Let me start off by saying that I am not being paid to talk about any specific VR headset or app. I simply have an interest in the technology and I am very excited to see where it takes the future of combat sports as a whole.
Virtual reality is the future of combat sports. I have seen the light (from my cell phone’s display) and have experienced combat sports in VR yesterday. All I can say is, “Wow!” While options are limited, I am still impressed by the potential this new platform has.
It all started when I ordered a BNext VR Headset from Amazon. It was just over $30 USD and you simply put your phone in the slot and let it do the rest. My very good friend and columnist for The Verge, Taylor Lyles, put me on this headset and an app called NextVR Now. It had some highlight tapes from Deontay Wilder and GGG as well as a Best of Canelo montage.
Setup was simple, slide the tray out and watch the video. The experience was amazing to say the least. I was ring side as Deontay Wilder flatlined Artur Spitka. I saw Canelo and GGG go at it from the corner of the ring.
NextVR Now had many other options that were awesome as well. There were plenty of NBA highlights with League Pass, some racing and snowboarding, and even some horror videos. It was flawless. But, being the combat sports enthusiast I am, I wanted more fighting. So I took to Google to find more apps.
With about 10.5 seconds of research, I found that YouTube was the best source for VR videos, or 360 VR as they called it. Quickly I found tons of videos to watch from roller coasters to football game highlights. Then I found what I was looking for. Back when the UFC was on Fox and not ESPN, Fox brought in Fox SportsVR and did a VR montage for the entire card. There was Wilson Reis vs. Mighty Mouse, Rose Namajunas and Michelle Waterson. I was cage side watching some of the best fighters in the world compete.
There were scenes from the boxing and MMA matches, back stage interviews and all. One of my favorites were when Canelo was doing slip rope training and one of the ropes ran directly to the 360 camera, bouncing right in front of my eyes.
What Lies Ahead?
I am convinced that virtual reality is what the future holds for combat sports. While it has waned slightly, there is nowhere for VR to go but up. Live matches aren’t very common yet, NBA does live basketball games with their League Pass subscription, as mentioned earlier. The technology is there, it will just take more adaption by the public.
I feel as if virtual reality is in the early 2000’s of podcasting stage. While it’s a cult thing, it will eventually pop, like podcasting.
While other promotions have done things like this in the past, the likely name to bring VR into the mainstream would be ONE Championship. It is the premier martial arts promotion in Asia. In 2019, ONE launched ONE Esports, a professional gaming league.
With Demetrious Johnson as the Chief Brand Ambassador for ONE ESports, the lines between combat sports and Esports draw even nearer. Virtual reality for ONE Championship would be a natural extension into the great unknown.
Where to get started?
As mentioned earlier, the NextVR Now app is a good starting place. But their options for combat sports are limited. The best place by far is YouTube with their 360 videos. Here are a few 360 videos for you to enjoy!
One word of advice, make sure to turn on the high definition on YouTube. It’s low def by default and it makes the picture incredibly grainy. You’ll thank me later.
Deontay Wilder vs. Artur Spitka
UFC Kansas City Highlights
The Future of VR in Combat Sports
I predict that VR will be more and more of a player in not only combat sports, but also the world. Imagine watching freestyle wrestling on the mat as Abdulrashid Sadulaev takes home gold. Tyson Fury finally takes on Anthony Joshua as you’re ringside watching the biggest heavyweight boxing match of the millennium. Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz rematch for the third bout in their epic trilogy and you’re in McGregor’s corner listening to his corner’s coaching. You are on the side of the duhyō and Hakuho and Kakuryū are in one of the most epic sumo bouts in history.
The possibilities are insane. Virtual reality will immerse the fan even more into combat sports putting them right in the action. As the technology improves, so will the immersion.