By Zach Leonsis
I always look forward to attending NBA All Star Weekend, and this year’s weekend in Chicago is certainly no exception. Yes, the game is fun and the skills competition, which includes the three-point shooting and dunk contests, is exciting to watch. But the part that I look most forward to however is the opportunity to gather with so many of our colleagues from across the NBA, the tech & media worlds, and the larger sports industry as well. This year, I’ll be loudly supporting Davis Bertans, our sharp shooting Wizards forward better known by his nickname, the ‘Latvian Laser.’ Bradley Beal called Davis the best shooter he’s ever seen. That’s high praise from someone who shoots lights out himself!
Few events capture the culmination of talent that the NBA gathers together during their annual all-star weekend better than the NBA’s annual Tech Summit, hosted every Friday morning prior to the celebrity game and other star-studded events. The Tech Summit is always an eye-opening experience that provides team executives and partners with a preview of ‘the next big thing.’ In 2015 when the all-star game was hosted in New York City, the Tech Summit first exposed many of us to the potential of virtual reality. Samsung featured an immersive activation where users could put on a headset and watch an NBA exhibition game played in Brazil from the perspective of a courtside seat. This experience certainly inspired the league’s efforts to work with a vendor like NextVR to stream a select number of live games via their platform. It also inspired us at Monumental to work with companies like STRIVR who created virtual playbooks for our Wizards, Mystics, and Capitals players to enjoy.
In 2016 when all-star weekend took place in Toronto, the Tech Summit first exposed me to Intel’s True View technology, an unreal project that pioneers volumetric video services by leveraging incredible computing power to stitch together views from dozens of cameras installed in a sports arena or stadium. The views that Intel’s True View system provides for our fans are brand new and would be impossible to replicate any other way. We are proud to be one of the few buildings now in the NBA that features this system in our arena, and actively distribute highlights from the system via our Washington Wizards digital & social channels, as well as during our live game broadcasts on NBC Sports Washington.
At 2017’s Tech Summit in New Orleans, the commissioner’s office unveiled a stunning augmented reality overlay on top of a real-life basketball demonstration that featured real-time stats coming from Langston Galloway. As Langston shot a few baskets in front of the intrigued audience, illustrative stats appeared providing fans with insights into his adrenaline level, shot arc, probability of shot success, ball velocity, angle of release and more. We’re still only scratching the surface here of what’s to come and will continue to integrate this into broadcast experiences and digital platforms. There’s no doubt that a segment of our audience enjoys this kind of data as content, and that there are also numerous gaming applications to take advantage of with this data. Our ‘Predict-the-Game’ alternate feeds on NBC Sports Washington’s plus channel is one preview of where I think this is heading.
In 2018 in Los Angeles, the Tech Summit notably featured esports as a hot topic which coincided perfectly with the formal launch of the NBA 2K League. We, of course, are very active in the esports space with investments in several teams, publishers, tournament organizers, and more primarily through our esports holding company called aXiomatic. Via aXiomatic, we are significant equity owners in Team Liquid, the world’s leading esports team and back-to-back-to-back-to-back NALCS champions in League of Legends, the world’s biggest esports title by month active viewers. We are also investors in publishers like Epic Games, which publishes Fortnite, and Niantic, which publishes Pokémon Go! amongst other additional, smaller venture capital investments in the space. Wizards District Gaming was one of 17 NBA 2K League teams to participate in the league’s inaugural season and we are proud to enter next Saturday’s NBA 2K League Draft with the #1 overall selection. We’ve also launched an NHL esports activation with a new sub-brand for the Capitals called, Caps Gaming. This new platform is growing interest online via our online tournament which will end in an in-person tournament here in Washington with high-stakes prize money on the line for those lucky enough to make it to the finals.
2019’s Tech Summit in Charlotte provided guests with an incredible preview of what the ‘jersey of the future’ might look like. In conjunction with Fanatics, the NBA debuted a ‘smart jersey’ that allows fans to update and change the player name & number that adorns the back of their jersey via an app. I’m still waiting for mine but am hopeful to see it available in the not too distant future. I think fans would love the optionality of updating their jersey to feature different player names and numbers on a regular basis.
Who really knows what the league and its partners will debut in Chicago this upcoming Friday. Whatever it is, I’m sure it will continue to turn heads and catch our attention at Monumental as other debuts at Tech Summit have in the past. What are your guesses? Will it involve streaming? Something related to sports betting? New hardware technology? Comment below, predict away, and let’s see who might be able to guess what the ‘next big thing’ will really be.