This past week I was given the unique opportunity to attend an NBA game as a virtual fan. With all games taking place in a COVID-19 “bubble” at Disney World, only essential persons are allowed at the games, which means no fans.
To make the bubble experience as normal as possible the NBA had to quickly come up with a way to have fans in attendance. Like many other organizations, the solution to this problem was teleconferencing, but being a multi-billion-dollar organization, they were able to install 17 feet tall video screens to show off the fans. (picture below)
With this being my first virtual experience that coincided with a live-event, I was surprised at how closely the NBA replicated the in-person experience while in the Microsoft teams teleconference.
The main difference between this video call and others, was the layout of the other people in attendance. Instead of having everyone’s face and background appear in a grid format, each person was given a “seat” that only their face was on. Very similar to the green screen feature that most programs have now. This feature, tied in with everyone’s mic being on, gave fans the ability to communicate and interact with one another in a way that was more natural compared to other videocalls.
Another observation I had from this experience was how it connected strangers. There were 30 random people on the video call with only one thing in common, being a fan of NBA basketball, but we were all able to have friendly (and somewhat natural) conversations with one another when nothing was going on during the game. This was mostly thanks to the moderator who was leading conversation, but it was still great to connect with strangers over a shared interest.
All in all, watching the game as a virtual fan was a great experience that gave some similarity of attending a game in-person. While it is impossible to replicate the energy of having a group of people packed into one space, the ingenuity of this idea gives me optimism that other events that rely on people gathering can be just as fun in a virtual environment.