Australian Open jumps into the metaverse, recreating Rod Laver Arena in Decentraland

The Australian Open is now live in the metaverse.

Tennis Australia has created a virtual replica of Melbourne Park and Rod Laver Arena in Decentraland, the pioneering crypto/Web 3.0 project.

AO Decentraland features live behind-the-scenes footage from over 300 cameras around Melbourne Park, including the players’ arrival area and the practice village, as well as archival footage from historic matches.

Ridley Plummer, AO’s Metaverse and NFT project manager, told a press conference beamed into the AO this morning that the venture came about as Tennis Australia tried to decide on what what was next for them in terms of innovation.

“I think we’re a sporting organisation and for the most part of the year, we’re used to see people playing tennis on courts… as we tried to expand what we do as a business, the natural progression of that is to get into gaming and to get into more offline stuff in a second screen,” Plummer said.

“So when we were discussing six to eight months ago, what the next step is, naturally, the metaverse was the first thing that came up and NFTs as well. So we sort of jumped headfirst into this space three or four months ago.”

Tennis Australia partnered with Vegas City, which owns a large district in Decentraland, to create the virtual space.

Plummer said coming to Melbourne was challenging for tennis fans around the world in normal times, and much moreso with Covid border restrictions.

“So we wanted to take as much of the AO to people globally as we could – and when I think about people sitting at home watching on their 52-inch high definition ultra LED LCD getting an amazing viewing experience through our broadcasters, for the most part they’re only getting one camera angle, the whole event.”

Via Decentraland AO, fans can view multiple camera angles that aren’t shown on TV, Plummer said.

Visitors attending Melbourne Park will also get a reverse feed of what’s going on in AO Decentraland. (In theory, visitors at Melbourne Park could visit AO Decentraland at the same time, creating a “Matrix effect,” Plummer said.)

Tennis Australia also helps to make tennis fans out of crypto and NFT buffs, he said.

Some people had asked why Tennis Australia didn’t simply just make NFTs out of videos from past games, but that would have been the “easy way out”, Plummer added.

“I think we wanted to show how innovative we truly are, and we want to push boundaries.”

This reporter beamed into AO Decentraland this morning for the press conference, but somehow had trouble finding it, so had to listen to a recording later. Still, there were some neat parts to the virtual area, including excellent graphics and the chance to claim virtual tennis racquets.

Here’s how to access AO Decentraland. It’s free, but to claim NFTs and Proof of Attendance Protocol (POAP) badges you’ll need the Metamask browser plugin.

Kiwi doubles player Marcus Daniell, a crypto enthusiast, is keen to make an appearance in the area at some point.

AO Decentraland is currently scheduled to run through January 30, but Plummer said that Tennis Australia doesn’t see the “metaverse” going away anytime soon.

“It’s definitely a long term strategy; this year has been a dip the toe in the water moment, we’re all learning about this space as well.”