The groundbreaking VR- and AR-powered game from StatusPRO is available now for Meta Quest 2 and Sony PlayStation VR.
Ever wonder what it was like to be under center in a live NFL game, choosing a play from your wristband, surveying the field for your pre-snap reads, taking the ball, and marching down the field to lead your team to victory?
Starting today, football fans can experience all of these sensations like never before could with the launch of NFL PRO ERA, the first-ever football simulation VR game to be officially licensed by the NFL and NFL Players Association.
The video game, created by gaming and technology company StatusPRO, is headlined by cover star Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens and is available for $29.99 on Meta Quest 2 and PlayStation VR platforms around the world, handing football lovers to have an immersive, first-person 3D experience.
In NFL PRO ERA, gamers can play catch with their friends in the multiplayer sandbox, build their skills with minigames and in practice mode, execute two-minute drills, or play full 11-on-11 games in exhibition or season mode.
“For fans to be able to experience everything that I do, from a quick slant to a long bomb while trying not to get sacked, is next level,” Lamar Jackson said on the occasion. “This is unlike any other game you’ve experienced. As the quarterback, you take the snap, and you feel the pressure of what it’s like to make a big play. The gameplay action is as close to reality as you can get! I’m proud to be the brand’s first ever cover athlete.”
Back in August, Boardroom got to demo NFL PRO ERA and talk to StatusPRO’s co-founders — former Division I quarterback and company CEO Troy Jones and former NFL wide receiver Andrew Hawkins — about their innovative product, the course of its development, and the run up to its big launch.
Five years ago, Jones started a VR and AR company focused on athlete training and helping them simulate on-field reps.
“When athletes would put the headsets on, they wouldn’t want to take it off,” Jones told Boardroom from a nondescript Manhattan apartment building where they were showcasing the finished product.
After a six-year career with the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns, followed by obtaining a master’s degree in sports management Columbia University, Hawkins joined toward the end of 2018 as the two started prototyping their first VR product. Taking a bare-bones situation and slowly putting a team together that could build out a fully realized simulation-style video game in VR has been StatusPRO’s mission ever since, and it’s required defying the odds and getting officially licensed in a years-long process.
“The NFL is excited to partner with StatusPRO, which has developed cutting-edge VR technology and leveraged their expertise as former football players to create an incredibly immersive NFL experience,” said Ed Kiang, The NFL’s VP of Video Gaming. “NFL PRO ERA will enable fans to connect with the game and their favorite teams in a whole new way.”
StatusPRO has just under 50 employees, a mix of gaming industry developers and experts and top-quality athletes. After a little of a year of prototyping, the team truly started drilling down in 2020 into what this product would truly look like. Considering we’ve never seen something quite like a fully immersive game where you’re physically dropping back and moving your arm to throw the ball, it was a challenge trying to figure out what consumers would and wouldn’t like about a VR product nobody’s seen before.
“It was about trying to hone in on the fun parts of playing in the game of football professionally that you want people to experience, and hope that the consumers feel like it’s compelling, fun, and enjoyable,” Jones said. “We’re rookies in this, so we want to get better each year, and whenever you don’t have a blueprint for something, you’re learning as you go and be self-aware enough to adjust.”
Oddly enough, the COVID-19 pandemic ushering in the era of remote work ended up benefitting StatusPRO. With everyone forced into collaborating at a distance, the company was able to bring in talent from all over while continuing to find ways to build a strong team culture in an environment made admittedly more difficult without physical, IRL interaction. Over the course of the pandemic, the NFL warmed to the idea of meeting the fans where they were — and that meant places like VR and AR, sectors which have grown exponentially over the last two-and-a-half years.
The timing, Jones said, ended up working out perfectly for his company in that regard, and StatusPRO went on to secure licensing agreements with both the NFL and NFLPA in March of this year; Meta Quest and PlayStation soon joined the party.
Here and now, NFL PRO ERA offers something for every kind of football fan, from the casual to the diehard.
“When you get in the experience, you’re going to see the optionality,” Hawkins said. “There is no equation that we know works from VR technology, so let’s give people a smorgasbord of things they can experience and we’ll let the data from that dictate the direction that it may go going forward.”
While Jones and Hawkins have worked in and around the NFL and NFLPA before, StatusPRO is still a fairly new startup, so refusing to settle for anything less than the official licenses (and defying the odds as a new company to receive them) is, Hawkins said, is a point of pride.
“We took an untraditional route in trying to contribute to the game by building a gaming company,” Jones said. “If you’re passionate about something, figure out a way to bring value to that space, find a problem, and solve it.”
In addition to getting the game ready to launch, Hawkins’ main goal is to give football fans an experience they’ve never had before.
“You’ve never seen the game of football this way, the NFL game,” he said. “You’ve never been in these stadiums on the field. You’ve never got to throw a game-winning touchdown. You never got to be chased by these big defensive linemen. For football fans, we think that’s an experience that is super valuable. And then the feedback, letting people experience something they never had before.”