Science fiction has kind of gotten our hopes up about the future of sport. Okay, so a lot of them look pretty dangerous, or downright dystopian, but who wouldn’t fancy tuning into the deadly transcontinental car race from Death Race 2000, Futuresport’s combination of rollerblading and hoverboards, or Star Trek: Voyager “Tsunkatse” combat sport?
Sadly, real life has yet to deliver any of these to our screens — but that’s not to say that tech isn’t changing sport as we know it. Move over FIFA World Cup; here are our picks for the future sports we totally think are going to be everywhere in a few years.
Watching other people playing video games used to be something you only did when you had a group of friends over, and everyone was taking turns playing. Today, it’s a major, honest-to-goodness sport with some serious money — and viewership — behind it.
According to a recent report from marketing research company Newzoo, 2018 revenue for eSports is likely to hit $905 million, and to top $1 billion next year. Packed audiences will turn up to watch their favorite gamers compete live, while the rise of platforms like Twitch have helped take eSports to the next level. Heck, eSport superstars like Tyler “Ninja” Blevin can earn around $500,000 per month playing Fortnite. That’s more than some NBA players!
Particularly since the viewership of eSports is in the always-attractive-to-advertisers sub-35-years-old category, we only expect this field to go from strength-to-strength.
When it comes to sports, we have a complex relationship with performance enhancers. Most of us agree that things like steroids are bad, but we still love to see records broken on a regular basis in superhuman fashion. We admire the Rocky IV montage of Rocky Balboa sculpting his body to physical perfection with only the most basic tools, and yet those of us who love tech also lust after the high tech super-gym where Ivan Drago trains.
The truth is that, more and more, we’re all becoming cyborg creatures, blending man or woman and machine — and so are our athletes. With that in mind, we expect to see more events like the Cybathalon, a bionic Olympics which allows augmented humans (in this case, those with disabilities) to compete using the latest exosuit assistive tech. These assistive suits will allow athletes to be faster, stronger, and more agile — promising some exciting competition in the process.
“Roads?” asks Doc Brown at the end of Back to the Future. “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” It’s a pertinent point here in 2018, when we’re on the verge of amazing technologies like autonomous flying taxis and self-driving cars — both of which could mean that kids born today never have to get their driver’s license.
That may well indicate the decline of sports like Formula 1 and NASCAR, the appeal of which is based on mastering what will increasingly look like yesterday’s technology. What will replace it? Quite possibly drone racing, which promises viewers all the high speed aerial thrills they can wrap their heads around. For the current iteration of this, look no further than the Drone Racing League.
Self-driving car racing
Think we’re getting ahead of ourselves by predicting the end of car racing? You could be correct. In which case, we can totally imagine self-driving car racing becoming a thing.
With no human drivers in harm’s way, autonomous vehicle racing could be faster-paced and more risk-oriented than its predecessor — while allowing all kinds of futuristic concept cars which don’t have to be limited by, well, housing an actual person in the driver’s seat.
If this all sounds super far-fetched to you, it shouldn’t. We’ve already got autonomous racing concepts like Roborace, and autonomous vehicle tech is progressing at a blistering pace. Once everyone is used to self-driving cars on the roads, this will be a surefire crowd pleaser.
Monster trucks were all kinds of kickass when we were kids. You know what’s more kickass than a monster truck? That’s right: a freakin’ 15-foot-tall robot that can crush a hapless Prius to death just as a warmup.
If the idea of drones whizzing around a course at high speed sounds too cerebral for you, we can totally imagine an audience for watching two or more giant robots — preferably from different countries — beating six shades of hell out of one another. Add in a storyline about how one of them stole the other’s Roomba, and you’ve practically got tomorrow’s WWE killer right there!
Humans vs. machines
In 1997, IBM supercomputer Deep Blue made international headlines when it competed against chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov in a battle nicknamed “The Brain’s Last Stand.” In 2011, Jeopardy ratings soared to a six year high when IBM’s Watson A.I. took on all-time (human) champs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter for a man vs. machine clash. A few years later, in 2016, more than 100 people watched the epic clash between Go champion Lee Sedol and Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo.
In all three of these contests pitting humans against machines, machines won — as the world looked on, gripped. As robots show greater and greater breakthroughs in terms of their speed and dexterity, tomorrow’s contests won’t simply be limited to intellectual battles. The organizers of Japan’s RoboCup soccer challenge claim that, by 2050, it’ll be possible for a team of autonomous robot players to beat a team of the world’s best flesh-and-blood footballers.
Imagine pitting the Dallas Cowboys against a team of gridiron-conquering machines, or Real Madrid meeting the Uncanny Valleys in a man vs. machine soccer epic. Not only will these contests prove to be massive ratings draws, we also reckon they’ll perfectly capture viewers’ imaginations at a time when robots are threatening our livelihoods in the workplace.