Presence and sports: New MLSE and Amazon tech puts you in the middle of live or recorded pro games

[CTV News reports on a recent demonstration of presence-evoking technologies being developed to enhance the way fans, and players and coaches, experience sports. See the original story for more pictures and a short video. More details are in an excerpt from coverage by Yahoo! Sports that follows below; for more information see the SportsX website. In a related National Basketball Association press release, the NBA and Meta announced that they will provide “52 live NBA League Pass games – including five immersive 180-degree monoscopic live VR games in 2880 resolution – in ‘NBA Arena’ in Meta Horizon Worlds. Fans can now visit the NBA Arena in Meta Horizon Worlds to watch NBA content with friends, compete in interactive mini-games and cheer on their favorite teams.” –Matthew]

[Image: A reporter tries a virtual reality feature as part of the Immersive Basketball Experience, launched by MLSE Digital Labs and Amazon Web Services’ SportsX program. It allows the viewer to see life size 3D renderings of sports games. Credit: MLSE]

MLSE aims to bring virtual reality, other tech innovations to live sports viewing

By Jordan Fleguel
January 24, 2023

What if you could strap on a headset and immediately find yourself in the middle of a professional basketball game, rather than just watching it on TV?

It’s an ambitious idea, but it’s one that might not be all that farfetched, thanks to a new research and development partnership between Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) and Amazon Web Services (AWS) that could change the way fans watch live sports.

The program, called SportsX, aims to create “new, innovative digital solutions that achieve technological advancement in sports to enhance team performance and the fan experience.”

And some of those advancements are already here – in the form of virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology.

At a launch event at Scotiabank Arena Monday night, the SportsX team unveiled three headsets that use VR and AR, two of which allowed users to step into a simulated basketball game, while the third provided an augmented viewing experience of the live Toronto Maple Leafs game happening on the ice below.

“We’re thrilled to announce SportsX, a new incubator in collaboration with AWS rooted in research, applied sciences and product development,” said Humza Teherany, Chief Technology & Digital Officer at MLSE.

“The program is an extension of our ongoing work with AWS and combines the expertise from both of our organizations with ideas shared by our passionate fans, to create a powerhouse in sports innovation.”


In the first demonstration, users could strap on a headset and step into a life-sized, virtual basketball game being played on the Toronto Raptors practice court in the arena.

The headset uses optical data to create the illusion that the game is going on around you, with players passing, dribbling and shooting the ball on the practice court nets.

The development team took a sample of a real basketball game and used optical tracking body pose data captured using computer vision, and processed it to generate a 3D rendering of the data that runs at around 60 or more frames per second, providing a smooth game simulation.

While the players in the simulation, for the time being, aren’t detailed or identifiable aside from the different jersey colours of the two teams, Teherany says that fans could soon be able to use VR to step into a simulated game being played by their favourite NBA teams.

The simulation can also be scaled up or down depending on the size of the user’s space, meaning fans could eventually use these types of headsets in their homes or even outside.

“It could get to the point where you’re running outside next to [Raptors player] Pascal Siakam,” Teherany said.


The second demonstration took place in an upper bowl suite overlooking the live hockey game between the Maple Leafs and New York Islanders.

There, users were given a pair of glasses connected to a smart phone. The glasses provided AR overlay as you watched the game, allowing you to track the puck or a specific player from either team.

The glasses displayed player statistics and other information and also featured an option to display a roaring polar bear in a Leafs jersey at centre ice.

The real-time statistics are taken from NHL Edge – the League’s Puck and Player tracking technology system, which has been deployed in all 32 NHL arenas and is used in all NHL games.

In addition to the glasses, the SportsX team unveiled a digital table top that displayed a mini version of the Leafs game being played below, which tracked player and puck movement in real time.

During the demonstration, you could hear the puck slam against the boards in the arena as you watched its location on the screen.

With the press of a button, you could see which players had skated the fastest that night or who had won the most face-offs.


While these two demonstrations showed some of the innovative ways that SportsX aims to transform the live sports viewing experience, in many ways, this is just the beginning.

“We don’t want to just bring out solutions that have been done before, we want to invest in early solutions and invest in solving problems early and then show them to the world, which is what you’re seeing here today,” said Christian Magsisi, Vice President of venue and digital technology at MLSE.

