Virtual Reality May Be the Future of Sports, Says OSU’s Tori Ortiz in PEOPLE’s First Interview in the Metaverse

Virtual reality may finally be going mainstream — and it could (one day) play an important part in the sports world.

One athlete who is already imagining ways future technology can be implemented in sports is Tori Ortiz, a track and field runner at Oklahoma State University.

Ortiz recently participated in the Metaverse Culture Series (MCS) hosted by Facebook’s parent company, Meta. The events are meant to facilitate conversations around technology and underrepresented communities, with many of the discussions taking place in the VR “metaverse,” a space where users can interact with others in a virtual world using avatars.

Last year, Meta launched MCS with Black Futurewhich was followed by Women Beyond, Pride Unbound and a documentary made with Muslim creators for Ramadan.

The final MCS event of the year, Tercera Cultura (Third Culture)explored Hispanic culture and identity.

“You always stem from something,” Ortiz, whose family has roots in Puerto Rico, tells PEOPLE during a recent interview using Meta’s Horizon Workrooms app, which serves as a virtual office in the metaverse. “As much as I am a third generation and third culture, I represent the second culture, the first culture, and trying to still bring everything into my everyday life.”

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OSU Track and Field Runner Tori Ortiz Says Virtual Reality Has a Place in Sports

OSU Track and Field Runner Tori Ortiz Says Virtual Reality Has a Place in Sports

tori ortiz/instagram

“Just because I might not have been in Puerto Rico, I didn’t grow up and live in Puerto Rico, I still try and find ways to bring that into my everyday life and still keep the first culture and first generation, all of that , at heart and know where I came from and what my true roots are,” she adds. “And that’s really important when doing anything in life. Because a seed is planted, and we all grow from somewhere — and that’s where I grew from.”

Tercera Cultura also featured Sara Mora, founder of Population MIC; photographer Juan Veloz and Jillian Mercado, a model and actress with disabilities.

The company also enlisted artist COVL to create a virtual display called Nuevo Norte that was accessible in Horizon Worlds and through a “mixed reality experience” at Art Basel in Miami, Florida.

The Nuevo Norte virtual installation was based on slices of Hispanic culture and was influenced by COVL’s upbringing in Puerto Rico and Miami.

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“To step in and feel so welcomed in a place that represented my family and my culture was amazing,” Ortiz says of seeing the installation. “And I know in this world there are a lot of people that don’t always feel welcome. And I think that through the culture series, it allows you to feel like you’re at home and you have a voice and that you’ re heard no matter where you go and no matter what you do.

She continues: “It makes me excited because it’s just going to continue to grow and it gives so many people an opportunity.”

Over the last decade, VR technology has made a huge leap from being a 1980s fantasy to something available on store shelves. For many people, their first experience with VR may be a video game, like Beat Sabera popular title that sees players hit flying cubes with sword-like weapons matching the sound of a beat.

A photograph shows a Meta Quest Pro VR headset at the Meta showroom in Brussels on December 07, 2022. (Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP) (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images)

A photograph shows a Meta Quest Pro VR headset at the Meta showroom in Brussels on December 07, 2022. (Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP) (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images)

KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty

While VR gaming is exploding — Meta, the parent company of Facebook, reported over $1.5 billion in sales on the Quest Store as of October 2022 with their line of Meta Quest headsets, and other gaming companies, like Sony Interactive Entertainment, offer their own headsets , such as the PSVR 2 — there is an emerging push to weave VR into more areas, not just entertainment.

One of these areas is sports. One app, Win Reality, offers baseball players a virtual field to participate in batting practice. Other ones, like The Thrill of the Fight swear Les Mills Body Combatprovide VR workouts.

Ortiz, who earned 2022 First-Team Academic All-Big 12 honors, says she envisions athletes being able to use VR even more in the (possibly not too distant) future.

“It would be really neat as a technical app for track,” she says. “Because when you are a sprinter, as much as, yes, it is about speed as it is endurance, it also comes down to technique. And a lot of these times, learning technique is so difficult because there are just so many tedious things that you have to do.”

“I think that’s the way it would be really enjoyable, to take the track world and just everything with virtual reality, and put them together and just help athletes develop at home,” Ortiz adds.

While there is much left to build, parts of the metaverse are already being used for interaction every day, with popular choices being Meta’s Horizon Worlds app or others such as The Sandbox and Decentraland. Some even argue that Fortnitein its own right, is a functioning metaverse.

For Ortiz, her first experience left an impression she says will be with her for a long time to come.

“When I first stepped in, and especially to the Horizon Worlds, you feel like you’re just in a completely different place, but you’re at your home,” she says. “And I think that’s one of the neatest things.”

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