NBA and Microsoft enabling people to be virtual fans at games with digital avatars amid pandemic

After a long hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NBA resumed play on Thursday, July 30, except with no fans in the stands.

Well, that’s not entirely accurate. There were no “real” fans, as there wasn’t a massive crowd of physical human beings cheering from the stands. Rather, the NBA employed a “virtual fan” experience, where digital avatars of real people appear to be cheering from the stands.

According to The Verge, the NBA is using the Microsoft Teams application’s recently-unveiled Together Mode, which uses artificial intelligence to segment one’s face and shoulders and place them in a virtual area, such as a conference room, or, in this case, seats at an NBA arena.

You can catch snippets of the virtual fan experience in this highlights video from the LA Lakers and Clippers July 30 bout.

The NBA is far from the only sports organization using inventive methods to replicate the sensation of hordes of fans cheering with support.

The NHL, too, is using virtual crowd noise during broadcasts of hockey games.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are allowing fans to purchase a cardboard cutout of themselves for $149 to be displayed in its stadium seats.

RELATED: Dodger fans can now buy a cutout of their dogs to attend 2020 games

 FOX Sports is inserting virtual fans into its broadcasts of Saturday MLB games. 

While the 2020 NFL season has yet to kick off, it’s still unclear how many actual fans will be allowed at stadiums. Some teams have already said that they will not have fans at their stadiums due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.