2020 has been a weird year to say the least. Who would have thought that the NBA and Micky Mouse would go hand in hand? Or that the fan experience would include virtual fans at home on their couch? No one expected the season to finish out this way, but both the NBA and fans seem to be making the most of It. The virtual fan experience is still so new, and unless you’ve had the chance to participate it’s all very unknown.
I can’t decide if I love the virtual fans, or if they drive me crazy, but either way I’m completely fascinated by the concept and execution of the virtual fans in the Bubble. In an attempt to quench my thirst for insider information into what it’s like to be a virtual fan, I talked to a couple of individuals who had the opportunity to participate.
Rebekah Livingston, a native Oregonian who is now living in New York City, virtually attended the August 13th Trail Blazers versus Nets game. The Nets had home court advantage, so technically, she was participating as a Nets fan, though she’s very much a Portland supporter. Also participating in this interview is Brandon Goldner, who jumped at the chance to be a virtual fan when the Blazers played the Philadelphia 76ers on August 9th. The Trail Blazers had the home court advantage for his game.
How did you apply to be in the bubble?
Rebekah: The Nets are trying their hardest to keep fans happy and spending. They offer all season ticket holders a chance to do this. Offer comes through email and you just add your name to the list with your account number and they send a confirmation.
Brandon: I’m pretty active on Twitter, and I had seen that Blazers reporter Casey Holdahl had said that fans had a chance to win a spot as a “Virtual Fan” if they listened to the Rip City Report podcast with him and The Oregonian’s Joe Freeman; I’m a regular listener, so it wasn’t much of a stretch for me, but Casey had said it was pretty time sensitive. So I was listening late Saturday night / Sunday morning at like 2am, and near the VERY end of the episode, they gave instructions on how to enter to win a spot! I followed the instructions, and the next day Casey DM’d me to say I had won out of like 200+ people.
How much notice were you given?
Rebekah: They ask about a week prior to whichever game.
Brandon: I found out two days before the game that I had been chosen to be a Virtual Fan and the official email from the Blazers with the login instructions and all that came the day after that.
Were there rules given to you?
Rebekah: Yes, there were definitely rules! I was joking with my Portland folks that I’d show up in a Blazers jersey. That was definitely against the code of conduct. Of course no use of profane language, must be spirited (which I wasn’t), if you’re not wearing team gear then you should wear a white t-shirt. Also, the person assigned must stay in their seat most of the time. If you left for a prolonged period, or if you had more than one person in the camera view, they would end your stream. If anyone went against the rules, they would be booted out of the stream.
Brandon: Yes, we had some rules. You had to be in your seat as much as possible, and if you left your seat for any extended period of time, they had virtual seat fillers to take your spot. You were encouraged and allowed to leave your seat during any break in game action, like any timeout or between quarters or during halftime, but they expected you to be in front of your computer and “in your seat” while the game was being played. I was also disappointed to learn that you couldn’t hold up any signs because the camera would have a hard time seeing both the sign and the person... I had spent like 20 minutes making a “Gary Trent Jr. > Embiid” sign that only the other virtual fans got to see during break in game action. They’re trying their best during a global pandemic to simulate having engaged, interested, energetic fans in-arena when everyone is actually behind their laptops and webcams, so I did my best to stay hyped during the game.
How was it in comparison to being in attendance to a game?
Rebekah: There is no real comparison to being at a game. It’s like one of those annoying zoom calls that everyone is experiencing now with everyone talking at once! Have to stay in your seat, etc. Games are great to meet folks to and create camaraderie around the team. Of course none of that. I wish there was a way to high-five others or chat directly.
Brandon: Not at all the same... but I did appreciate the camaraderie! A small handful of fans were all in the same virtual “room,” and we could all see each other and talk to each other. I’ll be honest that the biggest thing I got from the experience was feeling like I was with other people even though I wasn’t. After months of staying at home and not seeing friends and family and pretty much only leaving the house to get groceries, it was nice to feel like you and a bunch of other Blazers fans were together, even if it was virtual.
What did you see on the screen?
Rebekah: Like a zoom call you can choose to see a screen of the others on the stream or you can watch the game, or both.
Brandon: A “virtual room” with all the fans and next to that you saw a feed of the game.
What happened if you got disconnected?
Rebekah: If you disconnected you’d have to used your special login code to be put back in the que. There were only 20 or so people allowed in “seats” at one time. Meaning if you’re in a seat, you’d be the ones on TV. They rotate that by who is in the queue, if you lose your seat, it’s just too bad. Got to get back in and wait.
Would you be interested in doing it again given the chance?
Rebekah: It was cool but, No. Once is enough!
Brandon: ABSOLUTELY!! I really appreciated being with other people. As someone who’s trying really hard to stay away from folks because of COVID, I did feel like we were all connected, at least a little bit, in our collective love of the Blazers.