The NFL continues to maintain its strong relationship with VR technology, now employing the STRIVIR platform to train some officials. According to a report by SportTechie, the virtual reality training company has been working with the NFL’s Officiating Development Programs for the past nine months, presenting game scenarios in a VR headset from a referee’s perspective to supplement the limited opportunities for real-world practice.
According to the report, Strivr began working in earnest on a VR training program for the NFL offseason after the Super Bowl in February, providing officials with “life-like situations that put them into a game scenario so that they can react to plays much as they would on the field.”
The Strivr platform provides 360-degree capture of a game scenario, offering a convincing first-person perspective from an appropriate position on the field—an immersive upgrade over the standard video footage previously used by the Officiating Development Programs for training.
Perhaps the best way for an official to gain experience in a real-world NFL scenario is during the preseason (which recently began), a series of exhibition games which take place before the regular season kicks off in September, but such opportunities are very limited, and don’t offer the endless repeatability of VR training.
Improvements to replay technology in sports is a double-edged sword for referees; while the regularly-used ‘replay review’ system helps officials to make certain tough calls, the multiple-angle, slow-motion footage often works against the referee in many other situations, highlighting any mistakes during high-pressure moments. Having unlimited access to equivalent scenarios any time of year in VR could surely have a positive impact on officiating consistency.
“Refs are under a huge microscope and with replay, if they get something wrong, it’s seen,” Strivr CEO Derek Belch said in an interview with SportTechie. “This is how we take officiating to the next level and addressing some of the same issues players have.”
Strivr’s training platform was already well-established in the NFL from a player’s perspective, thanks to existing partnerships with seven NFL teams, providing off-field training in VR. The company claims that their technology speeds up reaction times, and helps to improve performance and decision-making. The company has enjoyed success in VR training in several sports, and scored a $5 million Series A investment last year that allowed them to expand their performance training into many corporate sectors.