Watching the Games in VR: A Fully Immersive Experience

ByAlan Robles, Joel Spearman And Alex Phi

Originally published on Gensler On

A virtual, 360-degree stereoscopic view of LAFC Stadium. Image © Gensler

Editor’s note: This blog post is part of the GenslerOn Rio 2016 blog series.

The 2016 Summer Olympic Games in in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, marks the first time the Olympics will be shot in virtual reality, allowing anyone with a compatible Samsung smartphone and VR headset to watch the games virtually, in a fully immersive, 360-degree experience. But this is just the beginning.

Alan Robles, an experience designer in Gensler’s Retail studio in Los Angeles, sat down with Joel Spearman and Alex Phi, architects from Gensler’s Sports studio, to discuss advanced visualization technologies like Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR), and how they’ve quickly become essential components of the design process.

With the Olympics in full swing, how can these technologies (AR, VR, MR) be leveraged in the pursuit of changing the way we experience sporting and entertainment events?

Alan Robles, Experience Designer– The most exciting thing about using virtual reality to experience the 2016 Rio Olympics as a fan reminds me of why we brought advanced visualization to Gensler. Just as VR is an obvious way to heighten the fan experience, there’s never been a question about how it could bring value to what we do as architects and designers.

With many other industries there hadn’t been an automatic notion of how these things would be applied. But with architecture, the ability to bring our designs out into the world and present them as an experience is breaking down communication barriers we’ve dealt with our whole careers. The same goes for sporting events. It’s like going from looking into a room through a window to being inside the room seeing everything around us.

LAFC Vice Chairman & Owner, Henry Nguyen, explores the stadium. Image © Gensler

Alex Phi, Gensler Sports Architect– As VR is quickly gaining popularity in many design industries, Gensler is analyzing how it affects every step of the design process, from conception to delivery. It takes floor plans, sections and renderings to paint a story comparable to what one 3-D environment could convey.

Sports architecture is unique in a way that its high performance buildings, such as major NFL stadiums, have a typology of architecture that is unlike any other type of building. The user experience in interacting with the architecture really starts from the moment you see the stadium, sometimes miles from the site, to the moment you get in your car to leave the site. Everything in between—from arriving at the gate to purchasing a beer, celebrating your team’s victory and walking to your car—becomes an experience that cannot fully be explained through words. This is where VR becomes most transformative.

One Gensler Sports client success story is with Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC), a new Major League Soccer (MLS) team set to start playing in 2018 with the arrival of a brand new stadium. LAFC has leveraged our VR visuals to use in their own pitches, helping them find potential sponsor partners for the stadium. By taking VR into sales meetings, they are transforming the realm of storytelling and selling an idea of a sports stadium that doesn’t yet exist.

Virtual design meeting with Henry Nguyen and LAFC President & Owner, Tom Penn. Image © LAFC.

Joel Spearman, Gensler Sports Architect– As designers we have two primary jobs: We want to create beautiful, functional spaces and places, and (even more difficult) we have to help people see and understand these spaces before they’re built. We’ve moved through hand drawings, water paintings, renderings, photo realistic renderings, animations, models and more to do this, but the hardest thing to capture is the feeling of a space and the emotions it evokes. VR has this ability built in, and that’s in part why it’s been so successful for our sports clients.

Sports have such a powerful emotional pull, and connecting that to an image or representation of a stadium makes it real and exciting. The first time I put the goggles on and was in the upper deck, I could feel how steep it was and how close I was to the field. I wasn’t just seeing a flat 2D image of what it should look like; I was actually in it.

This is also the power that this technology will have for already built stadiums and for fans watching a sporting event like the Olympics. In my own home, I can watch my favorite team play, I can drink my own drinks and eat my own food for a much lower cost than going to the game, but it will still never compare to actually being at the game. I don’t feel the rush of emotion that comes with watching a game with thousands of others all pulling for the same thing I am. The most impactful words for any fan are always going to be “I was there when….”. VR has the ability to bridge the gap; I can get that feeling, hear the crowd noise all around me, get the extra information that TV broadcast can deliver—I can even sit in seats closer and better than I ever have—and I can do all this from home.

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