A group of Arizona Diamondbacks fans got an unexpected visit from player Chris Owings before Saturday’s game.
Season ticket holders were brought to the Diamondbacks virtual reality bullpen to view the newest virtual reality footage produced by the team, in partnership with COX Communications and R&R Partners.
The first of two new scenes featured this year’s Opening Day ceremony with an American flag, jets, fireworks, and the players stepping onto the field. The second scene showcased the “Gatorade bath” Owings received following his memorable walk-off homerun.
Fans participating in the VR experience got their own taste of a real life “Gatorade bath,” as Owings poured water onto the fans at the same moment that it was happening in the VR experience. The surprise was only heightened when fans took off the VR headset to see the real-life Owings standing behind them.
The Diamondbacks VR experience does not typically include a surprise visit from one of the players, but the 800-square-foot bullpen is open every game for fans to participate, said Josh Rawitch, the Diamondbacks vice president of content and communications.
The bullpen, which opened on Opening Day in April , is located along the main concourse behind centerfield. The space is set up with televisions playing the VR footage for onlookers and several recliners for participants viewing the footage through VR headsets.
Much of the first-round footage was related to spring training and included players warming up or performing drills, all from the viewpoint of an individual right on the field, said Rawitch.
“It’s obviously a really unique way to get a firsthand view of what’s going on,” he said.
The 360-degree footage is shot with 16 different stereoscopic Go Pro Hero 4 cameras all placed on one rig on the field.
“Having a camera literally right down on the field was a perfect stroke of luck,” Rawitch said of the Opening Day game footage. He added that a third round of footage could be on its way later this season, adding that every game is not recorded due to the high cost of production.
“It’s certainly a costly thing to actually have that camera here as often as every game but I think as virtual reality technology keeps growing, we’ll probably do a lot more of it,” he said.
The integration of sports and virtual reality is not new, particularly to the Diamondbacks partner in this venture, R&R Partners.
“They’ve really been at the forefront of this,” Rawitch said of R&R. The advertising firm, which has offices in Phoenix, has produced VR experiences in a variety of industries for the National Hockey League, Boeing Co. and advertising Las Vegas tourism.
“Everybody in the sports world certainly sees the way technology is taking us and so from the Diamondbacks standpoint we’re always trying to be professional and try new things,” said Rawitch. “Who knows what it’ll be next year?”
Watch a select number of the fans experience the VR system and get surprised by Chris Owings above.