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HindustanTimes Thu,21 Aug 2014

Sports

In future, you can vote on whether MS Dhoni should bat or bowl
Sai Mohan, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, December 29, 2013
First Published: 11:21 IST(29/12/2013)
Last Updated: 11:32 IST(29/12/2013)

Do you believe in Thomas Edison’s theory that success is 1% inspiration and 99 % perspiration? We are entering the era in which innovators are outsourcing “failures” to simulations. It’s going to change everything we know about failure because human mind is cunning enough to “stop working”.

Let them computers take over.

The year is 2020. Imagine spending Diwali with family on the couch, but instead of watching a live India-Pakistan ODI game we’re all plugged into a televised videogame. Sounds crazy, right? In South Korea, videogames are already a spectator sport, they’re televised nationally, drew massive TRPs in 2013. When HBO airs Fight Night on pay-per-view in the US and Canada, the EA Sports (videogame) equivalent is simulcast on the PS or Xbox Live networks.

Imagine doing this in a real-life arena as well.

Imagine cutting the athletes out altogether, and instead watching simulated sports. Computer graphics – and requisite algorithms – have progressed to the point where we could have a lifelike video of the simulation, never worry about replays, and see the action from unimaginable camera angles.

Where’s the thrill in that, you may ask.

For one, software is limitless. The human body is not. In 100-plus years of professional sport, we’ve lost arguably the most talented basketball player in history, Isiah Thomas, at barely 30, to a torn ACL. The likes of Andrew Flintoff, Shane Bond and Ian Bishop would have enjoyed 100-plus Tests careers if not for recurring injuries. Kobe Bryant’s aspirations of a sixth ring are fading away, courtesy a torn ACL. The physical and mental load endured by a 21st century athlete is fierce. Throw in the possibility of ruptured tendons, knee injuries and brain injuries. Jonathan Trott, did we mention stress-related illnesses?

Think about it. We’ve been trying to enhance the quality of sport through innovations, and at times, guilty of cloning athletes from the start-up. If you’re Chinese, you are probably engineered to be an athlete. Very few athletes in China are allowed a mind of their own. Very few of them are characters.
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TWO-WAY STREAM

Also, we are entering a world of two-dimensional media. We, the spectators, can’t be left out of the action any longer. This is no longer a one-way stream. The connection has already been initiated.

What started with ICC allowing you to vote for the cricketer-of-the-year through a mobile app will transcend to a simulated video-chat with that winner, even without his physical presence. Boxing living legend Floyd Mayweather teased the fans choosing his next opponent, via twitter and the internet.

Sometime in the near future, if and when a T20 match ends in a tie, you, the viewer, will be allowed to pick which bowler delvers the Super Over. Ditto with when a football match reaches a penalty shootout. Those experiments have already begun in side games and exhibition games. In a few years, don’t be surprised if you are able to vote on whether MS Dhoni should bat or bowl when he wins the toss. It may not please the athlete, but it’s good for business as it makes the fan more relevant. The #Thank you Sachin twitter campaign was a big hit. Every fan that tweeted received a personally signed picture. It was a masterstroke since it didn’t require Sachin’s “actual” time. But it made the day of many a fan.

In NASCAR, fans are even able to utilise an online vote to decide the paint scheme for one of the cars. Way to involving the fans a little more. We’re just getting started here.

John McEnroe’s lifelike simulation coaching course is available to aspiring young tennis players. If they go down that road, they’ll never need a real coach. There’s McEnroe overlooking every move.

VIRTUAL PLAYING GROUND

Formula One, in this day and age, is almost 90 % simulation. The driver goes through every chicane and corner with engineers even before reaching the circuit. It’s the classic example of testing a virtual environment built by real world data at much lower levels of cost and risk.

For now, app development, wireless satellite streaming, mobile technology enhance live sport. But that’s only for now. Eventually the deep engagement will get deeper as the fan becomes the athlete. Crazy? It could very well happen.

What gets people excited about sports? Is it the game itself, or the outcome? Many get more out of analysis than the game itself. For many cricket lovers, one wonders if the game itself matters beyond stats. We’re already close to a numbers-loving virtual reality through fantasy sports leagues, video games, and desktop simulation apps.

Sport consists of microcosms of what’s most human: pushing ourselves to the limit, weeping over defeats, and over-the-top celebrations. If sports were simulated, we would miss this array of emotions.

But then, nobody stopped us from allowing the Internet to take a life of its own.

In the near future, simulations won’t be judged by how realistic they are but how real they are.  And while for now athletes in videogames are simulated based on what’s real, the irreversible could happen.


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