FOX SPORTS Adds VIRTUAL FANS to MLB Games; MIXED RESULTS

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With the years 2020 halfway done and starting to wind down on its seventh month, professional sports leagues around the world are clamoring to get their current seasons postponed by the advent of COVID-19 going again, even if there are fewer games to play because of it. Some of these associations like Major League Baseball (MLB) in the US have already started, with the condition that their games cannot have fans on the stands due to health and safety regulations. Fox Sports has decided to touch upon the idea of blending cutouts of spectators on the seats plus computer-generated “virtual fans.” Almost nobody seems impressed.

USA Today tells us that, for their telecast of the first Major League Baseball game happening right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fox Sports felt that they should do something about the vacant stands and bleachers. By using the “Unreal” graphics engine famously used in many current-generation videogames, Fox Sports superimposed a multitude of CGI spectators for the games played this weekend on locations like Wrigley Park, with a variation of models given different (team-based) clothing and a series of looped motions. But the attempt to fill up the empty-except-for-players-and-officials failed to hype.

Social media exploded with critiques on the virtual MLB fans. A significant number of naysayers think Fox Sports should not have bothered. Others pointed out that the broadcaster could not seem to be consistent with the spectators. They tend to be generated on the stadium only during long shots. When the camera goes behind the pitcher the fans usually did not appear. And when they do their looped movements simply did not look natural. Some MLB teams themselves have an alternative for their fans, inviting them to send cutouts of themselves to be “seated” on the stands. They do run the risk of being damaged by a hard-flying homerun though.

In other leagues, the NBA has its own system in play to populate the courtside when the truncated season/playoffs begin July 31 at the Disney World “bubble.” Fans that can avail of “special tickets” will get to watch the action virtually. Monitors set on the seats will project the viewers at court, using the “Together mode” on Microsoft Teams to make the individual viewers look like they are “sitting” together. The system looks to be in need of further refinements.

But at least none of these electronically-based fan generation systems are like what FC Seoul did for their K-League game back in May. They had populated the stands of their home pitch with female mannequins wearing facemasks, holding signs and posed like cheering. Korean social media accused the team of using “sex doll toys, leading to a hefty 100-million-Won fine.

Image courtesy of The Verge

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