Two brands with affinities for augmented reality, Marvel and the NBA, joined forces to inject some AR superpowers into Monday night's matchup of the Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Pelicans.
While ESPN carried the traditional broadcast of the game, ESPN2 delivered a special broadcast called Marvel's Arena of Heroes. The alternate broadcast was injected with comic book-style scorebox and graphics and various quotes from Marvel movies spliced into the play-by-play announcements, such as "Steph Curry is inevitable."
The game also had a storyline, with Marvel heroes selecting on-court champions to represent them. For the Warriors, Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Andrew Wiggins played on behalf of Captain Marvel, Doctor Stange, and Black Panther, respectively. Pelicans players Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and Lorenzo Ball stood in for Captain America, Black Widow, and Iron Man.
However, the highlight of the broadcast was the addition of Marvel-influenced AR effects. The hero-endorsed players were trailed throughout the game with comic-style labels that included their last names and their respective heroes' icons.
Their shots were followed by colorful tracers, and (most) made shots created virtual fireworks that formed their heroes' logos. Shots made by other players also carried various Marvel symbols, such as the Avengers "A" logo.
In addition, throughout the game, the Marvel heroes themselves made their way into the arena. Iron Man and then Captain Marvel appeared on the scoreboard above the floor. Later on, Black Panther pounced out onto the sidelines.
With a nod to fantasy sports, each of the highlighted Arena of Heroes players earned "hero points" for various statistics. While Golden State upset New Orleans 123-108 in the official contest, Draymond Green emerged victorious in the alternate reality scoring.
It's not the first time broadcast augmented reality has facilitated corporate synergy. During the NFL playoff battle between the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears in January, CBS produced a special broadcast of the game on Nickelodeon, complete with AR slime geysers with each touchdown. Of course, ESPN and Marvel both fall under Disney's corporate umbrella, hence their partnership for Monday's NBA game.
In both instances, the broadcast AR serves to open up the sports to younger audiences. Williamson might now be the favorite player of an eight-year-old Captain America fan with no previous interest in sports. Similarly, Curry (the inevitable one) can inspire and engage kids who also idolize Captain Marvel.
Broadcast AR has become much more prevalent as networks look to add value to their programming in the era of cord-cutting. The Weather Channel and ABC News have integrated broadcast AR elements into their coverage, while TNT has inserted broadcast AR special effects into the Inside the NBA show.