SportsX says that in addition to using technology to create new and exciting fan experiences, they want to be at the forefront of using it to give MLSE’s teams, which include the Raptors, Leafs, Toronto FC and Toronto Argonauts, a competitive advantage.

“I don’t know how many other teams, in all the leagues, can say that they have a dedicated research and development team partnered with one of the largest technology companies in the world, working on a technology that will at some point disrupt sports,” Magsisi said.

“So that is where we believe the competitive advantage will come from, but the point was to invest in it early.”

The program was also created with the goal of creating positive social and environmental impact by making AR and VR technologies more accessible and by using fans’ feedback to solve problems that already exist or may come up in the future.

“The [SportsX] program is designed with a bottom-up approach to capture, analyze, and build out the best ideas from key stakeholders, which include coaches, fans, partners, and employees,” MLSE said in a press release.

“Chosen ideas will be evaluated for viability, developed, and tested in the MLSE environment with the goal of creating solutions that can benefit the sports industry at large.”

As for when fans can expect to see VR and AR headsets in the stands at sports games or on shelves to be purchased, Magsisi says it’s coming sooner than people might think.

“Part of the reason why we wanted to do this public launch today is we want feedback from fans. So we want you to go on our website, give us your information, and you’ll be able to see this technology early so that we can incorporate your feedback into the final product,” he said.

“Research and development programs are created to solve the early technology problems so that we can release this, whether it’s on the Leafs app or the Raptors app or on your broadcast TV; we want this to be ready for product and the real world very soon.”

[From Yahoo! Sports]

‘Glimpse into the future’: MLSE, Amazon bringing AR, VR to sports viewing

Ever wanted to relive your favourite sports moment? You’ll soon be able to, while being right in the middle of the action.

By Bryan Meler, Editor, Yahoo Canada
January 24, 2023



Currently, the cost of a couple thousand dollars, and size of the headsets, remains a challenge to get it to a mass group of people. Teherany says that when innovations like Apple’s augmented reality glasses do come out, it’ll change the market, and we can expect these features to be accessible in the size of your everyday glasses.

Eric Gales, the country manager for AWS Canada, says what’s changed significantly about the market in recent years is that before you needed a lot of gear to render an AR or VR experience. Now, thanks to all the collected information they have on the cloud, they’re ready to doll out this experience when there’s an accessible option to make it mainstream.


For the Immersive Basketball Experience, members of MLSE and AWS want to stretch out its capabilities as far as into people’s homes to use on a daily basis. Having spoken to multiple developers, a realistic timeline is 5-10 years, given the aforementioned cost and size issues of the headsets.

Christian Magsisi, MLSE’s vice-president of venue and digital technology, explains that for a life-size version of the players, you’ll need to have a bigger, more accommodating space. For example, if you wanted to be right next to a life-size Kawhi Leonard during his infamous 2019 game-winning shot, you’d need a large space like a gym or a field.

But with the capabilities of AR and VR, users will be able to lay out the experience on a smaller surface such as even a tabletop, helping them see the action unfold right in front of them.


One of the benefits of the VR and AR experience is for the professional sports organizations part of MLSE. Magsisi says it allows players and coaches to recreate pivotal moments from their games and learn from them.

“This allows us to create a competitive advantage,” Magsisi said, noting that members of the Raptors and Leafs have already tried out the tech.

Instead of needing 10 real-life players to recreate a specific play on an NBA court, you’re able to use AR or VR to make that moment come to life virtually. Players and coaches are also able to watch or rewatch games with the headset technology that shows them crucial stats as the action unfolds, giving them an opportunity to see what exactly is contributing to their team’s play.

Gales also notes the impact this can have on enhancing their understanding of injuries, and how to avoid them to enhance player safety. This type of data and innovative research has been a focus for the NFL in partnership with AWS since 2019.


Along with enhancing viewing experiences and helping teams get a competitive edge, SportsX is basing itself on the concept of getting communities involved. They want fans to help lead them toward future ideas through submissions, but also to try out the AR and VR experiences to gather feedback and improve the product.

“We’ve been watching sports the same way for so long,” Magsisi said. “To give people virtual reality goggles is a huge change. So we need to ease people into it. So even though it may be available sooner, I think it’ll take some time for people to really adopt.”

Those who are interested can immediately start to sign up on to test out the technology themselves.

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