What’s next for the NHL and the Metaverse?

Los Angeles Kings President Luc Robaille had just seen the future.

It was a Stanley Cup playoff game in May and the Kings showed dizzying images with 3D images of players on their video screens in the arena.

“It was actually really cool,” said the Hockey Hall of Famer. “The guys got off the ice and changed their clothes. And meanwhile our mascot danced on them.”

“You had to watch it twice. It’s something different that no one has ever seen before. But as an organization, we think it’s important to try new things.”

In this case, what was new was the Metaverse, a network of 3D virtual worlds focused on social interaction. Or, more specifically, taking the Kings to that new frontier by becoming the first NHL team to use volumetric technology to film their players.

The Kings have teamed up with Tetavi, an Israel-based company, to create two videos showcasing the potential for immersive technology in the Metaverse.

Tetavi took his portable production studio and set it up at the Kings practice track in El Segundo in one day in April. Los Angeles players like Anže Kopitar, Phillip Danault, Adrian Kempe, Viktor Arvidsson, Trevor Moore and Alex Iafallo walked around in full gear while eight cameras filmed their movements. The same process was used to film Bailey, the Kings lion mascot, beating a drum and dancing around.

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Watch the Kings innovate with immersive new technologies on their arena video screens.

In the past, this type of venture would have required gamers to go to a remote studio for a full-day shoot. The Kings marveled that the Tetavi process took four hours from setup to filming at their practice track. Especially since the players found themselves in the middle of an intense playoff race.

Using the footage and his machine learning technology, Tetavi built out the models of the players and mascot in their studios. The final product was shown during the Kings’ playoff series against the Edmonton Oilers.

“It has been a pleasure working with the players and Bailey to bring this in-game activation to life and we have ambitious plans to increase engagement for Kings fans around the world,” said Gilad Talmon, CEO by Tetavi. “This is an important step in our mission to democratize volumetric technology.”

The videos were shown on the arena’s video screens and not in a VR headset. They were just a taste of what volumetric capture can bring. But it wasn’t hard to imagine a fan immersed in the metaverse while 3D Kings players whirl around him or a growing army of Baileys bang their drums around him.

“When they brought it to us, we thought it would be an opportunity to create a different perspective on gaming entertainment and a different way of communicating with fans,” said Robitaille.

He couldn’t help but imagine what might come next.

“I see potential for a postgame component where fans can be alongside the players,” he said. “You could see where we could create fun things where people sit behind the bench or sit in the penalty area with the players. It would be a really fun part of the game that nobody has seen before.”

The NHL is dipping its collective toes into the Metaverse right now. While the Kings played with volumetric capture technology, the St. Louis Blues debuted the NHL’s first Metaverse shopping experience. The Blues Experiential Reality provided an immersive Metaverse experience accessible on any device, with a photorealistic 3D locker room serving as a merchandise showroom.

The league has been working with companies on ways to watch games with an Oculus headset using the NHL’s puck and player tracking technology and believes this is a gateway to further involvement in the Metaverse.

Many of the NHL’s VR innovations are aimed at younger fans.

“How do we create an additive experience for children at play?” Dave Lehanski, the NHL’s executive vice president of business development and innovation, reflected at a technology show in New Jersey earlier this year. “What we want to do is take that experience and add things that people have never thought of before.”

Robitaille acknowledged that but doesn’t believe technology alone will enchant young fans. It must be worth your time.

“You’d be lying if you said you’re not trying to appeal to a younger audience,” Robitaille said. “But I think it’s important for us to try something new and take risks.

“If you do it right, people will look for it. I’d rather that than some gimmick to get the kids in. These kids are not fools. You know what cool is. You buy Coachella [tickets] before they even know what bands are playing.”

The NHL expects to see more forays into the Metaverse this season from teams curious about how the technology works and how it can be incorporated into their marketing and fan communications plans.

Robitaille reckons the Kings will continue to be one of those teams at the forefront of experimentation.

“If you can think of anything, you can call the LA Kings and we’ll try. I think that’s important,” he said.

https://www.espn.com/nhl/story/_/id/34346716/next-nhl-metaverse What’s next for the NHL and the Metaverse?

Emma Bowman

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