It was a bit surprising to open up my inbox and find an offer to try the Meta Quest 3. Virtual reality and mixed reality are not on my radar. Actual reality is daunting enough and until last week I'd worn one of those headsets for a grand total of maybe two minutes before one of the kids simply could not stand to observe anymore and had to get back in the action. And candidly, those minutes felt like a lot. When a brain gets smooth it can only handle so much and most of the video-game playing involves Donkey Kong in glorious 16-bit. But hey, sometimes an older dog can learn new tricks and they said one of the things you could do on it is watch basketball games and curiosity got the best of me.
The setup was straightforward and we got it up and humming and connected to Xtadium, not knowing at all what to expect from the promised immersive 180-degree VR. Candidly, I was a bit skeptical that I would enjoy it.
And that was wrong. Because it was pretty awesome.
There are more qualified people who can explain all the bells and whistles and options. I'll just stick to what I know for sure, which is how it made me feel.
After pointing and aiming and pressing the trigger, I was suddenly courtside at the Miami Heat-Washington Wizards game at Capital One Arena. All from the comfort of my couch. The full VR experience was so transportive that I had to toggle over to the mixed reality mode just to make sure I was where I was. But once I got used to that and gave into the experience, it felt deep and rich. Literally the next best thing to actually being there.
You can't get courtside seats right at midcourt on a blogger's salary so it was an instant thrill having Erik Spoelstra seemingly just out of arm's reach. The speed and physicality of the NBA game slaps you in the face. You can hear the on-court chatter. You look left and right to follow the action. Up to see the scoreboard. It's all there. The action. The fans. Dare I say it ... the atmosphere. The atmosphere sure as hell feels like the real deal.
For two and a half hours I allowed myself to get lost in the moments. Saw how tenacious Jimmy Butler is at all times. Observed just how little of a conscience Jordan Poole brings as baggage. Bought into some of the in-arena entertainment. Studied body language on the bench. How the coaches' demeanor changed. All of the stuff one is privy to after buying a ticket. Without having to drive anywhere or drop $67 at the concession stand and bypassing all the headaches that come with getting out of the house and to the venue.
There were a couple of surprises. Going into the experience I believed it would be very solitary. Yet there was something almost cathartic and communal about it. We all know the feeling one gets when surrounded by thousands of people and it's a special thing about attending live sporting events. It wasn't the exact same on the Meta Quest 3 but I did feel like I was part of a group. That I was experiencing something with a bunch of other people. It was a nice surprise because it's genuinely refreshing to have something exceed your expectations.
Now, there's a part of me that feels like Morty Seinfeld when he got the Wizard computer and only used it to calculate tips. This device does a ton of other things. A more savvy user will surely find plenty of them to enjoy. But it is important to point out that a bit of a luddite like myself can strap it on and have a great time. Will I watch every available game like this now? Probably not. As a rare treat, though, when it's feasible and escapism is on the docket? Heck yeah.
The long-term possibilities are tremendous and against long odds I am interested in wading into other sporting waters every time they become available. Did not have that on the Bingo card.