Browser-based environment allows fans to experience the ballpark in a new way
The Atlanta Braves are coming off a World Series-winning season in 2021, and, to up the ante, the defending champions are entering a world that no other professional sports team has entered before. In partnership with Epic Games’ Unreal Engine and Surreal Events, the Braves have developed Digital Truist Park, a browser-based replica of the real-life venue, offering opportunities for fans to interact with each other, purchase merchandise, and more.
“This is a labor of love that we’ve been working on for a long time,” says Greg Mize, senior director, marketing and innovation, Atlanta Braves. “We’re excited and honored to help drive this project.”
Digital Construction: Activation Is Treated Like a Traditional Venue Build
Like many decisions made over the past two years, the Braves’ push into the metaverse was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Without fans flocking to Truist Park and the surrounding Battery Atlanta for an entire season, the franchise sought a way to generate additional revenue. Outside of sports, other endeavors that rely on in-person attendance, such as musical artists and entertainment, pivoted to virtual performance. The one that stood out to Mize and his team was the convergence of two high-profile brands: Travis Scott and Fortnite. That digital-only event drew an all-time record of 12.3 concurrent viewers.
Mize and Atlanta Braves SVP, Marketing and Content, Adam Zimmerman saw the unlimited potential of the concept. To identify the benefits and full list of possibilities, the duo reached out to John Buzzell, head of Unreal Engine Enterprise, Americas, Epic Games. After mulling over the options and seeing how events in a virtual space would resonate with sports fans, the team tapped Surreal Events — the company involved in the Travis Scott concert on Fortnite and located 21 miles north of Atlanta — and its co-founder/CEO John Rush to control the core aspect of the virtual platform. With all parties on board by May 2020, the foundation of what would become Digital Truist Park was set.
“We knew that this not only could be used as a great fan-engagement tool [for long-time Braves fans] and new baseball fans but could be a great revenue opportunity,” says Mize, noting that “operating in these virtual worlds comes natural to the younger generation.”
Unlike online platforms like Fortnite and Roblox, Digital Truist Park is a mirror-to-mirror rendering of the brick-and-mortar environment in Cobb County, GA. The aesthetic and design execution of the digital venue was done by Atlanta Braves Senior Creative Director Insung Kim.
Sponsorship reflects the in-venue branding, and, if that changes, the digital model can be updated relatively quickly. If there’s a substantial change that needs to reflect the architectural integrity of the physical building, the fix could take two days.
To bring authenticity and accuracy to this new endeavor, the Braves treated the digital construction with the same commitment they had in 2014 when they broke ground on the physical Truist Park. The process drew on both digital and tangible blueprints and guidance from Kim, who had served as senior graphic designer of Populous, the venue’s original design firm.
“We are positioning Digital Truist Park as a full-fledged venue,” says Mize. “We’re working with our game-entertainment team to see what we can do in this environment and our corporate partnerships team to figure out how we can sell sponsorships. This started out as a small group but now has been stretched to all areas of the organization”
Go-To Destination: Events To Include Concerts, Meet and Greets, Chances To Win Prizes
Since the activation is being distributed through a web browser, it isn’t limited to the confines of the current version of Digital Truist Park. The virtual venue does have many features of the real-life venue — the Braves Clubhouse store, Monument Garden, other places situated within The Battery Atlanta — but there will also be opportunities exclusive to the metaverse. These will include not only musical performances but also chances to meet active players on the roster, play games and win prizes alongside Braves fans from around the world, and find unique easter eggs.
Users will have full creation and customization of their online avatar. Another digital exclusive in the current model is the ability to have virtual U.S. Navy Blue Angel jets fly over the venue at the click of a button.
“The greatest opportunity and greatest challenge is that anything is possible,” adds Mize. “We’ve talked about having a secret doorway that leads you down underneath the field to a skateboarding ramp.”
With the Braves’ victory over the Houston Astros in the 2021 World Series, the organization has even more momentum to enter this new space. In addition to the treasure trove of opportunities offered by Digital Truist Park, users can access interactive exhibits to experience Braves’ history and celebrate the team’s recent run to the title. Fans interested in participating can register for additional information on the team’s website, but a select few who receive an invitation will be the first to see the initial launch.
Mize envisions further expansion of Digital Truist Park and his staff. “Once we’re out of the gate, it’s not farfetched that we’ll add more staff that specifically handles this venue. They would be dedicated to curating, programming, and executing these virtual events.”
Setting the Standard: Braves Work Toward a New Era of Fan Engagement
When Truist Park opened its doors in 2017, the Braves were one of the first professional ballclubs to have a Braves-centric entertainment district to make game attendance an all-day affair. Now, diehard supporters and new fans alike can enjoy the festivities of game day from the comfort of their own home.
“We’re very proud of our effort,” says Mize, “but we also know that the work has just begun. We’re not sure where it’s going to go, but we know that it’s going somewhere.”