Amex Unleashes Sharapova in VR Tennis Experience
Few tennis fans ever get the opportunity to battle it out on court against Russian superstar Maria Sharapova, but that’s exactly what the virtual reality activation at the U.S. Open American Express Fan Experience served up. With the help of Sharapova herself, the experience brought this vision to life and, in true American Express fashion, offered fans and cardmembers an opportunity unlike anything they had experienced before.
To pull it off, Sharapova spent a day in a Los Angeles studio outfitted in a motion-capture suit and before a green screen where she played, talked, walked and smiled to generate a digital clone for the virtual experience. On-site at the U.S. Open, You vs. Sharapova participants received a pair of goggles, headphones and a controller, then came face-to-face on the tennis court with images of Sharapova and her coach. Participants took a few practice strokes, swinging their racquet at the exact time and with the same motion as a hand-held controller. They even heard the “swoosh” of the swing as the racquet moved. As Sharapova hit groundstrokes, lobs and volleys, they moved left, right, front or back to get closer to the ball as it approached. Sharapova responded with “Great timing, keep it up!” “C’mon, don’t take your eye off the ball,” or other commentary depending on whether fans hit or missed. Then Sharapova dished up her blazing serve before the VR experience came to an end. Afterwards, fans received a video of the engagement to share through social networks.
Housed in American Express’s 20,000-square-foot activation space on the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y., You vs. Sharapova was part of a larger, 360-degree “VS” campaign designed to bring out the fans’ competitive spirit during the U.S. Open, and judging by the line of attendees waiting to participate, it was a smash hit.