I have often speculated in these pages about how the future for Virtual Sports will look and it has been abundantly clear to me that as the quest for more and more realism continues within this particular industry, it will inevitably lead to real life sports providing the footage for the Virtual Sports of tomorrow.
Well from next season, we may well be able to see that future after the news that the National Basketball Association in America, the main professional organising body of the sport, have announced a partnership deal with Highlight Games Limited, a UK-based company, to produce a brand new Virtual Basketball game from next season.
The game has been called “NBA Last 90” and the game will then simulate the last 90 seconds of an NBA matchup between two real NBA professional basketball teams, with the real-life players on each team.
The truly innovative factor in this software however is that the Virtual Sport will then display the highlights of the last 90 seconds of the match by stitching together highlights from matches between the two teams over the last few years. These highlights will be randomly selected, to ensure the result is not the same as what happened in real life.
The fact that the game will use real-life footage from real games that have taken place in the NBA over the years, rather than from specially filmed footage as Inspired have decided to do for their own Virtual Basketball offering, is a hugely important factor and one that will add an unparalleled level of realism to the Virtual Sports industry.
As of yet, what the wagering options will be for each “NBA Last 90” match up are not yet known, although many of the most popular bets that are typically available on basketball will likely be available in the game (such as backing who to win, or how many points each team will score over or under a set value).
While the use of footage of real world professional sporting contests is not a first in Virtual Sports (there has been talk of a Virtual Soccer game using a similar approach for some time now), what is truly innovative about this new game is that it is the first time a top-level professional sports organisation such as the NBA has become actively involved within the Virtual Sports gaming industry.
So a good question to ask is why is that?
Why is the NBA getting involved in Virtual Sports?
At first, it does seem rather unusual, if not unprecedented, for a multi-billion dollar industry like the NBA to become actively involved in Virtual Sports, but the reason for their interest becomes much more clear when you assess the true value of the burgeoning Virtual Sports betting scene around the world today.
In established markets, such as the United Kingdom, Virtual Sports betting generated an incredible £771.4 million in bets alone over the period April 2017 to May 2018, the facts provided by the UK Gambling Commission show.
To put that into context, only more money was bet on horse racing and soccer over that same period and the amount spent on Virtual Sports betting was over three times more than what was wagered on golf over the same timescale.
Now while the NBA is making inroads into the British sporting scene with its selection of regular season games taking place in the UK each year, similar to what the NFL have been doing for years in American Football, it is fair to say that they are not going to be motivated to get into Virtual Sports based on what is happening in the UK alone.
What will be their primary motivation however will be the emerging gambling scene that is taking place across the United States at the moment, with an ever-increasing number of states now starting to allow many different types of wagering, including sports betting.
Given the massive popularity of the NBA across the United States, and the fact that more and more people are slowly being given access to online betting, this means that there is likely to be a massive audience of potentially hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. alone, that could well be interested in an NBA-endorsed Virtual Sports betting basketball game.
Of course, some states are still very much against the notion of any form of sports betting, but this is where Virtual Sports has a big advantage over traditional sports betting. Due to the fact that the outcome of a Virtual Sports game is decided by a random number generator, in the same way that a slot game is, officials in the US have ruled that Virtual Sports is not a form of sports betting, but is more of a form of gaming akin to slot gaming.
The net result of that, is that even in states which permit gambling of some forms, but do not permit sports betting, you would still be able to play Virtual Sports games as a result of this landmark ruling.
So far there have been a number of attempts to introduce Virtual Sports betting in states across the United States, with somewhat mixed results. However by having the backing of the NBA, it is likely that their version of Virtual Basketball “NBA Last 90” will have far more resonance with those in America interested in betting and the NBA.
Speaking about the partnership, NBA’s head of fantasy and gaming Scott Kaufman-Ross stated:
“We’ve been looking at this [Virtual Sports] for the past couple of years and we’re really surprised to see how popular this was.
“In Europe, we’re especially excited about using virtual as another way to engage with our fans with alternative content, especially given the time-zone challenges we have in that region.”
Echoing those sentiments, the head of the National Basketball Players Association, Josh Goodstadt stated:
“We are extremely excited about this partnership and the potential for future opportunities for our players in the virtual gaming space.
“We look forward to working with the NBA and Highlight Games to create a unique gaming experience that will help grow the popularity of the players and the league worldwide.”
Highlight Games CEO Tim Green added:
“Highlight Games has an ambitious strategy to enter the nascent US sports betting and virtual sports market, and this collaboration is the first important step on that journey.
“NBA Last 90 features real NBA stars and real NBA highlights, differentiating it from any other virtual sports product on the market. We’re confident that players around the world will be instantly engaged with NBA Last 90”.
Time will tell if the NBA and Tim Green, have judged it correctly.