The sports world is still abuzz about the 2016 NBA Draft—which has taken place on the heels of the most-watched NBA Finals Game 7 in history with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers upsetting the Golden State Warriors for the world championship.
As the 2016-17 NBA Season gets ready for tip-off in October, one of the big stories will be the grand opening of the Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center. The Kings have been one of the leading teams in exploring new technology, including both augmented and virtual reality, over the past two years. The team also recently partnered with 2K Sports to integrate its new uniforms into NBA 2K16 and used virtual reality to showcase the uniforms for fans.
Ryan Montoya, chief technology officer of the Sacramento Kings, talks to [a]listdaily about virtual reality, video games and eSports in this exclusive interview.
What did your 360-degree game livestream reveal about the type of publicity and activity VR opens up?
We’re committed to using technology to enhance the fan experience, not only in-arena, but in the community and across the globe.
VR allows us to give basketball fans who are not able to experience a game live the opportunity to do so. In October, at our home opener, we used VR to provide kids at a school in India and patients at a local Sacramento children’s hospital the opportunity to virtually “attend” the game and “sit” courtside.
Around the world, there are fans who may never have the chance to be a part of the spectacle of NBA basketball and VR has allowed us to connect with emerging fans, find new ones and provide a truly unique experience.
Why did you decide to explore virtual reality with the launch of the new uniforms?
With a focus on using technology to enhance the fan experience, it was natural to debut our new uniforms in an interactive and innovative way. The VR experience allows us to provide fans a unique all-access 360-degree perspective of the uniforms.
What are the advantages of VR at this early stage of the technology?
At the Kings, we are huge believers in VR. In fact, last year we announced a strategic investment in VOKE, a leading VR innovator. We believe this technology has enormous potential and the possibilities for its application are endless.
We were the first team in the NBA to experiment with VR two years ago to help us provide fans, potential sponsors and ticket holders an opportunity to experience the innovative design features of our new arena, Golden 1 Center (opening in October), in an innovative and creative way. It powered our ability to completely sell out of all suites, courtside seats, and club spaces largely before construction even commenced.
When Golden 1 Center opens, we look forward to sharing the excitement of the NBA in new and exciting ways. Using VR technology that is device-agnostic and allows fans to select their views and direct their own experience will allow us to do just that.
What role is mobile devices, including Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR, playing in introducing consumers to VR?
We’ve had great success introducing VR to our fans, using the Oculus Rift demos at the XC to preview select spaces in the arena. We’re also using Cardboard viewers to share views of Golden 1 Center with prospective ticket buyers while in their seat at the Sleep Train Arena. Our fans are able to experience the new uniforms through VR in our Arden Fair and Galleria at Roseville team stores, introducing them not just to the uniforms but to VR as a whole. Team store staff are on hand to walk fans through using Gear VR headsets with the 360 video loaded in.
How are the NBA players enjoying VR?
NBA players, like their millennial fan base, are incredibly tech savvy and interested in the latest trends and devices. They are quick to pick up new social networks, recognizing the value of their personal brand and engaging with their fans. As a result, there’s naturally a lot of excitement in our locker room about the next-generation tech we will be debuting at Golden 1 Center. When it comes to VR, many of our players have shown an interest after experiencing our immersive preview experience of the new arena. It happens every time we bring in new technology, like Google Glass broadcasts during warm-ups or a VR photo shoot, the team is curious and wants to learn more.
Does the excitement cross over to NBA fans?
The NBA’s popularity is not confined to the United States. Across the world, massive NBA fan bases are present in Europe, China and India in particular. For fans who may never have the chance to step inside an NBA arena, new technology such as virtual reality is a hit because it brings them closer to the game. We’ve had great success with using VR to preview Golden 1 Center for fans and also to reach new fans who may otherwise never have an opportunity to attend an NBA game.
How are you working with 2K Sports to use NBA 2K16 as a platform to connect with gamers?
The NBA has the youngest fan base of all major sports, and they’re connected to social media platforms and video games. There is huge crossover between the gamer community on 2K and our fans that engage heavily with us across our digital channels. By partnering with 2K, we’ve been able to share our jerseys with the global gaming and NBA community, allowing them to be the first to see them in action.
The new uniform system is available to download in-game and for customization of My Player profiles. For the launch, Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein visited 2K’s studio, where he had the chance to debut the new uniforms over NBA 2K’s daily livestream and speak directly to the gamer audience.
What does this gaming platform open up for the Kings?
Collaborating with NBA 2K to release our uniforms allows us to engage with fans where they are spending their time online. Fans have already been downloading the new uniform system in-game and customizing their My Player profiles.
Andy Miller said that the new Kings stadium has been “designed for eSports.” What opportunity do you see eSports opening up for the stadium?
When Golden 1 Center opens in the fall, it will be the world’s fastest, most-connected arena. Our unparalleled internet connectivity (over 17,000 times faster than the average home Internet connection) combined with the largest 4K Ultra HD indoor video board is ideal for eSports, as well as drone racing and robot competitions. ESports—just like concerts, trade shows and graduations—provide another opportunity for the community to engage with the arena and its benefits, and for Golden 1 Center to help bring more visitors and positive economic impact to downtown Sacramento.
We’ve also seen the NBA and 2K enter eSports with NBA 2K: Road to the Finals this year. How do you see turning the NBA 2K video game into a “sport” helping the Kings engage the younger NBA audience?
A huge part of basketball’s appeal and popularity is how easy it is to play the game, regardless of whether you’re part of a team or by yourself, inside or outside. The NBA has one of the youngest fan bases of a major sport, and as these audiences become more technologically savvy, they will start to look for new ways to engage with the game.
We see eSports and multiplayer game modes as the next step for fan engagement with the game of basketball, just as video games were before them. Being able to play five-on-five basketball against five other gamers helps to create that same team feel from the court, only this team is made up of players from around the world at any given moment.