La Liga Returns With Virtual Fans, But Does It Work?

From “The virtual crowds in La Liga looked absolutely ridiculous” to “Spanish soccer returns with computer-generated crowds, and it actually works”. This weekends return to action in Spain has certainly made the headlines.

One of the issues that we’ve witnessed since the return of the Bundesliga last month is the lack of atmosphere and empty stands. This has meant that other leagues and broadcasters have been looking for novel solutions to bring matches to life. And one of the answers might lie in video games.

As Sevilla FC lined up in the first game of Round d 28 against Real Betis on Friday, viewers were treated to something a little bit different, and maybe not quite what they were expecting. 

La Liga’s partnership with broadcast technology company Vizrt enabled them to simulate fans in virtual stands, and they drew on EA Sports back catalogue of chants and noises from their FIFA game to generate the atmosphere. 

But rather than the more realistic crowds you see in FIFA 20, what instead was delivered some something a bit simpler. More along the lines of Sensible Soccer from the 1990’s. But this was a deliberate as they didn’t want to be seen as trying to recreate a crowd, but instead make the empty stands less obvious. 

According to La Liga,

“We want to give viewers a good experience and that’s why during this unusual time we have opted for virtualisation of the stands. Everyone watching it will know it isn’t real, but it will enhance the viewing experience.

“We want fans back into the stadiums as soon as that can be done responsibly. Fans are key to the atmosphere around football, both in the stadium and on TV.”

What this period of enforced rest has proved, along with the knowledge that it will be some time until the crowds return to stadiums (unless you are in New Zealand), is that sports are willing to test and innovate. And with the success of esports in that period then it makes sense for the likes of La Liga and the Premier League to turn to partners such as EA Sports for help.

Youngers fans may take well to this type of crowd atmosphere as it helps to generate a sense of excitement in the broadcast, and one they are familiar with. How well more traditional fans take to it will have to be seen, but for most they will be able to turn off this kind of functionality if they so choose.

So are we seeing what could become the future of sport? Probably not in football, unless there are scenarios where stadium bands have been put in place. But other sports or events where generating excitement in broadcast can be an issue then this could be a partial answer.

What is great to see is that there is a willingness from sports organisations to innovate and experiment, and we will see a greater appetite for technology that can enhance the experience of watching a sport going forward. Something that can only be good for fans of sport not matter where they are in the world.

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