The new season, originally intended to start in March, has been on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic and mounting concerns regarding social distancing to curb the spread.
Now, beginning July 30 in Orlando, game attendees of the 2019-2020 season will have the opportunity to participate in Together mode, a feature in Microsoft Teams that uses AI segmentation technology that allows fans to still share a stadium.
Each game court will have a series of LED screens 17 feet tall that wrap around three sides to form the stands, allowing fans to not only experience the game but also each other in ways never before seen in the sports world. Each arena will consist of 300 screens and attendees.
"Using scientific principles of cognition and social perception, Together mode is more than a virtual background--it makes being together virtually actually feel like being together in-person," said Jared Spataro, Microsoft 365 Corporate Vice President. "It's easy to maintain natural eye contact, for instance, or register fellow participants' emotions as they react to what's happening--whether it's a meeting announcement, a class presentation, or the sight of a favorite NBA player about to score a three-pointer."
In addition to remotely accessing arenas, fans will also be able to use the NBA app to participate in individual and collective virtual cheering, which will appear as displayed animations during games.
"This new experience--the first to go live as a result of the NBA / Microsoft partnership -- gives participating fans the feeling of sitting next to one another at a live game without leaving the comfort and safety of their homes," said Spataro. "Players, meanwhile, will experience their energy and support as they dribble down the court and see fans' real-time reaction. And viewers tuning into the game from home will feel the crowd's energy as well as they see the virtual stands filled with fans."
News of Microsoft and the NBA's partnership hits as the two sign a landmark deal establishing Microsoft as NBA's premiere provider of AI technology, laptops, and cloud services.