How is fandom continuing to morph as tech continues to be a site of innovation?

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Adopting technology always means transforming the way we interact with the world. Mass broadcast media and transport already made fandom a global phenomenon decades ago, and niche fan communities have blossomed everywhere thanks to modern communication. But how is fandom continuing to morph as tech continues to be a site of innovation?

Virtual and Augmented Reality

It seems like the tech industry has been pushing both of these for quite a while in spite of relatively slow adoption. VR does have some professional applications, and there is a small but dedicated gaming community. AR is a similar story; apart from that time everyone went bananas running around trying to catch Pokémon. But some in the sports and entertainment industries are still betting big on these immersive experiences. Last year the Carolina Panthers debuted a pretty cool AR experience, for example, that led one enthusiast to imagine a not-so-distant future where your dad can put on a headset and chat with Randy Moss during the halftime show of a Minnesota Vikings show.

Interactive AI

But getting hold of Moss himself might not always be the easiest thing, especially since he won’t always be with us (unless tech solves that, too). Enter some impressive modern AI like the one of William Shatner made available to celebrate his 90th birthday, and the future is now. This is not your typical chatbot: while the library of Shatner’s 600 pre-recorded responses is matched with words and phrases in the questions, it is stitched together in a really seamless way and learns from the interactions for future use. Combine that with the aforementioned headsets and you can sign us up.

Fan Tokens

This one’s a bit of a newer concept, but already claims involvement from some big names in both esports, such as French sensations Team Vitality, and traditional sports, such as Paris Saint-Germain. The idea with Socios fan tokens is that they can be purchased on the app as a kind of cashable membership with the team, allowing fan owners to take part in competitions and votes, get access to shwag and various exclusive fan experiences like meeting the players. Since they are valued on an open market, a few high profile stars have gone in hard on the concept — Lionel Messi has even received some of his salary in the form of fan tokens.

Interactive Fan-Made Experiences

The idea of faithfully recreating real or fictional places we love is a common goal of Lego and Minecraft aficionados, and The Orville Fan Experience is one realization of that dream. Regular visitors may recall our coverage of The Orville fan game a few years ago, so this is hardly bleeding edge. Rather than building from total scratch, dedicated fans can these days use an off-the-shelf engine (Unreal 4 in this case) to achieve impressive results, so expect more of these to come in the future. There’s even a VR option for those who want it.

Virtual Crowds

The pandemic restrictions completely ruined the atmosphere of a lot of the sport and live entertainment that normally attracts a substantial crowd. In some cases such as pro wrestling, the eeriness present made it very apparent how important that crowd is. Solutions like NBA virtual fans, where live video feeds were transposed onto virtual stands, became typical. For some of the majority of fans who never make it to a live event, the dynamic changed to bring that possibility a bit closer.

There are areas this article doesn’t go into other quality-of-life tech improvements like the upgrades stadiums now offer, including helpful interactive apps and instant replay on the jumbotrons. But hopefully it gives you a taste of where the modern fan is at and the direction of travel for fan experiences.

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Adam S. Ponzer

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