Hit a home run with Gatorade’s new virtual reality baseball experience

by Matthew Terndrup • September 18th, 2015

It’s the bottom of the ninth. Tied game. A roar from the crowd echoes through the stadium like a warchant in the midst of an intense battle. Bryce Harper, right fielder for the Washington Nationals, is up to bat. He focuses in on the goal in hand. “It’s not about the lights. It’s not about the scoreboard,” he thinks to himself. “It’s about you and the ball.” Harper then taps the wooden handle against the ground causing an energy to surge up within.

The anticipation builds as he steps up the plate. Suddenly, a baseball shoots out from the pitcher’s mound heading toward the plate at 92mph. Harper swings, making direct contact, sending the ball flying like a rocket into the stands. The audience erupts, and the Nationals win the game!

Every baseball fans dreams of hitting a game winning home run. Yet, few actually get to do it – until now. Thanks to a collaboration between a gaming production company, OMD’s Zero Code, and Gatorade, fans get to see what hitting a ball into the stands is like from the perspective of 2015’s top hitter in the world. Not only is Bryce Harper leading the Majors in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging — he is also just 22 years old.

The virtual reality experience itself floats on both sides of being extraordinary and lack luster at the same time. The CGI graphics when Harper steps up to the plate with energy particles surrounding him is captivating. The Iron Man-esque avatar and the way the ball slows down with speed analytics hovering nearby is a visual treat for the eyes, which can be seen below.

At the same time though, it takes over 2 minutes and 6 pitches for the viewer to experience that home run feeling. It’s like an eternity in VR time waiting for that final throw to come along, especially when holding an uncomfortable Google Cardboard headset up to one’s face.

Anticipation does build in that time, which is what baseball is all about. The game of baseball is a mental dance, if you know what to look for. Yet, there is a “boring” stigma associated with it. This is due to the time it takes to get to an exhilarating play. Spicing up baseball is needed now more than ever as our society strives for more intense experiences like those often found in American football, UFC fighting, and rugby.

Attempting to record baseball in VR is filled with challenges. Virtual reality is all about intimacy, so having the players spread out over the field makes positioning a camera between them extremely difficult. That’s probably why the development team behind this Gatorade experience went with a spectacular CGI approach right at home plate, which is a compelling place to be. Still, it takes a bit too long in my opinion to finally get to that home run play.

With that said, Gatorade increased the emotional amplitutde by including a unique advertisement for the demo. They rounded up a bunch of young fans and had them try the experience while wearing Gear VRs. After hitting the ball into the stands at the end of the film, Bryce Harper himself lifts of the head-mounted display (HMD) to surprise his fans. Talk about excitement! It is a subtle yet powerful approach that produces great reactions, which helps push VR further into the mainstream.

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