Beyond Sports Uses AI To Turn NHL Players Into Blocky Avatars

The company’s visualization engine layers digital content over professional athletes in real-time.

The NHL thought it would be a great idea to broadcast the Stanley Cup Championship games using Beyond Sports’ unique visualization engine that turns players into blocks-like avatars and I honestly don’t think I can watch a live sports game any other way moving forward.

Beyond Sports is an AI-based visualization company that uses a cool tracking technology along with player positional data to transform them into what they call “Blockies.” It looks like a video game, but it’s actually digital content matched over the players in real-time.

Members of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Colorado Avalanche, and even the Zamboni driver were all turned into adorable block-like avatars through Beyond Sports’ approach, showing us what the future of sports in the metaverse could potentially look like in the future. 

Even the fans were turned into block avatars, but that looked more like pre-recorded digital content used to help create the illusion of a packed virtual stadium. Sadly, the refs got no virtual love and weren’t even represented in the game.

Watching the game was a little strange, but I found it to be much easier to follow the action on the ice, and it sounds as though hockey fans were digging it! On the NHL’s YouTube page, where they streamed the data-infused Stanley Cup games, fans were commenting on how much they loved this approach.

Credit: Beyond Sports
  • “Why is this so incredibly adorable to see little blocky versions of the players?” – ShinyMew76
  • “Other major sports leagues need to do this! This is great!” – Unsalted Nuts
  • “Love it or hate it, props to the NHL for trying something new and unique for once,” and The Hockey Man commented, “Such a big help to visualize and understand the overall flow of the game in a simplistic way!” – Frunkiss

Of course, not all the comments were positive, with some viewers expressing their disdain for the simplistic graphics, comparing it to the video game Minecraft. But overall, fans seemed to enjoy the experience. 

As for how the system works, the company appears to be using sensors embedded into the players’ jerseys in order to track their positions on the ice and overlay digital content in real-time. 

Though this virtual approach really isn’t AR or VR, it does bring up a lot of interesting questions regarding the use of AR and VR in sports. For example, you could use a VR headset to put yourself on the playing field or use a mobile device or AR glasses to view the game with Blockie avatars. 

Check out what they did with this Nickelodeon NFL Wildcard Game. Not only did the experience put you directly on the field, but also added some fun effects like lighting and flames.

Beyond Sports also has a Gameface app available on the iOS and Android store that you can use to record and then share your favorite clips of Eredivisie games.

In addition to the NHL, the company has also begun working with the NBA, NFL, KNVB, MLS, Bein Sports, the German Football Association, ESPN, and Sky Sports. 

To learn more about Beyond Sports and upcoming games using their Blockie avatars, check out their website by clicking here

Image Credit: Beyond Sports

About the Scout

Bobby Carlton

Hello, my name is Bobby Carlton. When I'm not exploring the world of immersive technology, I'm writing rock songs about lost love. I'd also like to mention that I can do 25 push-ups in a row.

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