As the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue to heat up, ESPN has announced the release of two new augmented reality (AR) games that will be integrated into their hockey pregame show, The Drop. The games were developed in collaboration with Verizon and the National Hockey League (NHL).
The AR games, Puck Pong and Puck Pursuit, will allow viewers to use their smartphones to access digital environments in their homes and interact with the games. Puck Pong requires players to shoot hockey pucks at a target, while Puck Pursuit involves flicking pucks into red buckets. Both games will feature Arda Ocal, the host of The Drop, in volumetric video format, cheering on participants and providing guidance.
ESPN hopes that the new AR games will enhance the viewing experience for fans and encourage longer user engagement with The Drop. According to Kevin Lopes, ESPN's VP of sports business development and innovation, "We've been playing around with the idea of how augmented reality can help extend the experience for our fans."
Verizon, which became a founding partner of the ESPN Edge Innovation Center in 2021, aims to leverage its 5G technology to offer something new to viewers. "Having this volumetric video streaming over the internet is something that's new. I'm a content producer at heart, so I'm excited that we can bring AR to consumers in these exciting ways, and then 'the magic' behind doing that is leveraging our 5G technology," said Kris Soumas, Verizon's head of consumer content partnerships.
This is not the first time ESPN has introduced AR activations to its programming. In March, they launched an animated game called Big City Greens Classic, which converted the rink and players into the world of a Disney cartoon. However, Lopes believes that there is still more room for growth in AR technology for sports. "I'm a firm believer in what AR can mean for sports, in the coolest, futuristic way of having augmented reality glasses or even augmented reality contact lenses," he said. "All those applications in AR and sports are really awesome, but that tech isn't quite ready yet."
For now, the focus is on creating a sticky experience that will excite fans and keep them coming back for more. "It's a snackable experience. It's short gameplay that allows you to look up when there's really exciting things happening in the game, but then also play around with your friends and challenge them," Soumas said. With the NHL playoffs in full swing and ESPN's AR games now in play, fans have even more reason to tune in to The Drop and enjoy the action from the comfort of their own homes.