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Former Top-Level Athletes Push Virtual Reality Into the Mainstream With StatusPro

The NFL and two former football players are trying to offset the hurdles to virtual reality going mainstream because of a lack of hit content to lure the masses.

Former college quarterback Troy Jones and former NFL wide receiver Andrew Hawkins a few years ago pitched the league and the NFL Players Association on a virtual reality video game. The co-founders (Williams and Hawkins) of StatusPro eventually won the licenses earlier this year. And in late September, the NFL Pro Era debuted for download on Meta’s Meta Quest 2, as well as Sony’s Playstation VR.

“We know what it’s like to be on the field,” Hawkins, the company’s president, said in an interview on the latest episode of Business of Sports, which is a podcast series from Bloomberg Quicktake. “Their goal is to “make sure every fan of the game also gets to experience that, and this technology is what made that possible.”

With retail prices for headsets declining, the adoption of virtual reality by consumers is becoming more popular, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. Hardware sales could triple to more than $7 billion by year 2024, the researcher noted. A game featuring NFL players, teams and stadiums may expand the audience.

Arguably the most successful franchise in the history of gaming is Electronic Art’s Madden NFL, which has the exclusive video game licenses for the NFL and the NFLPA. Like Madden, NFL Pro Era has a star player in Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson to be the face of the game.

“Content goes hand in hand with any hardware and sports is probably what brings the most diverse group of people together,” Jones, the CEO of StatusPro, said. “I think a lot of people will try VR for the first time,” after the launch of the game, he said.

Originally, Hawkins and Jones produced a VR experience as a training tool. Coaching staffs were convinced by the duo pitching the product as a way for players to get virtual repetitions in the offseason when rules won’t allow for in-person practices. Defensive coaches first used the technology to get athletes even more experience identifying offensive formations, as well as lining up before the snap of the ball.

“We sat in the lab, and we were like: ‘position-by-position, coach-by-coach – how do we make their job easier?” said Hawkins, who was on the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns.

A positive response from players led Hawkins and Jones bringing the experience to fans. The gameplay puts the player as an NFL quarterback who breaks the huddle, receives a snap, and looks for wide receivers down the field all the while trying to avoid being sacked by the defense.

“You’ll gain an appreciation of when you see a quarterback have to break out of the pocket, extend a play and find a receiver downfield with 280-pound guys running and chasing them down,” Jones said,

Time will tell if the game speeds up adoption of VR headsets. But StatusPro is contemplating expansion.

“We want to create these experiences across sports, not just football,” Hawkins said. To make games “That make people say: ‘I wanna try VR. I wanna put myself in this scenario.’”

Photo Credit: Allen Daniel


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