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Watch these soccer matches in VR -- without the headset

LIveLike wants to create a "communal sports experience" for virtual reality.

Picture yourself watching a soccer match in VR quality with friends -- without a headset.

That's what San Francisco-based startup LiveLike promises as it teams up with Fox Sports to show three Gold Cup games in virtual reality. The action begins with the US team taking on Panama on July 8.

Real Salt Lake   v Sporting Kansas City

US soccer fans can now see Dom Dwyer play in virtual reality with or without a headset.

Getty Images

LiveLike, which aired real-time game highlights and post-game coverage from year's Super Bowl in VR, aims to push the boundaries of today's virtual reality by showing one of soccer's premier tournaments in real time in VR along with a "social experience." This means you can watch Gold Cup matches with your Facebook friends in LiveLike's "virtual suite." 

During a demo last week, LiveLike co-founder Miheer Walavalkar said  this new feature would be the "first communal sports experience in VR." In other words, Walavalkar said you'll be able to watch the upcoming matches in 360 degrees using either a Samsung Gear VR headset or a cardboard viewer on the one hand, or with an iPhone or Android phone, even if you don't have a headset.

Talk about a head-shaking move. 

"You have the prerogative to watch with or without a headset, because either way this is going to be far more immersive," he said. "And for those who don't have a headset, they get to finally see what they're missing out on in VR.

"It's democratizing the interactive experience as much as possible," he said.

A raft of emerging companies are trying to show how basketball, baseball and now soccer in VR could be big business. But there's still uncertainty, despite analysts predicting VR revenues will spike to $75 billion by 2021, more than 10 times the projection for this year.

For some, it's worth the risk. LiveLike's Gold Cup announcement comes a week after tech giant Intel said it would show 16 events during the 2018 Winter Olympics in February via its True VR -- a game changer.  

Walavalkar said other players, including NextVR, makes for a very competitive field.

"Every piece of news that comes out about VR, whether it's showing the Olympics or the NBA, is fantastic for all of us," he said. "This means that people are finally start to take notice. It opens up possibilities."

LiveLike's "social experience," though, separates it from the rest of the pack, he said. It's all about "not wanting to watch games by yourself."

Fans can choose up to four angles around the stadium to watch the match, or check out a live "director's cut" that automatically switches views as if they were watching on TV. Stats will pop up on demand, and a replay feature will let fans rewind in either 30-second increments or up to 30 minutes. 

Those who want to watch with their Facebook friends in real time can log into the Fox Sports VR app, get themselves into a "virtual suite" and chat through headphones via a "personalized avatar."

During our demo, Walavalkar and I watched the 2016 MLS Cup highlights in VR on an iPad from a virtual suite as Francesca Behling, a LiveLike product manager, wore a Samsung Gear headset and talked with us through an avatar.

The streaming and audio were clear. I asked Walavalkar how is this possible, and whether it's really VR without a headset and on multiple, competing operating systems.

He insisted it is.

"The production is the same, whether you are watching with a Gear or on an iPad," he said. "As you bring in more and more augmentations into this, it sort of becomes a mixed reality experience instead of a virtual reality experience."

OK, interesting. So is this VR with a tinge of augmented reality?

"Yep," Walavalkar said. "We want to bring in all of the magic that makes the experience more fun and drives more retention. Our platform is perfectly suited for that."

I guess we'll be the judge of that. 

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