, which I can frankly take or leave but does add some realism. Stadiums are sponsored, and the app designs your game to look like it’s being played in a real stadium. Having the sponsors there makes some sense visually, and if the game catches on those same sponsors will help to keep it free and improve its production value.
Overall, Vertix Arena baseball is a pretty neat idea. Baseball can get a little tedious when viewing at home or the ballpark, especially in a lower scoring game. While improvements have been made to the game of baseball, it’s nice that there are other ways to pass that downtime. The NBA has been investing big in AR technology as well, looking for ways to augment fan engagement. We expect more of this kind of technology throughout 2018.
Arena Baseball’s home version is also a fun game you can play with someone around you when one of the scheduled games is on. You don’t need to be in the stadium. You can be with friends at your local sports bar connecting with fans either at the stadium, watching the game near you, or elsewhere.