Over the last month, I really didn’t think it would actually happen in 2020, but it is. Major professional sports are finally set to return in the United States. That includes MLB, which will kick off its long-delayed, much-abbreviated baseball season on July 23 with Opening Day. But teams will be doing it alone. Due to the continuing spread of COVID-19 in America, spectators will not be permitted into stadiums. Players will run out to fields in virtual silence in front of empty stadiums. At least they will be empty in person. FOX Sports has announced it will add “virtual fans” for viewers watching at home.
Because nothing will make baseball feel normal like making a real event look and feel like a video game.
The announcement reads:
“As FOX Sports embarks on its 25th season of MLB on FOX this Saturday, the network sets another milestone with the debut of its latest broadcasting innovation – introducing “virtual fans” to its live Major League Baseball broadcasts. Utilizing cutting-edge Pixatope software, the network teams with Silver Spoon Animation and SMT to deliver an elevated viewing experience to sports fans around the nation.”
“Elevated viewing experience” and “cutting-edge” software? Has anyone at FOX Sports played a video game in the last twenty years? Nothing about this looks new or elevated. It looks like animation from an old Xbox baseball game. But these are real games with real people in real stadiums and it doesn’t work the same way. The clips shown here are bizarre and unsettling.
Will it be weird watching sports without fans? Of course. Everything is weird in 2020. But it will also take a week for viewers to get used to it. And the allure of sports is seeing something real happening live. It’s why I hate when networks use digital ads during games. That’s not what it truly looks like in that ballpark, and when I know that I can never shake the feeling I’m watching something less than totally authentic.
Adding 50,000 “virtual fans” isn’t going to make baseball feel normal. It’s just going to highlight that it’s not.
Featured Image: FOX Sports