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Fox Sports is using virtual fans in its baseball broadcasts

Virtual fans will be used on Fox Sports broadcasts of Major League Baseball in 2020.
Virtual fans will be used on Fox Sports broadcasts of Major League Baseball in 2020. (Image credit: Fox Sports)

The 2020 Major League Baseball season finally gets going today. But there won't be any fans in the stands. At least not physically.

When Fox Sports broadcasts its first games on Saturday, July 25, it'll do so with virtual fans — essentially plopped into the stadiums using a computer. It's using the "Pixatope" software, along with Silver Spoon Animation and SMT, "to deliver an elevated viewing experience to sports fans around the nation."

We might question whether virtual vans do, in fact, deliver an elevated viewing experience. Are fake fans better than real ones? Should we replace the players, too, and go all Esports for our national pastime?

That's a debate for another day. But for now, though, it'll be something you'll be hearing about during the broadcast, for sure. Because if there's one thing sports broadcasts love talking about more than the game they're covering, it's how they're covering it.

Here's a look at what the "Pixatope" thing comes together. And like we've come to expect in high-end video games, it's pretty good. There's a better than average chance that you could go through the whole game without realizing the fans aren't actually there.

And to be fair, Fox Sports isn't the first ones to fake fan participation. Soccer leagues have been piping in previously recorded crowd noise — some that's been used directly in video games like FIFA — making it feel more like a regular sporting event. Other broadcasters have had multiple options, like getting the artificial crowd noise in the main broadcast, but providing a noise-free experience online.

Is one better than the other? Yes. But we'll let you decide which is which.

Phil Nickinson

Phil spent his 20s in the newsroom of the Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal, his 30s on the road for AndroidCentral.com and Mobile Nations, is the Dad part of Modern Dad, and is editor of WhatToWatch.com.