IBM’s Australian Open Real Time 3D Oculus Rift Game

IBM extended its usual predictive data tools at the Australian Open by adding social analytics and a new virtual reality game ‘Return Serve’.


At the core of its fresh 2014 Australian Open work is a real time virtual reality game where the player wears a 3D Oculus Rift headset and is challenged to return the serve of whoever is currently serving on the Rod Laver Arena.


Each player is fitted with an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and a motion-sensing tennis racquet and then is taken into the Rod Laver Arena, and using IBM real time data, ReturnServe recreates the speed and trajectory of the most recent serve at the tournament and presents this serve on your headset screen.


IBM’s Real Time data even analyses each player’s unique return shot swing and offers you advice to increase the chances on your subsequent attempts.



A simplified (and less compelling) online version of ReturnServe is available online for those not at the tournament in person. Simply using a cursor as your racquet, players can return the serve by clicking and having ideal racquet positioning.


Working with DT and OgilvyOne, IBM’s ReturnServe appears at pop up courts at the tournament, in Qantas Lounges and at other key locations in Melbourne and Sydney


‘This new activation gives tennis fans an immersive experience and the chance to stare down a serve from their favourite player,’ says Angela Gallo, IBM A/NZ sponsorship leader. ‘ReturnServe, hosted on IBM SoftLayer, is an exciting demonstration of how data analytics technology holds the key to unlock insights that can be game changing in both sport and business.’


‘This is a creative experience that brings to life IBM’s sponsorship of the Australian Open in an interactive environment to showcase the important role technology plays at a Grand Slam tournament,’ explains OgilvyOne managing partner Sally Kissane.




Data and its analysis is crucial to the way IBM activates its partnership with the two-week tennis tournament.


The tech giant, which also runs the tennis tournament’s iPad app, offers tennis fans across the world access to its extensive data utilities that include news, schedules and player profiles, as well as a social tracking tool which explores who is being most talked about the most on social platforms (and whether that social sentiment is positive or negative).


‘Our role at the Open is to collect, analyse and share data,’ explains Angela Gallo, sponsorship leader at IBM Australia.


‘The umpires, for example, track and record everything that happens on the courts and that data gets fed through to our systems, and we share it in real time in many places, from the score boards on site to the website.’


Sharing data in a way that is useful for fans is the objective for IBM’s Tennis Australia partnership and each year the strategy is based around innovation.


‘We need to stress innovation and we try to innovate every year,’ says Samir Mahir, CIO at Tennis Australia. ‘We try to focus on fan engagement and deepening engagement with consumers overall.’


IBM is also behind the predictive analysis SlamTracker app, which aggregates all the data from the tournament and sits on the Australian Open website (an initiative IBM operates at its other Grand Slam tennis sponsorships).


IBM’s real time data shows stats and analysis on all aspects of the game: serve percentage, shot variation, rally duration, and more, while SlamTracker itself then calculates each player’s momentum, habits, and strategies, point-by-point, in real time.


‘Slamtracker introduces predictive analytics, so fans can see what a player needs to do to beat an opponent,’ continues Mahir. ‘Fans are savvy – they want to know who’s doing what, so they can follow the strengths and weaknesses of each player and the momentum of each match.’


IBM continues to extend its web based systems to mobile platforms as the consumer shift to mobile continues – both live at-events and for consumers at home or on the move.


‘We know that the shift to mobile is only going to grow. The Open website is always going to be the exhaustive platform, but we have to provide as much as we can via mobile,’ explains Patrick Childress, project manager at IBM Interactive. ‘The best screen is the one you have got with you.’


According to Kim Trengove, manager of digital and publishing at Tennis Australia, in 2013 50% of all the Open content was viewed on mobile.


She said social media is also a crucial job for the publishing team, which has set up a Social Shack at the tournament. ‘We are really drumming up the tribalism of tennis so people can really get behind their favourite competitors. We also have a Virtual Tug of War to see who is the most popular player on social media each day.’


Other major events that experience similar data traffic, such as Wimbledon, the Masters, and the Tony Awards, England Rugby Football Union’s TryTracker – and most of these have also begun use IBM’s SmartCloud business tool.


IBM also sponsored Tennis News across the 2014 Australian Open for the second year running. Updates from the tournament were displayed in 306 Office Towers around the country with up to date information coming directly from Sky News.




IBM ‘Return Serve’ Campaign Website



IBM ‘Return Serve’ Campaign Film



IBM Australian Open Website



Australian Open Website



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