With the kickoff of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar just around the corner, Chinese soccer fans are eager to embrace the mega event, which is set to take on a metaverse-like look for many sporting enthusiasts watching from afar.
Virtual reality-enabled game watching experiences, humanlike virtual soccer commentators and soccer-themed digital collections will all provide World Cup fans in China a virtual front-row seat not only to stunning competitions but also first-hand knowledge of how the metaverse is starting to reshape the multibillion-dollar global sports industry.
As a hot tech buzzword, metaverse loosely refers to a shared virtual environment or digital space created by technologies including VR and augmented reality.
Zhang Wenfeng, a 28-year-old bank employee in Nanchang, Jiangxi province, said: “In the past, World Cups took place in the summer, so we would go out to have outdoor parties to enjoy the events. This year, it is taking place during colder months (in Nanchang), and because of COVID-19, we seem to have fewer choices and rely more on online experience to feel the zeal of soccer.”
Well aware of the change and the ensuing opportunities, Chinese tech companies are scrambling to leverage their cutting-edge technologies to enrich soccer fans’ digital viewing experience.
VR headset maker Pico, owned by tech company ByteDance, for instance, said starting from Monday, users can watch live broadcasts of the World Cup through its VR goggles. Soccer fans can invite their friends to their own digital rooms to watch matches together and interact with virtual anchors.
Gan Yuqing, chief content officer of Migu, the digital content unit of China Mobile, said the company will also create a virtual interactive space for watching the World Cup, and will livestream the event with technologies such as 5G and VR.
The careful blending of digital technologies and the bustling soccer competition can attract more consumers to try new things, Gan said.
As a key concept of the metaverse, digital humans will also have a role to play in the once-every-four-year event. Liu Jianhong, a famous Chinese soccer commentator, posted a video clip on social platforms on Thursday featuring a digital version of him broadcasting soccer news.
Looking indistinguishable from Liu himself, the digital twin will be used to rapidly produce World Cup commentary video clips in large quantities, which can greatly reduce Liu’s workload and boost production efficiency, said Li Di, CEO of Xiaoice, an AI company that helped create the digital twin.
Looking forward, the AI version of Liu will potentially handle interaction with his fans, Li added.