Virtual reality sports betting on the cusp of becoming actual reality, thanks to VR22 launch

VR22 makes Virtual Reality betting a reality

Virtual reality has long been tipped as the next big trend for the gambling industry, but there has been little sign of anyone actually developing a viable VR-enabled sports betting product – until now. 

SB22, one of the challenger brands in the sportsbook technology space, last month unveiled its VR22 virtual reality betting platform at SBC Summit Barcelona, and it already looks to have the potential to be a real game-changer for the sector.

It offers an immersive 360-degree live game streaming experience that gives fans the best seats in the house and provides them with new ways to interact with the match in real-time, including intuitive in-play betting capabilities, competitions, and the chance to purchase exclusive merchandise and NFTs. 

If that all reads a bit too much like a description written by a public relations team, let me tell you a little about this writer’s experience of trying out VR22.

It’s fair to say that I had some fairly significant doubts about the value of virtual reality technology for anything other than video gaming, so I approached the demo with a degree of skepticism. However, that dissipated within minutes of strapping on the headset.

What I found was a (frankly, mind-blowing) sports viewing experience unlike any I’d had before; it felt truly immersive and much closer to being in the thick of the action in the arena than to watching on television. Equally impressive was the intuitive way in which it was possible to place in-play bets or make purchases while watching the game. 

I can definitely see myself buying a headset (particularly as they continue to become more user-friendly and more affordable for the ordinary consumer) in order to use the VR22 product. Not just for betting, but also for the enhanced viewing experience it gives. It’s easy to imagine that this technology will find uses beyond gambling, as professional sports leagues and teams look to create ever more engaging ways to connect with fans. 

Of course, my feedback is just that of one sports fan. However, it appears that some much more influential people have been equally impressed by what the SB22 team has developed.

Vik Shrestha
Vik Shrestha

For example, Keith Wall, VP, Sports Commercial at the US’s largest real-money gaming business FanDuel, said: “SB22’s VR application is truly immersive and allows fans to experience and wager on games in a highly innovative way.”

And he wasn’t alone in that view. Vik Shrestha, CCO at SB22, revealed that the response to the product demos his colleagues have given has been uniformly excellent.

“We received a tremendous amount of positive feedback from sportsbook operators, professional teams, and some major franchise brands,” said Shrestha. “It is really eye opening and validating when we see people who have never tried VR immediately interacting and placing wagers while using the VR22 application without requiring any instructions.”

Endless potential – from in-play at courtside to festival merchandise 

One obvious thing to ask at this point is how a company just short of its first birthday has managed to develop a product that the industry has long talked about, but not managed to devise. The answer lies partly in the improvements in the available hardware and partly with SB22’s ambition to utilize the very latest technology in its wider sportsbook platform.

Marko Savkovic
Marko Savkovic

Describing the first iteration of the product, SB22’s CTO Marko Savkovic said: “VR22 offers a unique interactive way for fans to engage with live 360-degree streams of games by being able to place wagers on the next play, buy team merchandise and NFTs, play in-game contests with social leaderboards, among other cool features we are developing. 

“The experience is highly intuitive without the use of controllers and uses hand tracking. Our Fi22 sportsbook platform, which was recently certified by GLI, will be at the core of the solution.”

While the product may be well ahead of the competition, there is no sense of ‘job done’ among the company’s 60-strong engineering team and plans are already in place to further develop it as better headsets become available.  

“The biggest challenge to VR has been the technological limitations in consumer grade devices and the underlying platforms being used to power an experience,” explained Savkovic. “We are at a pivotal point in terms of next generation devices with smaller form factors being released in the immediate future, which have the benefit of a significant amount of power without the requirement of being tethered to a computer.”

Those imminent technological improvements are expected to drive the total addressable market for the Metaverse to somewhere between $8 trillion and $13 trillion by 2030, according to Citi’s Metaverse and Money: Decrypting the Future report. Sportsbook operators, many of which are already multi-billion dollar multinational tech-driven companies, want a piece of that action and are giving serious consideration to how to get the maximum results from SB22’s technology.    

Shrestha said: “From our discussions with sports betting operators, we see VR22 being used as an acquisition and retention tool, and the timing is perfect especially as entertainment and betting are converging at a rapid pace. 

“From a VR betting perspective, we simplified the betting experience as much as possible without taking too much attention away from the game. So the action is focused on wagering on the next play and pivotal moments in the game. In-game wagering is already one of the fastest growing areas in betting, so VR helps to amplify and gamify the experience.” 

The SB22 team is thinking bigger than just sports betting though, as the combination of immersive viewing experience and intuitive interactions lends itself to much more than who scores next in a game. 

“The way people consume content is changing at a rapid pace. The biggest engagement problem that leagues have is attracting a global audience to a sport without fans ever being able to experience a game in an arena,” said Shrestha. “VR technology can change that by placing fans anywhere in the arena. This can also unlock new revenue streams with the ability to sell an unlimited amount of VR viewing tickets.”   

He added: “While we are currently focused on sports, the use case is really for any live event that can be streamed. If you remove the wagering component but still have a transactional element, it can drive new revenue streams for that event not just limited to selling VR tickets. 

“For example, imagine a major music festival offering every stage with live 360-degree video streaming and then while watching your favorite band, the system uses eye tracking and sees that you have your eye on the singer’s T-shirt, then an offer to buy that specific t-shirt pops up.”

It appears the long-predicted future is finally just around the corner. It’s time for sports fans to invest in a VR headset.