Virtual reality maybe on the verge of its first retail hit. If Baltimore Ravens quarterback and last season’s NFL MVP Lamar Jackson has anything to do with it, VR gaming has arrived.
Sports technology and gaming company Status Pro has signed Jackson to his first official endorsement deal with “The Lamar Jackson Experience,” a suite of first-person virtual reality (VR) game products that include an at-home game, arcade games and live activation. The suite will use all available aspects of the VR platform utilizing player tracking data to create game scenarios — so the user can get a VR feel for completing a pass against a blitz as well as getting sacked vs. a defensive line jailbreak.
Jackson himself has been part of the game’s development and promotion of the game.
“Like most people from my generation I am a huge gamer, and the first time I demo’d the Status Pro experience I was blown away by how realistic and fun it was,” said Jackson. “Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to play in the NFL and now that I do, I am excited about sharing my experience with fans and especially kids through this VR gaming platform.”
Status Pro is a sports technology company that already has its hooks deep into the NFL. Its clients include the NFL Players Association as well as the Ravens and several other teams on the pro and college level. It has started as a training program. With off-season practices hindered by limits set by the league as well as the coronavirus pandemic, VR has become a go-to training regimen to give players looks at opposing teams as well as their own. And of course, player safety has been a concern and getting sacked on VR hurts only the ego, not the ribs.
The way CEO Troy Jones explains it, Status Pro takes available player data and combines it with virtual as well as augmented reality platforms. In that way he has the advantage of working with NFL teams, but his ambition is to expand across all sports leagues.
“We work closely with NFL teams to provide products that allow them to have their players simulate getting in game reps outside of physically being on the field,” he says. “So if a coach wants to be able to have a guy get familiarity with this playbook and or a situation that they’re going to be going up against in a game, they’re able to use our platform to go over that in a holographic simulation.”
That simulation has now been gamified, and will be available on the Status Pro site as well as headset-based stores that sell Oculus products. Jones says Status Pro is working directly on distributing the product for an annual subscription fee for consumers as well as other teams. So the company is pursuing a business-to-business (B2B) as well as a direct-to-consumer (D2C) model.
“In a perfect world we are able to define VR sports gaming across multiple sports, as well as, as well as training, and I think that the two go hand in hand,” Jones says. “So by having that foundation with working closely with athletes on the training side, you’re able to understand how to best use technology to make it authentic and easy to gamify. I wouldn’t say right now that gamifying it is easy and fun, but we’re working closely with a lot of athletes to make the experience realistic and use the player data to create custom experiences for them. It puts us in a cool position to create a unique relationship between the athletes the organizations and the fans.”
Jones knows Status Pro has a high-profile entry on its hands with arguably the most popular player in the league. He also knows that he needs to sell the platform as well as the player in order for VR sports gaming to scale. He says the future is all about the content.
“To advance the idea of having these immersive first-person experiences you have to have to have great content to play on the platform,” he says. “Given where technology is headed especially with the release of new VR hardware and, you know, Verizon 5G and some other things I think we’re finally getting to a point where you’re going to be able to have multiplayer within VR. We will get to a point where you can play with your friend while he’s in his headset in a different location. And as you come up with compelling content that people are interested in such as you know the NFL in football, I think that’ll drive more people to the platform to check it out. I think that’s when you start to see people are more open to it and willing to stay on the platform.”