Crédits photos : Laval Virtual / VirBELA
On September 17th, sports and virtual reality experts gathered in the Laval Virtual World for the Laval Virtual Days Sport. It was the first time this theme was selected, but the timing to raise new questions was ideal. Indeed, the health crisis has had a serious impact on sports. Major events like the Olympics were canceled, sports halls were closed and professional athletes were forced to stay at home. How have immersive technologies made a big difference?
When innovation meets sports
The health crisis has accelerated the transformation of the way we do, watch and experience sport. “The world of sport is moving forward, and immersive technologies are part of this future”, Marie Leblanc introduced this Laval Virtual Days Sport. This event was organized in partnership with Sport Unlimitech. According to the words of its CEO, Yoann Duval, “Sport Unlimitech is a platform that helps innovation and sports to meet.”
Sport Unlimitech wants to help the sports ecosystem, mostly in France, to get back on its feet after the “worst crisis of its history”, declares Damien Jacquart, Marketing & Business Development Manager at Union Sport & Cycle. The organization truly believes that “innovation will be the key to the future of sport”, just like Frédéric Michalak, its president. He explains that they will travel all around France in 2021 to meet the local ecosystem and try to offer opportunities, especially new markets including immersive technologies and virtual reality.
CREPS (Resource, Expertise and Sports Performance Centre) is also an important structure in sport, which also trusts in the possibilities of immersive technologies. Audrey Reygade, CEO of CREPS Pays-de-la-Loire, explains that they want to become the main actor of virtual reality and sports. For that, they decided to investigate these emerging topics and opened three commissions: performance, training and sport health.
An ambition shared by INSEP, the National Institute of Sports. According to Bertrand Daille, Assistant Head of Performance Department, 50% of Olympic medallists are INSEP-trained athletes. INSEP is proud of this statistic, and benefits from funds given by the government to all research institutes so that they can conduct research projects about performance. The goal is clear: help athletes go to Paris 2024. Innovation seems to be the key to gold results.
New fans experience outside of the stadium
“We noticed that we have different use cases for live and fan experience, especially after the lockdown. A lot of brands tried to make sports alive.” That’s the analysis of Marie Leblanc, Head of Services at Laval Virtual and part of the monitoring department. Her team goes over 4,000 articles each week and selects the best news for the readers. And sport is one of the business fields that have come up a lot the past few months.
The international lockdown made it impossible for people to attend sporting events around the world. A disappointment for fans, millions of whom go to football, rugby, tennis, athletics stadium each year to support their favorite team. Immersive technologies appeared as a solution to offer fans a new experience despite the lockdown. These immersive tools will be very useful in the next months since stadiums cannot be filled entirely.
Kevin Cepisul, Project Manager at Immersiv.io, presented an experience using augmented reality to offer fans another way to enjoy a game. “At Immersiv.io, we are all huge sports fans and we are convinced that augmented reality will be part of our everyday life.” Immersiv.io developed a solution that combines AR, 5G and artificial intelligence. The application generates digital elements with data about the players or the game. This experience can be lived at home, which is very convenient right now: “We understood the importance of keeping and creating a strong long-distance relationship between the teams and the fans during these very specific times. Sports professionals must embrace technologies to meet these new days expectations.”
Big data and artificial intelligence at the service of athletes
For athletes, lockdown was a rough time. All the international and national championships were canceled, and they couldn’t train as before. Going through all of this might be difficult for professional athletes who train for several years for a precise goal. Pascal Gentil, three-time European Taekwondo Champion, shared his experience, while he followed the crisis in China where he lives with his family. “As an athlete, I’ve learned to accept the situation and deal with it.” That’s why he started doing sports at home, like many other athletes. He organized online sessions for the taekwondo community. And even if “it felt a bit weird at first […], sport helps create social interaction.”
“The sports industry will have to reshape itself”, believes Damien Jacquard. Among everything, it has to become more digital, to meet today’s new needs. About that, Pascal Gentil also mentioned the emergence of cryptocurrency in sport: “The business potential of cryptocurrency is big.” The virtual currency can be used to get new funds and sponsors. DNA Global Analytics, of which Pascal Gentil is the vice-president, is currently developing cryptocurrencies for athletes and professional sports clubs. It is also a way to get more funds, by offering the opportunity to fans to buy cryptocurrencies and invest them into actions to support their favorite club.
For clubs, one of the other key issues is collecting and using data for performance. The French football club Paris Saint-Germain has developed projects to use artificial intelligence, mathematics and machine learning. Many football clubs are interested in those technologies, especially in England. The PSG has two projects in place: measuring off the ball actions such as passing and pressing, and monitoring players to see how they respond to training that can lead after to a better adaptation.
Virtual reality for training: where are we?
Virtual reality is a very effective tool for sports training. Inria understood that and has been working on the subject since 2000. “One of the first promises of using VR is that you can standardize a situation, so you can repeat several times the same situation in order to analyze the behaviour of a sportsman”, Frank Multon, Research director, explains. The French football club Stade Rennais trained its goalkeepers with a VR headset in order to help them use their peripheral vision to track more balls. One of the other uses is mental preparation, for preparing athletes to future anxious situations and pressure during competitions.
Alexandre Bouchet, CEO of CLARTE, a research lab specialized in VR/AR, shared a project using augmented reality for archers training. In fact, the engineers developed a solution using a special AR based on audio. CLARTE was in contact with the French archery federation: “The clients asked us to develop a solution for the training to help archers maintain their concentration level in a competition.” When they are at a competition, archers are in a noisy environment, which is not the case when they train. In the project, the archer wears a binaural headset, and hears ambient sounds around him like the cheers of a crowd. “The first results were very encouraging and led to a second wave of development”, says proudly Alex Bouchet.
One thing is sure now after this Laval Virtual Days: “The landscape of sports has changed in recent years.” And Damien Jacquard is right! Virtual and augmented reality and its converging technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, has deeply transformed the sports sector. Fans are experiencing games in a new way, clubs are working with more virtual tools and athletes are training with VR/AR equipment.
More than ever, immersive technologies are shaping the world of tomorrow. They are making all the business fields evolve, and the health crisis has accelerated this digital transformation. The Laval Virtual Days are here to keep you up to date with all the possibilities of XR technologies.